Southern Agrarian Youth Network (SAYN)

The Southern Agrarian Youth Network (SAYN) is a constellation of Black farmers, land stewards, and organizers committed to fostering knowledge exchange, and preserving and extending farming and cultural land legacies in the South. Created in 2022, SAYN envisions a space that offers opportunities for skill and resource sharing, the cultivation of shared values, and opportunities for togetherness on Black land across the Southeast.

SAYN’s vision includes ensuring the survival, continuance, and revival of Black farming and complementing the work of regional legacy organizations across the South. One key way it is moving the needle on bridging elders and youth is by institutionalizing connectivity among young Black organizers and cultural stewards with intentionally curated land-based spaces that center youth interest, passion, and brilliance, and making space for elder storytelling and sharing. This includes knowing where to point and support even those youth who are not production farmers, but seek experiences to be in dialogue and in partnership in their explorations of agrarianism. 

Housed at SAAFON, SAYN is supported in partnership with the SBFCLF (Southern Black Farmer Community-Led Fund ), a collection of Black-led organizations that work at the intersection of agriculture, food, Black agrarian culture, and social justice.

In 2022, SAYN’s Coordinator, Zel Taylor, conducted more than 14 interviews of young farmers, aspiring land stewards, organizers, storytellers, and cultural workers across Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina. Interviewees spoke about the need for a soft place to land in the process of learning, experimenting, and operationalizing ancestral and agrarian land practices. They named the desire to have virtual and in-person gatherings, a database to visibilize each other, and identify where elders can have the support of young farmers, as they identify opportunities for land acquisition, skills training, and internships.

In the Black food, farm, and land movement there has been ongoing conversation around the need for and lack of the next generation of young farmers. During the interviews, it was powerful to be able to identify young people in our region who are passionate about land and the preservation of Black Southern culture, and to learn about their journeys and paths into this work. Valuing intergenerational connectedness, young agrarians shared their experiences with elders in the community – for many of those interviewed, having supportive elders was a game changer to getting closer to accomplishing their goals. Access to land, education, funds, and community were consistently named as key challenges. What lives in so many of them is the desire to dream up what sustainability can be in ways that honor the land, their relationships and their bodies. They look to each other and the elders to find the answers. 

"Something I’m reconnecting to is needing more care, some patience and softness. Needing elders to be trusting of a young person in farming. I’m here to farm. I'm here to learn. I'm here to learn what that looks like not only for me, but the community around me and to share it as well. In some ways we all got ways to grow and what does that look like in creating relationships with each other, to create an intergenerational relationship.”

In 2023, SAYN hosted its first gathering at Foxfire Ranch, where members came together to share space, engage in collective work, and vision towards how they would like to remain in relationship beyond the meeting. Around a roaring fire, attendees danced and sang, feeling grateful to be on Black land, and together in ways they had only imagined. It felt like the culmination of years of youth organizing in the South, and like the beginning of the establishment of a home for aspiring farmers and land stewards in the region.

With additional resources from SBFCLF, SAYN is expanding its programming in 2024, supporting a co-growing grain project focused on rice production, creating funding vehicles to support farms and land spaces, farm equipment, and housing, and growing the attendance at the next annual gathering.

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