BruceMichael Wilson aims to shift the narrative for Black farmers

Reposted from Rapid Growth Media 9/23/2020

When a farmer’s first full year on the land falls in the midst of a global pandemic, that’s a pretty rough row to hoe. However, BruceMichael Wilson, owner of Groundswell Community Farm in Zeeland, has a rich history to fall back on. For one, he grew up on his family’s 160-acre farm in neighboring Allegan County. For an African American, this was a rarity. During the 20th century, as farmers became more dependent on credit to get started each spring, racist lending policies put Black farmers across the United States off their land. In fact, in 1920, 14% of all U.S. farms were owned by Black farmers. By 2012, that number had fallen to 1.4%. Sad to say, Michigan’s history tells the same story.

Wilson’s father purchased his farm in 1970. To ensure he would be allowed to do so, he kept his race a secret until he signed on the line at closing. Happy on the family farm, Wilson wrote, illustrated and published his first book, “Our Big Farm” at age six.

“My earliest recollection of being on the farm was helping with chores, gardening, and feeding livestock,” Wilson says. “Farming has always been in my DNA so when the opportunity presented itself [at Groundswell], I made it happen.”

Groundswell Community Farm is a vendor at Holland Farmers MarketFarmers Market at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, and Southeast Area Farmers’ Market in Grand Rapids. The farm offers Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares and sells to Ottawa County food pantries and Doorganics.

Originally founded by food justice activists Katie Brandt and Tom Cary, Groundswell has a history that lends itself well to Wilson’s next endeavor: Dunyun, an enterprise that will train Black youth to be the farmers of a more equitable future. Named for the nickname his late brother gave him, Dunyun will transform the farm into an educational center where Black children from throughout West Michigan can dig into their African American agricultural heritage as well as into the soil.

“I’m going to promote being excited about being Black,” Wilson says. “Being proud of who you are is the single most important step. I’ve learned to be proud of myself and proud of my people.”

Wilson wants Black youth to grow up knowing about successful Black Americans in agriculture like Daniel Webster Wallace, who was born a slave in 1860, ran away to become a cowboy, and ended up owning his own ranch, where white ranchers stopped by for frequent advice.

BruceMichael Wilson, owner of Groundswell Community Farm in Zeeland“There are a lot of untold stories that young Black kids have never heard They need to picture themselves doing the same kinds of things to feel some worth,” Wilson says. “Learning about our people in general will move them one step further ahead.”

Being a Black farmer in Michigan has not been easy for Wilson. He feels that others in the farming community do not take him seriously. And, when a series of thefts happened on the farm, he chose not to report them for fear of the reaction he might get when law enforcement came out to take a report.

“I might get shot or killed,” he says. “I am afraid I would have a hard time convincing police that I was the farmer if they were to show up after daylight hours.”

The hope is that Dunyun will free future Black farmers from those very real fears.

“If you are designated a Black farm hand or laborer, then you earn more respect than being a Black farmer. That’s where most people feel you belong,” Wilson says. “Our mission to stay in business long enough to get the winning hand and change that narrative.”

When Dunyun starts bringing busloads of African American children to Groundswell Farm from Grand Rapids’ and the Lakeshore’s urban communities, that change will begin. Wilson concludes, “I can tell people that I might be the first Black USDA organic grower in the area, but I don’t have to be the last.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Interim Innovation News Editor
Photos courtesy Groundswell Community Farm

Farmers Market at MLK Jr. Park Saturday!

Stop by for organic, fresh, local produce from Groundswell Farm, tasty cottage kitchen goods, and handcrafted personal care items and crafts.

Groundswell Farm organics will do your body good!

Ask our market manager, Belinda Hendersen, about ordering bulk whole foods with us, e.g. dry beans, whole grain flours, nuts and seeds, pasta, rice and more..

Items are ordered from Country Life Natural Foods, a supplier to Michigan food co-ops. View the entire PDF Catalog herePlace your order by emailing media@oOKTjustice.org or in person at the market.  Orders will be available for pick-up at the market on October 10.

As the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market accepts Bridge card/SNAP/EBT, its patrons using these programs will be able to buy bulk food items at the market along with fresh, local fruits, vegetables and herbs. The market offers some bulk foods for direct purchase as well. By ordering together, minimum purchase requirements for free delivery are met. Food orders will not be marked up from the catalog price. And, OKT is not adding any kind of fee to orders.

Food Justice Film Festival

The Food Justice Film Festival, Sept 24-27, features four award-winning films that connect issues of environmental justice with our food system, racial justice and access to healthy, sustainable food. Watch independently or set up watch-parties with your staff, friends, family to stay connected during these trying times. Films are free for all audiences. Each film will be available for 24-hours on its scheduled day during the #FoodJusticeFilmFestival.

