Black Agrarianism in Cleveland, Ohio: Alternatives to traditional development

Authors: Justine Lindemann*, Cornell University
Topics: Land Use, Ethnicity and Race, Urban Geography
Keywords: urban agriculture, food justice, vacant land, urban farming, black growers, black agrarianism, black geographies
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Bayside B, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Black gardeners and farmers in Cleveland, Ohio see themselves as stewards of not only the land they work and live on, but of a cultural and historical agrarian past that is conceived of as a path to social, economic, political, and spiritual liberation. Land is a sacred element of the emancipatory vision of these growers, and plays a central role in their food equity work. While community gardens (and most urban farms) do not create significant revenue for residents, they produce something outside of the traditional economy. Drawing upon generations of traumatic relationships to land – from enslavement and conscription to indebtedness and widespread land loss – as well as of resilience around land use, farming, and food, black urban growers enact an agrarian vision in the city to reimagine urban spaces, development, and change, and to lay claims on the land around them, using it for its best social purpose.

This paper draws upon over two years of ethnographic research with black farmers and gardeners in Cleveland, OH, as well as with city officials, not-for-profits, environmental agencies, and other relevant agencies. I show how black urban growers contest traditional development within marginalized and underserved neighborhoods, create their own vision for urban space, and draw upon traditions of collaboration and black entrepreneurialism to enact a different understanding of value. Community gardens and urban farms are not seen as interim land-use projects, but as long-term solutions to historical marginalization connected to a growing black agrarianism rooted in the American South.

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