I start the narrative with my ancestors, who taught me so much about food. My grandmother taught me about not throwing food away, about never wasting. Not composting, because she didn’t know about composting, but when I learned about it myself I was like, “That’s what grandma was trying to teach me!” Someone once said to me: “Brother you draw from a deep well.” And it’s true — we’re literally full of ancestral memory. Some day we’re all going to be ancestors to somebody.
I believe that to have sustainability — not only in environmental terms but sustainability for the black community — the African Diaspora traditions of food, agriculture, and culinary practices have to be sustained. That can’t happen if we don’t intentionally sustain them. And it can’t happen if all the elders are dying prematurely. My one grandmother died when I was 14, the other when I was six. My father passed at 47 years old. My own mortality and my own dedication to what matters came into focus then. All the statistics show the years of potential life lost for the African-American community, so many passing on too soon because of poor health. And so I started planning, mapping out a framework for what is now called Black Yield Institute, and began to pull it together.
The vision is a black-led action network, of black businesses, black-owned farms, and black-operated food programs — a food system that provides access to healthy and affordable food, that feeds black families and affirms our cultural traditions. That means something that’s developed and practiced and passed, that sustains a people. My youngest son, Amir – he’s three years old now. When he’s 13, he’ll see that we can actually live through our own traditions, produce our own businesses, support their development, and have access to healthy food. At 20, he’ll be connected to people who are 75. He’ll see that elders don’t have to walk with a cane, that they can live and be healthy.
That’s what I want for Amir, and for every black child as they grow up. He’ll know how to farm, how to take care of himself. He’ll be able to bite into an apple he grew himself or purchased from a black farmer or merchant. That’s the vision. It doesn’t exist here yet but the seeds are being planted.
Eric Jackson is Director of Black Yield Institute.
Photo courtesy of Eric Jackson.
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