Essential workers are recently being recognized as integral to our life support, rightly so, and finally! Perhaps you, like us, might have wondered when the source of life, the Earth, will come to deserve such recognition. Regenerative agriculture is now just being seen as a growing “essential” movement. Rightly so, finally. Yet have we overlooked the original land stewards who laid down restorative agricultural practices on almost every inch of soil across our country? Indigenous growers, black farmers, formerly enslaved food and fiber growers of the southern US, and people elsewhere have related to the Earth as “essential” and treated her as such. While we are now investigating the “science” of regenerative agriculture let us not neglect the traditional wisdom passed down through generations. We gratefully acknowledge previous wisdom such as these recognized and promoted across the country and world…“no-till”, agroforestry, intercropping, feeding the Earth with wood ash and fish waste to enliven soil, moving buffalo herds to regenerate pasture, seed keeping, community-based agriculture, and more. Elise A. Guyette, historian, educator, and author of Discovering Black Vermont documents the stories of eight black families who prospered in Hinesburg in the nineteenth century. We now know that in 1795 freed slave families, the Clarks, and Peters applied their agricultural wisdom to their successful farming livelihood as growers, sheep cheesemakers and wool spinners right here in Hinesburg on Lincoln Hill. Their ancestral knowledge passed down through generations was adapted for growing in VT wild forest hilltop farms. Right here in Charlotte we still have the 148 acres Clemmons Family Farm preserving and celebrating the cultural heritage of black farming in VT since the late 1700s. Of the 7000 VT family farms, this farm is one of 17 Afro-Americans owned. This cultural, climate-defensive agricultural endeavor continues to struggle for conservation easement classification. How might we play a role in preserving our neighbors’ historic contributions to American agriculture? Might the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust, Justice for Black Farmers Act, and a Farm Conservation Core protects and defends the wisdom of Black farmers, and farmers-to-be, in VT and around the country? The answers to these questions are ours to influence – or not. Lest we not forget... a fate similar to Black farmers preceded the 1700’s. If we step back even further in time we can recall the first “caretaker mind” inhabitants who knew VT as “Ndakinna.” The Abenaki Land Link Project, a partnership Common Roots is engaged in, has been growing out and distributing heritage seed and food among our First Nation Vermonters.
Here is what our own Farmer Fae has reflected upon as she applies a timeless wisdom to the soils in which she grows food for our community including the food shelf....
“As a farmer, I believe that it is important to acknowledge that we do not own the land. This is a philosophy that was inspired by the Native Americans that were on the land well before us. Being raised in Vermont to respect these conscientious agricultural practices of the Native Americans...I have also, sadly, been witness to practices that have degraded the land. The modern farmer uses machinery to till up the soil, working it hard in order to reap crops, but rarely giving back to it. Embracing a “leaving it better than I found it” method has always been my goal. In order to do so, I need to be putting into the soil more than I’m taking out with the use of compost, cover crops, and letting certain areas rest when they are becoming depleted. The Farm at South Village is a great place to put these practices to use because the soil isn’t suitable for mixed vegetable growing in the first place! Every season we add compost and try to cover all bare ground with cover crops while it isn’t in vegetable production, in order to improve the soil over time. It’s a labor of love...one that not only allows a greater yield every year—but one our native ancestors would agree is the right thing to do.”
It is time to invite the wisdom keepers to the table, share a meal, listen, offer our gratitude and support. Together we can imagine, then build, inclusive agri-hoods that offer access and support to our Vermonters whose land steward traditions made way for us, and continue to make a way for us, to eat and be well.