‘Black to the Land’ fosters growth and connection | Humboldt NOW

Working as an intern on a local farm in Humboldt County gave Douglas Smith (’13, international studies) the sense of belonging he had struggled to find when he transferred to Cal Poly Humboldt from Los Angeles .

Now a graduate student in Applied English Studies and coordinator of the Umoja Center for Pan-African Student ExcellenceSmith helps students find a similar kinship with the land and community through the Black to the Land Farm project, which trains and helps black students become the next generation of farmers.

“Community-supported agriculture is a big part of the culture here on the North Shore, and it provides a special platform to learn while doing,” Smith said. “Agriculture and community supported agriculture also creates an opportunity to build bridges with the local community and share culture.”

Smith launched the program to encourage black students to get involved in agriculture in 2019, shortly after becoming the coordinator of the Umoja center. Every Wednesday and Friday, he brings six students to Bayside Park Farm in Arcata to grow kale and collard greens. They will soon be raising chickens too.

The expression students have when they see the farm for the first time is all the validation Smith needs of the value of the program, he says.

“It is so rewarding to see students immersing themselves in their surroundings and being excited about the opportunities to settle into a space here in the local community while engaging in multiple forms of learning. Smith said.

Wildlife specialist Dakari Tate says his experience on the farm provides an opportunity for introspection. “One of the reasons I’m here is to find myself. Find out what I want to be. Find out where I’m from and hopefully that will shape me into who I want to be in the future,” says Tate.

Gloria Thompson, a child development student, says working the land is fun and reminds her of her family. “I love going to the farm because I farm well and it helps me feel connected to my grandfather, who was a farmer.”

Black to the Land continued to encourage student farmers even as the pandemic closed campus, mailing them home planting kits and copies of Leah Penniman’s book, Agriculture in black: liberation on the land. Penniman’s virtual lecture during the Umoja Center’s Black Liberation Month lecture series in February was by far the most popular lecture, attracting more than 300 students, faculty and community members.

As part of the Campus Food Summit 2022 this month, Black to the Land invited members of campus and the community to get a taste of farm life during workdays at Bayside Park Farm. The group led the participants in cleaning the chicken coop and will build raised beds and assemble a small hoop-shaped house.

For more information on Black to the Land, contact the Umoja Center at umoja@humboldt.edu

About the Umoja Center for Pan-African Student Excellence
One of four Cal Poly Humboldt Centers of Academic Excellence
, the Umoja Center is a pan-African cultural community of students dedicated to raising the level of knowledge of the African Diaspora. This cultural community seeks to uplift and support its students academically, professionally, and personally through guidance and mentorship. The Center also hosts guest lectures, films, and events to educate the campus community on the Pan-African Diaspora experience.

James C. Tibbs