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Rooted in Liberation
caption: Nyema Clark, urban farmer and founder of Nurturing Roots,  harvests shishito peppers on Sunday, September 27, 2020, at Nurturing Roots in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle.
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Nyema Clark, urban farmer and founder of Nurturing Roots, harvests shishito peppers on Sunday, September 27, 2020, at Nurturing Roots in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Transcript: What Black liberation looks like on 40 acres in Auburn, Washington

This is a transcript of Jenna Hanchard's story about Nurturing Roots and 40 acres of land in Auburn, Washington. This transcript reflects the radio story in a format that is accessible to D/deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

JENNA HANCHARD: What does Black liberation mean to you? What does it look like? What does it smell like?

NYEMA CLARK: Mm, yes.

JENNA HANCHARD: What does it taste like? What does it feel like?

NYEMA CLARK: Black liberation - just thinking of that, it's like, I saw Red Barn Ranch (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JENNA HANCHARD: For Nyema Clark, Black liberation looks like about 40 acres of land that sits in Auburn, Wash. It's called Red Barn Ranch. White colonizers developed this idea called land ownership. In that framework, we understand those 40 acres to be owned by the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department. It hasn't been used in years. But once Nyema gets to it, she says it will be the Red, Black and Green Barn Ranch, the colors of Black liberation.

Nyema Clark wouldn't dare call herself the executive director. She's the farm queen at Nurturing Roots in Beacon Hill. Nyema has always wanted to expand the dream of healing Black and brown people on a farm. And now with demands to free the land at the forefront, she hopes to expand that dream on those 40 acres in Auburn, a demand that will require white institutions to consider giving up their idea of ownership.

My name is Jenna Hanchard, a journalist and storyteller at Lola's Ink working in collaboration with KUOW. This is a story of our land, of our healing, of our collective liberation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JENNA HANCHARD: I met Nyema Clark at her current farm space in Seattle's Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Wow. Hi.

NYEMA CLARK: Hello.

JENNA HANCHARD: Nyema doesn't want me to be afraid of what comes from this earth.

So you can eat these?

NYEMA CLARK: Yep.

JENNA HANCHARD: Like now?

NYEMA CLARK: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

NYEMA CLARK: You can.

JENNA HANCHARD: So how do I eat it?

NYEMA CLARK: So you can just eat the whole thing. Some folks eat the bean. The stalk...

JENNA HANCHARD: Nyema had me try a dragon tongue bean, which is almost like a sweeter green bean with purple and yellow streaks.

Mmm.

NYEMA CLARK: Right?

JENNA HANCHARD: It's good.

This is a healing farm, where the weeds of capitalism have been ripped out. You don't pay for the fruits or vegetables. There's no supply and demand. It is land and food for the people. She calls it Nurturing Roots.

NYEMA CLARK: A lot of what we learn about agriculture as Black folks is like, it's slave stuff. It's like, are you kidding me? It's healing. It's love. It's, you know, dedication. It's all those things that people try to say we can't do or people say that we don't deserve. So for me, I love being able to just enhance that part of everyone who comes. Like, people get to come here and smile, take a breath, you know, just find themselves. And it's not necessarily work, although you're breaking a sweat, you're doing all this, you know, activity. But to me, it's just being able to have that sense of belonging.

Like, this is everyone's. No plot belongs to one person. Not having capitalism - like, I don't want your money when you come to the farm. Just come and grab a bean, and eat it. You know? So I think Nurturing Roots is really just all of that - just being able to give back to the community and let the community see what it means to really care for the environment.

JENNA HANCHARD: What Nyema has here, in part, is an answer to food access in a historically Black and brown neighborhood - a place where everyone can come sow and everyone can come to reap. She has families come to volunteer, food education and access to other community resources, such as doulas, yoga and art. This is what she hopes to expand to those 40 acres in Auburn.

NYEMA CLARK: When people come out here, they just remember. And it's something that, as human beings, don't nobody want us to remember that. They don't want us to remember that all it takes is one plant, and it's going to make a million seeds. Like, they don't want us to remember that if I take care of this and nurture it, it can feed me back. They want you to think, OK, you make money so you can go to Safeway. And if you can't make no money, you can't have no Safeway. Like, what?

JENNA HANCHARD: The unrest following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd opened the doors to push a long-standing conversation with white-run governments and institutions about land ownership. For years, Africatown Community Land Trust has pushed the city of Seattle and predatory developers to put land and property back into the hands of Black people in the Central District. More recently, King County Equity Now has made a list of demands asking the city to transfer underutilized property into the hands of Black-led organizations. Nurturing Roots is on that list. The Seattle Parks Department is working with Nyema Clark to figure out if a land transfer is possible. I spoke with spokesperson Rachel Schulkin.

The phrase free the land, how does that sit with you all?

RACHEL SCHULKIN: You know, I don't know. I think again - like, on one hand, I think the - there's a great alignment in values there. And on the other hand, we're the government. And so we have a lot of requirements and a lot of requirements that, when you dig into, were built in a way to hold us accountable and to do the best use of taxpayer funds. And so - and a lot of those requirements are the same requirements that do not allow us to do things like free the land, right? And I think in the city of Seattle, the thing is that we do think there is a benefit to - obviously, with the process going on with the fire station, we do think there is a benefit to the taxpayers of transferring property to community.

JENNA HANCHARD: While the city of Seattle's working to transfer land into the hands of Black-led organizations, it's the first time this department within the city has considered how to give power to Black people through land ownership specifically. But the outstanding question is, how will this happen? Back at Nurturing Roots, collective space is the priority for Nyema.

NYEMA CLARK: So at this point, we're waiting to figure out - OK, are they going to be able to do this as just a pass-over and really just use the public voice as support? Or are they going to send this through a loophole and create, you know, this hierarchal structure again for us to access land that's due to us, I feel like?

JENNA HANCHARD: Black liberation is in the soil for Nyema. It's in her dreams. It's in her sweat. It's in her demands for a future that heals.

NYEMA CLARK: Nurturing Roots - it's my liberation. It's been my Black liberation, being able to reconnect to the earth. I feel like my ancestors are talking to me. Like, I feel like this is the only time I've really felt whole working (crying). It's the time that I've really felt whole working, you know? So I think even that - doing the laborious tasks and not feeling that - you know, that harmful piece of life that often just affects us - but to me, it's like breathing and not being afraid.

(Crying) It is hard for women of color. It's hard for people of color in general. But Black folks, we have to develop a special skin. And even that - like, I see it in the plants. They have to develop in new ways in order to survive, you know? And it's sad seeing my cherries get ripe and then fall in one week.

JENNA HANCHARD: Yeah.

NYEMA CLARK: It's like, something is happening to the environment. Something's happening to all of us. And you know, moments like COVID, we get to see that. It's a magnified - but to me, it's so upsetting, too, 'cause it's like, we've been yelling (crying). We've been screaming. We've been showing you. You know? So...

JENNA HANCHARD: Right.

NYEMA CLARK: To me, it's like, we got to stand up so tall sometimes. But yeah, it's feeling like, OK, that's - I can do it. You know, it's feeling like, I can still do it.

JENNA HANCHARD: Yeah, yeah.

NYEMA CLARK: Mmm hmm.

JENNA HANCHARD: Yeah. Oh, can I give a air hug?

NYEMA CLARK: Yes.

JENNA HANCHARD: Please (laughter), please...

NYEMA CLARK: Thanks, sis.

JENNA HANCHARD: …Please.

NYEMA CLARK: Whew.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)