Black Farmer Fund and Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust are partnering for this year’s OpenTEAM Fellows Program to support market access and food distribution needs for BIPOC farmers and their communities in New York and the larger Northeast.
Black Farmer Fund (BFF) is a non-profit organization and community led investment fund with a mission to nurture Black community wealth & health by investing in Black agricultural systems in the Northeast. The BFF investment approach provides integrated (mix of grants and loans), patient capital to Black food-related businesses that center economic justice, community wealth building, and managing environmental impact.
“Our organization is built around wanting to shift power and decision making, because we feel a lot of the funding vehicles that exist in our traditional finance system are largely white-led, and also extractive; they don’t actually have funding arrangements that set folks up for success. Instead, they often keep folks in this constant loop of being in scarcity,” says Melanie Allen, Program Director at Black Farmer Fund.
Through relationship building and including the entrepreneur in all stages of the process, they have developed an approach that best meets the needs of the entrepreneur that goes beyond what is typically offered by traditional funding vehicles. This further supports political and financial education for entrepreneurs while eliminating the gap between Black farmers and market accessibility.
“We also recognize that funding is just one of the many gaps that keep Black land stewards from thriving. And for that reason, we work in a collaborative ecosystem model,” says Allen. “The Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust is one of our partners in that,” she continued.
The Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust (NEFOC-LT) is a hybrid model land trust, bringing together a community land trust model and a conservation land trust model to reimagine land access as well as conservation and stewardship of communities and ecosystems with the goal of manifesting a community vision that uplifts global Indigenous, Black, and People Of Color relationships with land, skills, and lifeways.
They focus on facilitating access to land through reparations by working with individuals with land who want to redistribute to BIPOC landholders, BIPOC farmers, and BIPOC land stewards. Doing this in an intentional way, they always hold an Indigenous consultation that happens with the original stewards of that land, even if they aren't currently inhabiting that land.
“That Black and Indigenous solidarity is really important for organizations to work in collaboration and builds off of the reality that the agricultural system in this country was built off the backs of Black and Indigenous communities. So, working in separation is not in alignment with our values,” explained Allen.
As emphasized by both BFF and NEFOC, the foundation to their work is relationships. And through building relationships and connecting with farmers both in person and virtually, they found major gaps in food distribution that farmers were facing in their network.
Partnering together to host a Fellow as a part of the OpenTEAM Fellows Program, the Fellow will work with BFF and NEFOC to develop a deeper understanding of the barriers to food distribution and identify where they can facilitate solutions using OpenTEAM tools. They will also work to build and expand interdependent networks of BIPOC farmers across the Northeast that build relationships, increase opportunities for support, and steward community.
“There’s real potential for our folks to support each other, source from each other, uplift each other, and learn from each other when you have these types of interdependent opportunities for folks to connect and build relationships…. As much of that relationship piece we can center and expand, we want to and I think this partnership with OpenTEAM is really helping to facilitate that,” says Allen.
Through the program, OpenTEAM will lay the groundwork to connect all land stewards to OpenTEAM’s open source ecosystem of digital tools and other agricultural support networks. This creates a streamlined process where land stewards can input and share their data on management practices, soil health measures, and other key operations to connect to benefits, opportunities, economic incentives, and markets.
“Working with an organization that is trying to make sure that agricultural tools being developed support BIPOC farmers who are just trying to feed their communities and grow food that is culturally appropriate and culturally relevant… Having us be part of that conversation and be part of that space felt really important,” explained Allen.
To ensure all technology tools and platforms work for land stewards of all sizes, production types, regions, and backgrounds, we must harness the shared innovation that happens every day on every farm and in every backyard.
“By working through an OpenTEAM Fellow with BFF and NEFOC, we have a great opportunity to grow this relationship, learn from real needs on the ground, particularly around food distribution, and ensure that the open technology ecosystem we are building is accessible and usable by all farmers, ranchers, and land stewards,” says Laura Demmel Gilmer, Head of Global Community and Operations at OpenTEAM.