Cultivating Justice

Agriculture is more than growing food - it is a cultural identity, practice, economic activity, and land use with environmental consequences. The complicated history of African American agriculture shapes how we value, model, and support growing food in and by communities of color. The 1865 promise of "forty acres and a mule" never materialized, instead instituting an unjust system that discouraged land ownership and allowed unequal governmental support. In 1900, 13% of the 5.74 million US farmers were African American; today African Americans constitute 1.5% of the roughly 3 million farmers. This decline in agrarian livelihoods has many push-pull factors, including a desire to flee poverty and discrimination that shaped the farming experience and made it undesirable for future generations. Yet African American farming has persisted and resisted, as exposed in the Pigford v. Glickman {USDA) class action lawsuit. Skills and cultural ties to agriculture also find outlet in urban community and home gardening. Today, new farmer activists are building farms, forming collectives, opening markets, and creating education programs to address food security and justice in communities of color.
For several years, co-investigators Laura Lawson and Will Atwater have interviewed farmers and activists, collecting stories about past and present experiences and future prospects for African American agriculture. These efforts have led to "Cultivating Justice," a action research project seeking to connect humanities scholars, older farmers struggling to sustain their communities, young farmers looking to acquire land, and urban agriculture activists to discuss complex personal, cultural, and economic relationships with agriculture, in order to frame inclusive models for agricultural education and advocacy. The intended result is a multi-media website that reflects themes emerging from discussions, public workshops, historical research and photographs, case studies, and personal stories/interviews.
Watch a short clip of a few of our interviews.


The next phase of this project is a public workshop, supported by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, to be held in October 2018. More information to follow.

This project is funded by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. For more information on this organization’s work, please visit their website:

Will Atwater interview