SAAFON Team Attends Inaugural Island Food Systems Summit, in St. Croix

Date

Author
SAAFON’s Associate Director of Membership, Shelby Mandonado and Jael Paul, U.S. Virgin Islands Coordinator.

In mid-February, Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition held its inaugural Island Food Systems Summit at the University of the Virgin Islands, drawing farmers, farmer advocates, policymakers, and organizations representing the food system of the Caribbean islands and beyond. SAAFON staff members were pleased to attend and sponsor this crucial event, the first of its kind, connecting SAAFON membership and partner organizations on St. Croix.

The 3-day event featured a variety of ways for participants to start building foundational relationships to help fortify island food systems, as well as uplift the critical work of farmers and farmer organizers on the ground in each of their respective locations. The event connected farmers and organizers with each other, while holding space for building out a more robust inter-island food system. Representatives from many  islands and “remote regions,” including St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Alaska, and the contiguous Southeast convened. One of the most important highlights of the event was the centralizing of the farmers and the lands they steward as core to our work within the food system. Farmers’ stories, and each of their unique contexts, conditions, and cultures were uplifted, demonstrated by meals sourced locally from meat and produce farmers on St. Croix.

Coming soon is Bush Cook Chef Cook, a three-day local food sovereignty and security initiative hosted by Dale and Yvette Browne, co-owners of Sejah Farm of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix. Participating chefs/cooks demonstrated their ability to creatively select and use locally grown food and demonstrated a bush style culinary form of preparation in a friendly competition. In addition, this event also intentionally raises the awareness of our community proving that the Virgin Islands can provide good, clean, and healthy food. 

“This event’s intent is to raise the awareness of our community of the availability of local food production and accessibility,” Mr. and Mrs. Browne said about Bush Cook, hosted annually at their farm. “This is an opportunity to showcase locally grown foods and feature local produce prepared by some of the territory’s culinary talents on St, Croix. We wish to educate the community to take ownership of the food produced by applying food to our island’s customs, tradition, culture, social and economic resurgence of our territory’s agricultural development.”

SAAFON is an annual sponsor of this beautiful community event, and works alongside the 20 SAAFON farmer-members organized locally through the efforts, stewardship, and leadership of Yvette and Dale Brown, under the umbrella of the Island Food Security Inc. Farmers of Island Food Security Inc. We have been thrilled to be joined in this experience by a growing body of supportive organizations in our landscape, including Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition, Black Dirt Farm Collective, The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, and The Alcorn State Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center.

Prioritizing this level of intention and care to uplift farmers and their experiences when engaging in broad food systems work is a critical lens that we share at SAAFON. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue to deepen our understanding of the context and challenges faced by farmers across the Caribbean, as we refine our strategy for support and organizing in St. Croix. 

SAAFON offers a resounding congratulations for the outstanding work of the Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition, Island Food Security, and particularly our visionary Board member Yvette Browne.

Growing the Legacy: Stewarding a Black Agrarian Revival in the Rural South 

Authored by SAAFON’s former Research and Land Work Coordinator, Noah McDonald, this report is a culmination of many years of work and serves as an introduction to the topic of Black agrarianism and land loss.

It contains a description of SAAFON as an institution, interviews with selected legacy farmer-members and beginning farmers, and a brief outline of strategies uplifted in our landscape to interrupt land loss and facilitate a Black agrarian revival in the Southeast. We hope to continue to publish its unique content on reviving Black agrarianism with a particular focus on farmer stories, historical narratives, and detailed strategies. We invite you to share widely amongst your networks as you see fit.

Download the report

SAAFON is in a Season of Renewal

Date

Author
SAAFON’s Co-Executive Directors, Alsie Parks and Whitney Jaye

This spring our farmers observed an enlivening, electric time of renewal, fertility, rebirth and the start of the planting season. Organizationally, SAAFON has been preparing for a growing season that reflects 18 years of expansion of the work that our ancestor Cynthia Hayes initiated, seeded, stewarded and continues to grow. By referencing her organizing work – how she moved in the field, her spirit, her determination as a guide – we continue to honor her legacy through our own diligence and practice.  

