Back to the Root Retrospective

By Malcolm Hoover

Looking back at the photos from the Back to the Root conference 2020, I’m in disbelief as to how much the world at large, and my own personal life, has changed. Renard Turner of Vanguard Ranch told us that the time was near, that worldwide transformation was at hand. We’ve certainly all heard this before…old Black men who’ve seen things like he has are famous for doom and gloom. My own father, at 78, regularly tells me that this shit is coming to an end. I didn’t, in my wildest dreams, suspect that he was right. He was. This shit is coming to an end. The confluence of COVID-19, an extended sheltering in place, and an apparent awakening of white people worldwide has led to the beginning of the end.  The American experiment has perhaps found its limit; what started in inequity cannot continue on the path that it was firmly on in February of this year. Everything has been upended, and we are daily working to readjust our compasses to these new ways of being. 


Renard Turner and Malcolm Hoover during keynote Q&A session.


Black Futures Farm is a beginning of what is next. In the bad old days of pre-COVID, when we just hashtagged about the latest police murder or maybe wore a t-shirt (if we knew of them), back before we took to the streets for a month straight, when “I can’t breathe” just memorialized Eric Garner, back when we had to go to a building to go to work, when we had just brokered our preliminary lease arrangement for Black Futures Farm – we had no plants in the ground, just what we thought were good ideas. That was then, this is now. 


Back to the Root participants tour Black Futures Farm.


Now we are not just growing produce and creating a new place for Black people, we are creating a way to educate and uplift ourselves. These are not new methods; they are the ways that have always worked for us, they are the same principles we discuss at Kwanzaa every year: Imani – Faith, Ujamaa – Collective Work and Responsibility, Nia – Creativity, Umoja – Unity, Kujichagulia – Self Determination and Ujima – Cooperative Economics. “Each one, Teach one” is our basic operational philosophy. Once we learn a new thing, we are excited to bring that knowledge back to the group to share. We share our resources with the broader Black, Indigenous, and People of Color community, and we take land stewardship seriously. I knew back in October of 2019 that we were going to make these principles central to our work. I didn’t understand how important they were going to be until I was really in the thick of the work. We have had positive responses from the people we met at the 2020 Back to the Root gathering- people who have contributed their labor, intellect, and resources to repair our broken equipment, to come by and lift our spirits, and just to be in fellowship. I could tell then, at the conference in February, that we were on the cusp of something big; what we didn’t know then was that these connections would not only keep us alive, but would position our little farm center stage in the food sovereignty movement. We had no idea how serious things were about to become.


Kwele and Jamese at the BFF table at Come Thru Black and Indigenous market


What we know now is that this work of growing food and community is one of the primary building blocks of what is next. At Back to the Root, I met some of the people who will continue to teach us how to live these new ways. Any time I have the pleasure of spending time with Black people who have learned how to do more than survive this maelstrom we call America, these mentors and colleagues are a blessing to me. From them, I learn, I refocus, and I recalibrate. Being a part of Back to the Root, the Black Food Sovereignty Coalition, and creating Black Futures Farm from the ground up has been an honor.

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