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Detroit-based farming fund works to make sure Black farmers own their land

Posted at 8:55 PM, Jul 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 22:55:28-04

DETROIT, MI — Urban farmer Jerry Hebron has been tending on the Northend Christian CDC farm for nearly 12 years. But it took Hebron and her associate farmers nearly 15 years to purchase that piece of land.

“And we saw, you know, white folks coming in with money and capital, and they easily were able to navigate the system and acquire land," Hebron said. "With us—we were not being looked upon as being serious.”

Like many urban farmers in the metro Detroit area, Hebron and her team decided to transform a vacant piece of land into a garden area for her community.

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“A lot of what we do is out of a passion for improving our neighborhoods," Hebron said.

But many of the farmers tending on lands often don't own it—leaving them at risk of having their livelihoods taken away.

“And I’ve seen it; I’ve seen it a number of times,” co-director of Keep Growing Detroit Tepfirah Rushdan said.

Rushdan, along with Hebron, Erin Preston, and Dr. Shakara Tyler, are the founders of the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund, a farming organization on a mission to help smaller urban farms purchase land from the city.

“It’s a whole process, Jeddy, and it shouldn’t be that way, but it is," Rushdan said.

According to Rushdan, many farmers struggle to navigate through the legal process of owning land. That’s because sometimes they don’t know whether to contact the city, the Detroit Land Bank, or another unknown entity.

That’s why Rushdan and her fellow partners are stepping in to help.

“We’re actually holding people's hands through the process. Making sure that those gaps aren’t left unattended," she said.

According to Rushdan, there is a large disparity between white farmers who’ve purchased land and black farmers who’ve purchased land.

“And we’re in an 85% Black city, so we wanted to make sure that inequity closed as soon as possible,” she said.

In just one year, The Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund has partnered with 30 small urban farmers, already helping eight purchase land while 19 others are just waiting for approval.

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“This is a process that I had no movement on for a couple of years, and now working through them, I'm moving,” urban farmer Brenda Foster Sharpe said.

Sharpe is a farmer at the foster patch community garden in Detroit. She currently owns two lots but is hoping to purchase two more.

“We have created, really, a safe space. People come by our block just to see our garden," Sharpe said. "I remember when nobody wanted to be back there. It was just overgrown and trashed out, and it was really an eyesore."

This year, the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund is hoping to help at least 40 more urban farmers purchase land in the city of Detroit, thus offering stability to Black families and communities throughout the area.

For more information on the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund or donate to the cause, click here.

Jeddy Johnson at WXYZ first reported this story.