In February, SAAFON’s Board and staff gathered for an annual retreat at the cherished Black legacy land-based institution, Franklinton Center at Bricks in Whitakers, NC. We are committed to prioritizing organizational resources to reinvest in the land and spaces that have nourished our movements, and the Franklinton Center is a setting that always feels sacred. There, we tended to our community altar, grounded with a mistica, we sang, drummed and danced as cultural practices that support the embodiment of our agrarian nature, politic and organizing strategies. 

A ritual of togetherness and intentional time for reflection and cultivating alignment, the annual Board and staff retreat has served as a continual touch point for us to affirm our collective North star as an institution. In 2023, SAAFON navigated a stabilization period, ripe with opportunities to deepen, including the onboarding of three new staff members – Alisha Johnson Perry, Jael Paul, and Kiyah Harris.

We embraced the time to focus on important aspects of organizational work that are critical to building our internal infrastructure in key areas of development including programmatic refinement, board development, financial systems, operations projects, incorporation, and strategic planning. We celebrated the beautiful work we were able to do in 2023.  

The Board and Staff affirmed the ongoing co-leadership of Whitney Jaye and Alsie Parks as SAAFON institutional stewards, who in 2024 will celebrate seven years of holding the shared vision of crafting kinship among Black agrarian community leaders across the Southeast and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We honored the collective intelligence and wisdom in our intergenerational bridge building, tending to the continuity of the future of our network and deepening our web of relationships across the Southeast and USVI, to create space for continuing to cultivate our Caribbean Area Strategy.  We give special honor to our farmers across the SAAFON network who inform our strategic development in service to deepening their capacity and direct impact in their communities. The Board and staff closed out our time together by touring member farms in the Piedmont North Carolina region – Grounded Roots Farm, Conetoe Family Life Center, Pine Knot Farms and Allied Organics Farm. Each held us in close community through encouragement, storytelling, and hospitality. Experiencing the goodwill across our base is truly an honor and blessing. We give thanks to the farmers in our network who support us in elevating the collective power, prosperity, and visibility of Black farmers committed to advancing ecological sustainability inherited through Black history and culture.  

SAAFON Partners with NCAT and Operation Spring Plant for Cover Crops Research

Date

Author
SAAFON’s Farm Practices Specialist, Jason Lindsay

The morality of Black Agrarianism has always embodied an honor for nature reflected through land stewardship, even within SAAFON’s founding strategy that sought to pave ways for black farmers to benefit from their deeply rooted organic practices. Yet, in the evolution of SAAFON’s story, we have found that the fate of black land stewardship is greater than production. We understand that healing is the epicenter of our collective well-being and a necessity to our progression. This healing begins with our land, the stories it holds, and the relationship we have with it and each other. When we pay attention to the patterns of nature, it teaches us to steward through collective work, and it does this via modeling.

In collaboration with NCAT (National Center for Appropriate Technology) and OSP (Operation Spring Plant), SAAFON is looking at cover crops through the lens of the weeds. Working with farmers from Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and SAAFON farmers in Mississippi and Georgia, we are exploring the weeds growing in and around our fields to understand what cover crops would be most rewarding. 

The weeds that grow on our land have a story. The Cover Crop Project includes the story of weeds, what they mean, and why they appear. We are cultivating a deeper understanding of the weed ecology on our farms and learning what the land is saying through the “pioneer” plants. This project is also readying farmers for on-farm research to ensure that we, the farmers, are gaining relevant information for improved practices.

Our approach to cover crops is not only meant to aid farmers in healthy soil remediation practices in ways that genuinely acknowledge nature. It has also gifted us the opportunity to hold space together as black agrarians in a way that remediates us as land stewards. The healing of our black agrarian communities begins with the land, yet it leads to the recovery of the people. When we hold space together on our farms with hearts of pure intention, the stewards are remediated. Through this work, I am reminded that nature is also the home of our social medicine. On our land, with our land, we must heal.