(photo © Adja Gildersleve )
My name is Lizy Bryant. I am a queer, Black, emerging land steward born and raised in Minnesota. I am fundraising $365,000 to buy 25 acres of land and farming infrastructure an hour outside of the Twin Cities, which will be converted into an agricultural and artistic resource for Black Minnesotans and their families. When fully operative, this land will function as a farm, a gathering place, a learning facility, and a generative nexus for wellness and creativity.
There is an incredible healing potential inherent to this place: 400-year-old oaks, rolling hills, a flowing creek, and a rich diversity of wildlife. This land also houses two barns, a cheese plant, a milk house, a shed, and a two-story home. For the past 25 years, this farm has been cared for by my aunt, Lynne Reeck, who has practiced farming that is nurturing and responsive to the land’s needs. She has also worked to reinforce the strength and interconnection of local economies through her business, Singing Hills Goat Dairy, which produces some of Minnesota’s finest fresh milk goat cheese.
1. Agricultural practices will honor a nurturing model of farming, which holds care as the standard, and the health of the land and the community as the goal.
2. Space will be created and maintained for individual and collective artistic practice, allowing for creativity from a place of gratitude for the land and one another.
This land will be used as a space of healing and interconnection for Black Minnesotans and their families, who may come for retreats, refuge, and relationship building.
3. This project will carry forward the established business of Singing Hills Goat Dairy, providing an earned income stream that supports upkeep of the land and programming. This will also facilitate training opportunities for Black emerging land stewards passionate about food production and local economies. There are ongoing efforts to explore additional revenue streams that complement a regenerative philosophy. This land has successfully supported tart cherries, hazelnuts, bees, elderberries, pastured pork, and apple trees—some of the many food crops that could be produced here.
The overarching intention is for this farm to grow as one of many stewarded by emerging farmers of color in Minnesota. There is a massive, impending transition of land as baby boomer farmers retire. This is an exciting opportunity to redistribute land on a larger scale, especially to people of color who have experienced a rupture between their homelands and cultures in the name American imperialism. It is our ancestral knowledge, our histories of survival, and our creativity that are essential in healing a human connection to the earth.
My aunt Lynne is this land’s most recent caretaker, and she has tended to this place in ways that are radical by contemporary standards. With that said, her approach is not novel. It extends from thousands of years of indigenous traditions that saw the land as a relative, and regarded physical and spiritual wellness as interconnected among beings. Up until the 19th century, the modern delineation of Minnesota was inhabited by the Dakota and the Ojibwa. In the 1800s, these tribes were forcibly removed, massacred or otherwise relegated to endure violent institutions of white assimilation. Simultaneously, the forced labor of enslaved Africans—as well as the use of agricultural knowledge that they carried from their homelands—had been violently exploited for hundreds of years. The institutions of American slavery and indigenous genocide are intertwined. They are foundations of capitalism, forged by white settlers and fortified by the United States government. This system has overseen the catastrophic decline of the environment, in line with our individual and collective wellness. It is impossible to express the depths of these ruptures in a few sentences, but their legacies are all around us.
According to a 2017 Census of Agriculture, 6.8% of Minnesotans identify as African-American or Black but comprise 0.03% of Minnesota farmers. Comparatively, 84.1% of Minnesotans identify as white, yet they make up 99.16% of the state's farmers. The numbers for other non-white populations mirror this trend, with the statistics for Black farmers exhibiting the most extreme disparity. There are so many enthusiastic emerging Black farmers and farmers of color in Minnesota who are thinking expansively about how to tend to land ethically and feed people equitably! It’s thrilling to witness and be a part of. Access to land is the greatest barrier to these stewards fully enacting their visions. This project will be truly successful when it is interconnected with the work of these stewards, farms and collectives, so that we may reinforce one another, share resources, and improve our practices collectively, on behalf of the whole.
1. $336,000 will pay for the land, farming infrastructure, and the business. This comprises 25 acres, two barns, one milk house and cheese plant, one shed, and a two-story home. Singing Hills' current dairy operations support a living wage for 1.5 employees, with potential to grow. Additionally, all investments in the current business, including cheesemaking equipment, fencing, paddocks and water lines, as well as a loyal and significant customer base built over 12 years, will be transferred to the next stewards. Like most farms in the USA, Singing Hills Dairy is mortgaged. We intend to start mortgage free.
2. $9,000 will fund an 8-month land transfer period, which will allow smooth and ethical transfer of ownership and knowledge, and prepare the space for what comes next. $6,000 will provide income for Lizy as she apprentices Lynne full time from September 2020 to April 2021, in cheesemaking, small business operations, and animal husbandry, as well as in learning about the unique qualities of this land and how to tend to it. $3,000 will fund paid consultations with a financial adviser, specialists in cooperative structures, and community outreach, including paid consultation with the Black farmers, local food justice community leaders, local tribal elders, and reimbursement for travel should any of the above be able to visit the farm.
3. $20,000 will fund critical infrastructural improvements to the home and one barn. For the house, it would fund updated heating and insulation, as well as new windows on the second floor for energy efficiency during the winter months. For the barn, it would fund a new roof to house hay for the goats.
This project on these 25 acres is a small part of a much greater shift that returns land to Black people and people of color in Minnesota and globally. Alternative models of living and creating collectively are part of what will make our humanity possible—for us and for future generations.