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Natural Awakenings Healthy Living Magazine

Empowering Black Urban Farmers

The Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund is a coalition of three established Detroit urban farming organizations; Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Oakland Avenue Urban Farm and Keep Growing Detroit, with a mission to rebuild intergenerational land ownership for Black farmers in Detroit. Established on Juneteenth 2020, Black farmers in Detroit have been turning blighted properties into thriving sources of food, and now the door is opening to official ownership.

            The city’s population was close to 2 million in the 1950s, but due to deindustrialization and white flight to the suburbs, fewer than 700,000 residents remain, leaving behind abandoned houses and land. Black farmers and Black-owned farmland are at a historical low. In the 1910s, they made up 15 percent of all farmers nationwide, but less than 1 percent today. Detroit, which is almost 80 percent Black, has more than 1,500 farms and community gardens, with a large percentage run by Black farmers. But many of those farmers do not own the land they cultivate.

            Barriers to property ownership can be found in the Detroit housing mortgage sector. A year-long analysis of 2016 data by the Associated Press found that Black applicants in Detroit were almost twice less likely to be approved for a mortgage loan than white applicants.  “The legacy of predatory lending practices keeps Black farmers and landowners dispossessed of their land,” says Jillian Hishaw, an agricultural law attorney and founder of F.A.R.M.S, a legal nonprofit that helps landowners keep their land for future generations. The Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund was created to address the issue of land ownership.

            The Detroit Black Food Community Security Network started the fund with Tepfirah Rushdan, of Keep Growing Detroit, and Jerry Hebron, at Oakland Avenue Urban Farm. In its first year, the group awarded money to 30 farmers. In its second year, the fund has raised almost $100,000 and will be able to support 40 Black farmers to buy land.

            The amount each farmer gets is determined by how much the land costs and how many plots they want to purchase. The fund also provides assistance with technical aspects of buying property and navigating the bureaucratic process. The Land Fund is supported by donations from community members and a few wealthy white donors that want to do reparations work, according to Rushdan.


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