  • Sept. 24: “Gather” – a brand new release about indigenous food sovereignty, traditional food systems that protect biodiversity of nature.
  • Sept. 25: “Invisible Vegan” – a film about African American access to healthy, sustainable food, cultural heritage, and plant-based diets.
  • Sept. 26: “Dolores” – featuring Dolores Huerta, an influential labor leader and her work to protect farmworkers.
  • Sept. 27: “Urban Roots” – highlighting the urban farming movement to address lack of access to sustainable, healthy foods.

Each film at the #FoodJusticeFilmFestival has an accompanying panel of interviews with filmmakers and activists including:

  • Dolores Huerta – renowned labor activist
  • Sanjay Rawal – dir. (“Gather”) and Jasmine Leyva – dir. (“Invisible Vegan”)
  • Jo’Vonna Johnson Cooke – Maitu Foods, Eugene Cooke – Grow Where You Are
  • Jacqui Patterson – climate activist from the NAACP
  • Twila Cassadore – San Carlos Apache activist
  • Samuel Genshaw – Yurok tribe and director of the Ancestral Guard
  • lauren Ornelas – director of the Food Empowerment Project
  • Kat Lopez – Veggie Mijas (activistas de la tierra)
  • Alfonzo Chavez – Food justice advocate, Flowers and Bullets
  • Neza Xiuhtecutli – Farmworkers Association, Florida

Next Southeast Area Farmers’ Market is Sept. 26

Time to place your whole foods order!

Stop by the Southeast Area Farmers Market Saturday Sept. 26 for organic, fresh, local produce from Groundswell Farm, tasty cottage kitchen goods, and handcrafted personal care items and crafts.

Organic, fresh, local produce from Groundswell Farm!

Be sure to say hello to our farmers market manager, Belinda Henderson–and ask her about ordering bulk whole foods with us, e.g. dry beans, whole grain flours, nuts and seeds, pasta, rice and more..

Items are ordered from Country Life Natural Foods, a supplier to Michigan food co-ops. View the entire PDF Catalog herePlace your order by emailing media@oOKTjustice.org or in person at the market.  Orders will be available for pick-up at the market on October 10.

As the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market accepts Bridge card/SNAP/EBT, its patrons using these programs will be able to buy bulk food items at the market along with fresh, local fruits, vegetables and herbs. The market offers some bulk foods for direct purchase as well. By ordering together, minimum purchase requirements for free delivery are met. Food orders will not be marked up from the catalog price. And, OKT is not adding any kind of fee to orders.

Free workshop at farmers market shares how to make your own personal care items

Make Your Own
Personal Care Items
12 – 2 p.m. Sat. Sept. 12
Market hours: 11am. -4p.m.
Southeast Area Farmers’ Market at MLK Park,
900 Fuller Ave. SE 49506

Are you tired of paying too much for your personal care items? Does the list of chemical ingredients scare you? (It should!) Come to the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market Saturday and learn how to make your own!

Ms. Yvonne Woodard, market manager and vendor, has been making her own personal care products for years. She started doing so because of her health — she simply could not physically tolerate store-bought, chemical laden products.

Stop by and learn her tried-and-true recipes for the products living closest to your body!

DTE Energy will be at the market sharing energy saving resources. Urban Core Collective will be helping patrons register to vote.

Farmers market at MLK Jr. Park Saturday Sept. 5

Southeast Area Farmers Market
12 – 2 p.m. Saturday Sept. 5
MLK Jr. Park, 900 Fuller Ave. SE 49506

Stop by for organic, fresh, local produce from Groundswell Farm, tasty cottage kitchen goods, and handcrafted personal care items and crafts.

Staff from the Urban Core Collective will offer voter registration. Resilient Roots Wellness and The Grand Rapids Yoga Company will offer an All levels | All bodies | ALL people YOGA class

#30Days30Dollars Challenge

grabbTake the Pledge! 

Link to Facebook
#30day30dollars Challenge

Today, the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) launched an economic empowerment initiative primarily seeks to raise the community’s awareness of Black owned businesses while increasing the capital flowing to these businesses. One way you can make this happen is to shop the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market on Sept. 5 and 19! 

GRABB also seeks to aide in the sustainability of locally owned black businesses that support families. “By doing so we will increase employment opportunities for residents within neighborhoods of focus that will lead to a reduction in the unemployment rate and begin to revitalize economically neglected neighborhoods,” GRABB’s messaging says.

Beginning the week of September 1, 2020 through the week of September 30, 2020, GRABB is challenging 1,000 residents to commit to shifting $30 of their monthly spending to a Black owned businesses with the overall goal of increasing the length of time dollars remain in Black neighborhood businesses.

“By shifting your dollars to Black Businesses, you will be playing a vital role improving the quality of life in economically marginalized neighborhoods in Grand Rapids while purchasing great products and services,” GRABB reports. “By the end of our #30days30dollars challenge, we will realize the collective strength of our dollars and the strength of the people in our community!’