Black Dirt Farm Collective: Building a Self-Sufficient Community

The Black Dirt Farm Collective is currently funded by grants, donations, and income from their training programs, but they are working toward building an Afroecological village that is self-sustaining and autonomous from wealthy donors.

This interview with the Maryland-based collective’s shakara tyler and Blain Snipstal is the second in a series highlighting grassroots organizations working, or seeking to work, outside a reliance on wealthy donors. It has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the Black Dirt Farm Collective ?

shakara: We are a collective of Black farmers, educators, scientists, agrarians, seed keepers, organizers, and researchers guiding a political education process. Through our cultivation of Afroecology, we work to activate Black agrarian communities’ personal, cultural, and technical capacities to be used as a transformative organizing tool. We do this through co-facilitating political trainings rooted in the wisdom of nature. We see this as a process of recovering our innate agrarian identities, Afro-diasporic histories and magic.

What is your vision for the Collective?

shakara: It’s ultimately about liberating ourselves from interlocking systems of oppression. We want to live freely in the ways that our ancestors intended as we avenge their suffering through our work and fight for our future generations.

The short-term vision is to create an Afroecological village — a place that we can call home and emancipate ourselves from capitalism, imperialism, the nonprofit industrial complex, and white supremacy.

In the long-term, we hope to be a model for others who aspire to do the same. We know that this is the century of decolonization and abolition according to many Afro-indigenous prophecies, and this is our time to build the realities we believe in.

How are you planning to build community wealth that is outside of the non-profit industrial complex?

Blain: Our trainings help equip us with the ideas and practical tools to make the land productive once we settle on it. We will revitalize the land, revalorize it, and hopefully generate some form of our own economy from it.

A principal endeavor is pointing folks to develop different businesses and economies on our land, whether they’re solidarity, service based, or something else. Essentially, if we can control our own means of production, then we don’t have to participate in the dominant wage economy.

Individuals can contribute to the project in various ways. We recognize sweat equity, solidarity, and the non-capital resources every human inherently brings. The initial resources will be self-funded, grants, and outright reparations from individuals.

What is the Black Dirt Farm Collective’s role in the anti-capitalist struggle?

Blain: BDFC was constructed to build up the creative and productive capacity of Black folk centered on the land. That itself is in direct contrast to capitalism. No, we are not organizing mass marches or rallies, nor are we engaging in broad policy and dominant political efforts.

Our particular piece is centered around revalorizing land. It’s a very deliberate act to target the folks that have historically helped to build the wealth of this society, but had no real participation in that said wealth. It’s also to create a container that supports folks to move from principal consumers to principal producers of our own means of production, whether that is through values, knowledge, culture, building things, or toiling the land.

That is anti-capitalist because it’s hard for folks to develop solutions if they are not thinking in a different way than the ideology that created the problems. If we have all been indoctrinated in a capitalist methodology from preschool on through college, how can we participate and construct a different world if we’re not being supported to unlearn and learn things differently? That’s at the heart of the Black Dirt Farm Collective.

shakara: As cities become more unlivable and capitalism becomes more deeply entrenched, even as it’s collapsing simultaneously, there needs to be a place where people can learn to live differently and retreat to. That’s the place we aim to be. We’re figuring it out as we go and stretching ourselves beyond what we think is possible — intellectually, emotionally, psychologically.

Do you have any advice for other groups seeking to work outside the non-profit industrial complex?

Blain: Don’t get ahead of yourself in the thickness that is the confrontation of capitalism. Unless you are going to renounce all things from society by carving out land somewhere and using hand tools, you are not working outside of capitalism no matter how intentional, mindful, analytical, or thoughtful you might be. Accept the contradictions, inherent inequities, and dualities of human life in today’s context. If you can hold those contradictions as something that is inherent to human life today, that will make things easier moving forward. Oftentimes, I’ve seen projects languish because of ideological or theoretical differences. And I’ve also seen analysis paralysis, analyzing so much, you don’t really do anything.

How can readers support your work?

Blain: I’m a founder of Earthbound Building, a partner organization to the Black Dirt Farm Collective. We’re a cooperative that builds ecological, affordable, and functional homes and farm infrastructure for rural communities. We just launched our first capital campaign. You can learn more about us and the campaign here.

And for the Black Dirt Farm Collective, if you’re in the spirit of reparations, donating land in the mid-Atlantic, or resonate with our mission, you can connect with us on Instagram or Facebook.

Kayla Soren is a Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies.