Since 2016, Earth Arts has offered vital environmental education for children, adults, and families, in NYC and beyond. Our work is to bring nature into the classroom, through food, gardening, and healthy exploration. In the past, Earth Arts has also partnered with third party education providers, such as camps or after school programs- serving over 500 students, across boroughs and counties, from toddlers to senior citizens.
However, since the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, and the ongoing displays of police brutality, it has become clear that many of these third party education providers do not prioritize serving BIPOC communities, especially when they need it most. Many of the BIPOC students Earth Arts serves have had limited outdoor access since March, let alone access to farm or nature enrichment. Earth Arts has left these partnerships and organizations to create a permanent safe space for POC students and their families to enjoy nature and the art of growing food.
100% of the proceeds from this fund will go to securing a permanent safe space for BIPOC students from Harlem, Queens, Westchester, Brooklyn and beyond, to learn the art of growing their own food in harmony with nature. We have identified a space in upstate New York which is both accessible & affordable, while offering ample space for retreat lodging, nature exploration and food cultivation.
This POC Sanctuary will work on the intersections of sustainable agriculture, ecology and social justice. We dream that this space serve as a summer retreat space for BIPOC youth, and a regional hub for ongoing workshops, courses, and certificate trainings to heal the earth-human connection for people of all ages.
Earth Arts is seeking support for the purchase of a historic retreat property to be stewarded as a working educational farm and conservation center. This space would be accessible for students from NYC and the tristate area, and would be designed to serve BIPOC communities FIRST! Please help to spread the word!
In the wake of the horrors of 2020, it is imperative to create safe spaces for young people of color, and their families to experience nature, food justice, and a sense of connection to Earth, as a desperate solution to climate change and impending global ecological imbalance.
It is extremely disappointing that time and time again, those who have access to land choose to remain gate keepers, and hoarders of safe spaces, whilst those in urban settings not only have limited access to green spaces, but also are often not even privy to the kinds of natural connections they are meant to experience— which is theirborn right to experience.
I have dedicated my life to environmental stewardship, farming & teaching gardening/sustainability in NYC and beyond— to students k-12, their families, and the public. I have seen first hand the lack of access people in high density urban settings have versus their peers in upstate NY or beyond. I created Earth Arts as a solution-- a non profit environmental ed organization offering programs to youth & the public since 2016.
If safe access to nature was difficult before COVID, current conditions compounded with police brutality and ongoing financial uncertainty means a sincerely discouraging, disturbing and just plain shameful experience for young people currently in NYC.
I’ve had students complain that they haven’t been outside more than once a week since lockdown. This, compounded with social isolation is literally becoming a community mental health concern.
You would think that this would be the precise moment where “sanctuary spaces” or public land trusts would jump to provide access, yet, time and time again I have personally witnessed exclusively white organizations take it upon themselves to be decidedly UNSAFE spaces for people of color, despite having full consciousness around their inherent refusal to recognize their white bias orsubconscious white supremacy.
Even when a POC points out inequity, or literally begs for consideration, there is an inherent culture of gaslighting any criticisms of equity, race, or privilege.
"This is just the way things are, and if you don't like it, it won't work." is the mentality which justifies the silencing of any critiques around power, and kills all conversations around equity, immediately.
This is the essence of theparadigm -- so many ethically "inclusive" safe spaces meant to "serve disenfranchised "folks" " despite being run almost exclusively by affluent white people--
but that, that's all just "by chance" ! There's no "inherent bias" in this institution's white-ness. No racism here, we love inclusivity! Look, we hired literally one person of color!
I believe this is practice is considered“de facto" racism
In my time as a queer femme farmer/educator of color I have been exposed to countless acts of racial disparity and social violence amongst exclusively white, or "woke" “farm” / "intentional" “community” organizations.
No matter my "ivy league qualifications, extensive hands-on experience, or decorated resume, ("prizes" which were meant to erase my inherent other-ness and equate me to stereotypical white "goodness")--
I have consistently watched my white counterparts benefit from my labor, ideas, and work, while denying responsibility for upholding traditionally racist institutions and practices.This has ranged from pirating my work, dangerous/unfit facilities, negligent administrative staff, superiors with lesser qualifications, blatant racism ie slurs, and clear racial castes / socio-economic hierarchies, even, and especially amongst “woke” organizations.
These actions clearly imply that these “safe spaces” have taken it upon themselves to not only be exclusionary in practice, but to decidedly create exclusively white spaces to ensure the long term comfort of their white staff, while limiting critique or attempts at equity from anyone, but especially POC.
I'm saddened to say that I have seen this time and time again, and yet, I remain eager to be proven wrong.
I began my studies in agro-ecology at Columbia University which is a traditionally white male institution, with no qualms about flaunting it. To be honest, I’m not even disappointed to recount my experiences there—which were in many ways predominately cis, white, straight, and male, because in a way, that was what I signed up for— to be privy to the institutional structures which exalt white patriarchy, and to understand the bureaucratic behind the scenes workings which perpetuate our ideas around education, class and privilege.
Since my time there, I have encountered almost exclusively white agricultural spaces despite seeking the most inclusive or “progressive” spaces in the most “liberal” towns, one in particular in the Hudson Valley. Despite constant feigned altruism, many of these spaces employ people of color almost exclusively for labor despite having entirely white administrative staffs, which they almost seem proud of showcasing, in addition to a slew of other bad practices and clear violations of “holistic” or “permaculture” principles which they claim to adhere to.
In 2017 I lent my expertise to a “community-based sanctuary” safe space “where people could be in relation to nature.” At that point I had completed a Masters Degree of Public Administration in Environmental Science & Policy in addition to a Bachelors in the same subject, both from Columbia University. This was also all happening while simultaneously running Earth Arts in Brooklyn-- open in BK for environmental workshops and gatherings since Sept 2017.I was brought on to the project to facilitate its opening to the public, especially because the land owners were keen on exploiting my community relationships for their own gain and public clout.They wanted me to bring "people in from the city for 'workshops'" despite really wanting free labor on their private property. They always emphasized that "we" were building this space for “us,” but it became clear that the insidious nature of privilege permeated the entire project-- and "we" only meant "them. Perhaps it was my mistake to assume that an extremely wealthy white couple would be able to foster a safe space at all, but since this time it’s also been clear that they’ve even failed to create safe spaces for those within similar socio-economic standing. The premise of the space was to create "community" however the true objective was literally to get young people to build a a veritable playground for two "tantric" landlords, who would never allow any actual “community” to thrive on their private property. I later found out that before me, they brought on about a dozen young people, many queer or of color, invited under the guise of "sanctuary" to stay on their property for extended periods of time, despite actually expecting hard labor "in exchange--" these people were literally living in tents on platforms with only one shared cold shower through the winter, with absolutely no clear contracts or agreements regarding an official work exchange.
Many of the people affected by this property received a kind of “hush” settlement, but a few are still willing to share their explicitly racist, classist, and psychologically violent experiences with both land owners. I still debate the right way to address my time there, and yet I found out a few months ago they had my photo and personal information on their website as a "collaborator" despite telling me they "could not guarantee a safe working environment" in our last professional interaction.
After that experience I also spent time in public schools in NYC, where teachers are neglected and the students even more so. My only critique of these spaces once again is that young people of color are on the ground doing the hard work, for fellow young people of color, while white administrators who often don’t even work with children, cut checks, and debate semantics behind closed doors all day.
This is not news to anyone who has worked in public education and I only lament the circumstantial limitations of these institutions, not the people I actually worked with, or the students. These spaces need more resources, more social workers, and more access to food justice and nature. They need fewer administrators who are committed to serving traditional institutional structures despiterepeated failures and increasingly poor conditions from dwindling funding.
Tenure does not equate with efficient allocation of resources, nor effective teaching methods.
On the other end of the spectrum, I will also share that during this time I worked at an extremely affluent private Waldorf school, which was also almost exclusively white, teaching nature and gardening skills to mostly white students. Though many of the administrators were painfully aware of their lack of inclusivity, * and for that, I respect their honesty— * the reality of the inherent racism latent within the surrounding community was unavoidable.
I ultimately had to leave my dream position stewarding a quarter acre teaching garden which I planted from seed due to
1. an outwardly racist encounter with a neighbor/community member who physically made me feel unsafe for being there and
2. The camp’s decision to deny their sliding scale participants admission to camp for summer 2020, despite the fact that those attendees are pretty much their only participants of color.
These kids were coming from neighborhoods in NYC which already lack access to green spaces, and are often inherently food deserts, at least until their ultimate gentrification by affluent transplants.
These experiences in public and private schools, literally being the only person writing and implementing curricula to huge groups of students, often with no budgets or staff support, led me to apply for several jobs administrating after school environmental education programs, most notably one in Harlem and one upstate.
I will share that my experience with the Harlem based program was at the very least brief, despite also being an extreme disappointment. It too, once again, was an almost exclusively white board, despite serving a majority black community.
Again, I was interviewed by three white people, all over 50, requesting that I use my years of training, and hands on experience, to create and implement an entire camp program— in their organization’s name. All this work, for $15 dollars an hour, while charging families hundreds of dollars just to participate. This was not to mention the fact that I would be developing my own curriculum and would be the only educator facilitating the experience of young people and their families.
I rejected this position because I realized the inherent issues within the organization early on, and based on past experiences I was able to prevent the extortionof my labor immediately.
My experience with the farm/nature public land trust “organization” upstate on the other hand, was a more difficult ruse to discern— and was drawn out for many draining months-- since February. Today being the last day, I realize that this experience has again been an important lesson for me.
Regardless of feigned "liberal" ideologies and even despite "progressive" rhetoric plastered on social media, there is absolutely no guarantee that people in positions of (white*) power are capable of being held accountable for their actions.
When people with land, access, and privilege, cannot understand the weight of their positions, people of color suffer in every regard.
We suffer due to ancestral separation from land, ancestral abuse through land / agricultural trauma, and we suffer when we try to bring these difficult issues to light and are met with resistance and ultimately rejection, because inclusivity is something that white people read about in weekly hand outs, it's not which is actually practiced, otherwise there wouldn't be such a urgent need for re-education amongst our white collaborators.
It's honestly an extremely difficult to write at this point because I am exhausted, vexed, and confused.
How can a space literally designed to serve the public be so mismanaged? How are the people making decisions so blind to the blaring contradictions in their "conscious" institution? Why would you claim to be a pro-active space committed to equity if you aren't capable or committed to change? Why are there no higher forces holding these institutions accountable?
But then I remember, we are literally in "the land of the free," built on the backs of indigenous genocide / trans-atlantic enslavement/ and ongoing eco-cide.
We are unapologetically a culture of extraction, and exploitation, under the guise of democracy, policing the world through the implementation of literal war crimes. It's a reminder that these structures are the purest embodiment of the very "higher forces" meant to ensure justice, and to our horror we are reminded repeatedly that they too are exclusively designed to shield abusers and deny accountability.
This experience has clarified the rampant institutional racism in the world today and how fundamental it is to global/ public psychology as a whole. " After everything I saw, can I even blame them for being racist? Or, is it my fault for not knowing from the start?" These are the damaging thought patterns POC take on to make space for white-ness.
I could recount how this "organization" has been wasting my time since February, disregarding the hours of labor I gave for free on zoom calls, consultations, writing curriculum, drafting proposals and contracts, traveling upstate multiple times at their whim, paying tolls, staying at air bnbs**
(I paid for lodging despite the fact that the property has more than 7 viable sleeping spaces, including a four bedroom farm house occupied by a singular white woman who was admitted into the organization at the same age as me and with fewer qualifications,,, and yet she has absolute autonomy over an integral portion of this space, in a"public land trust, open to the community"?) Hmmm..
Meanwhile all other staff, including potentially myself-- are relegated to a dilapidated "apprentice bunk" because it's absolutely imperative to hire a farmer who hatesteaching AND sharing a communal space with 3 extra bedrooms?
From an outside perspective, would you want an "apprentice" running an entire after school program for young people?
From my perspective, would being courted by anorganization to run programs which they could have established 25 years ago, give you confidence in their mastery of the subject, or the practice? Or would it imply, if anything, that they, indeed, are the apprentices, in desperate need of direction? Having multiple committees relegated to education, food justice, and land stewardship, and yet virtually no environmental / agricultural programming to show for it? Who needs who here?
I could write about the blatant lack of stewardship on the property despite decades of non profit "use" I could describe the complete lack of regard for invasive species management, perennial native landscaping, or edible agro-forestry, all tenets they claim to support yet have "no way to implement" despite originally bringing me on to do just that with but with students and the public..
I could write about the hundreds of square feet of dormant plastic covered rows slowly leaching bpa into the soil and vegetables, all while advertising their CSA as "organic," serving less than 30 people with 4 staff members, despite the entire property being over 100 acres-- (to put things into perspective, the farm i currently apprentice at has over a 70 people on their csa on 9 acres and 4 staff members-- and they do not use plastic or petrochemicals in production AND the farmers are also able to host educational experiences to the public AND they all share the communal housing together)
I could write about the extremely depressing living conditions provided for the animals on the property, literally "rented" as a glorified petting zoo for the duration of the summer camp, while the actual fate and future of the animals are left undiscussed, and the true spirit of regenerative animal-stewardship is completely lost to the children who are actually supposed to be learning how to be in relation to these animals
I could write about how the entire organization is majority white ladies, including said farm director, "farm camp" director * who has no agricultural experience and essential runs an art camp* with an all white camp staff, in addition to a 3/4 of white farm staff, in addition to a majority white board---***(to be fair I should note that all but two people in this program are anything but white or white passing, and for their sake I am choosing to keep this "land trust" anonymous* however only one POC is involved with the org on an official capacity.)
I could also write about how they showcase this one person of color across their social media, despite having to have organized board meetings regarding any public statements claiming "back lives matter"
and I could even write about the inherent racism I witnessed during my time teaching at camp, where I also only saw two children of color out of 25 white students... and the camp director asked me point blank "what I went to school for" despite being in multiple meetings with me, where I detailed my experiences and qualifications repeatedly.
I could also write about how they revoked their promise to host my students from the city for free, opting instead to charge $100 dollars a day just for the students to sleep outside, despite our original agreement stating that such a program would be offered to students in need, on behalf of a privileged institution in a position/ designated role to support. Never mind that we also agreed to seek equitable spaces for them to stay, only to conclude that students who've never been camping before should have their first experience in a tick ridden unmowed lawn.....
And yet despite all these negative elements, especially the ones which already highlighted the blatant disparity of racial equity within the organization, I still tried to convince myself that there was a capacity for positive change within the organization.
So I bit my tongue on mistreatment, waited for weeks in between texts and emails, came happily to perform for them when they asked, didn't even mention the air bnbs I paid for out of pocket, despite being out of work--
I tried to be accepting of some of the obvious issues, and I tried to be open to hearing their explanations, but in the end, after 6 months of useless negotiations with the "board" ** I was asked to develop an entire year's program in two days without any clear contract or agreement despite months of negotiations-- and when I called out the inherent bias within the system they retracted our collaboration completely at the very last minute.
**the board, is a group of people who are some how simultaneously both too busy and underpaid to fulfill their role to the project, and thus shouldn't be critiqued for their poor management, but also too committed and powerful and qualified to actually delegate decision making to anyone else, despite the endless input of "sub committees" which are literally the same board members in different configurations, once again debating semantics behind close doors, without ever implementing any actual change. NOT TO MENTION, that I went upstate on my birthday with a full presentation and NONE OF THE BOARD MEMBERS I PRESENTED TO HAD MY PROPOSAL IN FRONT OF THEM. Later on the "president" of this "organization" would say that no one was prepared for that meeting despite it being scheduled a week and a half in advance, and that no one can be held accountable for being uninvolved because it's an all "volunteer organization" but it would be impossible to afford to hire an executive director for the project because the organization is never making enough money-- perhaps could it be.. from... mismanagement?
all this compounded with the fact that I was asked to draft an entire program in three days, for no pay, despite months of wasted time, etc. should have been plenty of red flags, and yet I was really convinced that this organization was willing to do the work, because they repeatedly claimed, ever so loudly and tearfully that they were committed to equity and creating a safe space, and that they did see the injustice inherent in their system- and they agreed there were improvements to make- and honestly I was gullible enough to believe them.. And I was still even open to working with them, despite all of this nonsense.
and yet, when the slightest issues of equity ** not even explicitly race ** were forcibly brought up,** (I had advocated for an equity mediator to be present for this conversation but instead was pressured into "airing out my concerns" by one of the presidents, only then to be literally bullied into apologizing for calling out racist behavior due to the most pathetic display of white male fragility I have ever witnessed,**)
I realized that I had spent literal months of free labor trying to make an inherently racist institution seem palatable to myself and even to the others who literally shook their heads in disgust whenever i detailed any parts of my experience with this space.
I realize now there's no reason to air them out publicly, and that it is far more effective to declare that they relinquish power to POC in private, and amongst other institutions doing similar work in similar circles. There is no justice in a rotten system, but there sure is a lot of white guilt in hippy dippy "eco conscious" communities in upstate New York..It is no longer a POC's job to illuminate these disgusting systems.
I'm tired of white people begging for chances to be seen as allies, accomplices, or even empathizers of POC experiences, all the while securing their own spaces for exclusivity, into perpetuity.
They are quick to tear up and claim they are "hurt" by accusations of racism, yet do little to nothing to actually implement positive change for their POC counterparts actually suffering beneath racism.
This is not only unsustainable, but it is inherently dangerous, contributing to the very systems which perpetuate violence, climate change, and global unrest today.
The unabashed relinquishing of power to under-qualified, under educated, and simply incapable "administrators" because its the way "its always been" is the most passive explanation for the most evil misuse of power I've ever witnessed, and I'm fucking sick of cowards running spaces into the ground while hoarding power, access, and resources.
If you understand where I'm coming from, please consider donating to our co-op fundraiser, we envision creating a safe space for POC to explore nature and their agricultural traditions. We need POC farmers feeding POC communities, the end of white supremacy is near. I'm glad to witness it with you all. / end rant