New Cooperative Farm Coming to Danby

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Tompkins Weekly        5-11-22

By Cathleen and Eric Banford

Danby residents will be welcoming new neighbors soon. We talked with Christa Núñez, Chacha Foli and Sonja Taylor about how this will provide opportunities for the participating Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) families and why the initiative is so meaningful.

“Hornbrook Farm came as a product of Khuba International’s Quarter Acre for the People Project, where we purchased a 14-acre parcel on Hornbrook Road in Danby, New York,” she said.

A handful of new BIPOC farmers will be cooperatively farming it, developing housing there, and will own it together, she said.

Sonja Taylor (left) and Christa Núñez. Photo by Eric Banford.

“Staff at the Quarter Acre for the People Project, along with Chacha Foli, Sonja Taylor and others, will all be collaborating on that land,” she said. “We worked with Analise Sesay of the Cooperative Development Institute and received grants from a number of individual donors: the Ben and Jerry’s Foundation, Park Foundation, Community Foundation of Tompkins County, the Federation of Women Business Owners and others.”

Núñez spoke to the collective nature of the upcoming farm.

“Knowing that nothing is really worth it until you can share it, and nothing is really enjoyable until you can partake in it with others,” Nunez said.

Figuring out how to help other people get access to land was always on her mind. Doing research and talking with other farmers, she realized that “the current farm landscape is inequitable and not multicultural. There’s a lot of work to be done to make farming a space where you don’t have to inherit land or have wealth to do the things you are passionate about.

“[I’ve been] talking with family members and hearing these echoes of poverty because of racism and how relationships crumble because the provider roles aren’t supported in the financial landscape,” Núñez said. “I am seeing people working really hard and not seeing dreams realized. I see a lot of pain, and I see a lot of health impacts, and I see mistrust being sown. I really can trace racialized terror back to poverty to impacts in my own family very clearly.”

Núñez said these discussions helped her “understand the fallacy of bootstrapping” and helped her “understand that a lot of times, people just need a gift.”

“We can understand free gifts from a religious standpoint and regarding inheritance, but when it comes to poor people?” she said. “In this country, a gift seems like a horrible thing to say that someone should just get something.”

Núñez said that public discourse usually focuses on BIPOC individuals because “there is a history of land and labor theft.”

“BIPOC descendants tend to have a deep need,” she said. “And providing land for free without any expectation of being indebted for it or earning it in any way, I think we earn it just by being ourselves and living our lives. As a Black woman, if I can give land that I have through my labors and our amazing staff been able to acquire, why couldn’t we just pass it on so people have a leg up?”

Núñez, who has a background in engineering and filmmaking and is in Cornell University’s Ph.D. program for global development, talked about collaborative learning.

“Our wish is to develop the minds of young people and adults so that there is a strong connection with our understanding of systems — that whole idea of ‘farmer scholars,’ people who know how to grow food and have an understanding of a myriad of subjects and disciplines,” Núñez said.

Núñez continued that she is “really interested in how knowledge is developed within the community, and how, from age to age, the people are the ones that have brought education and understanding and development of community to itself.”

“Academics can walk hand in hand in equal standing with community and leverage resources for the greater good through a humble understanding of where knowledge truly is generated,” Núñez said.

Taylor said she expects she’ll be starting the farming process in spring.

“I’m going to be part of the community there that will be starting the farming process hopefully in spring,” she said. “I heard about Hornbrook and thought it was an amazing idea. I’ve been part of it and trying to find my place on that property where I will be best suited and best be able to contribute.”

Taylor envisions getting youth involved in the development of the property.

“At The Learning Farm, we’re working with 4- to 13-year-olds,” she said. “I’m hoping to get teenagers involved in agriculture and sustainability. I want to bring them here so they can see the progress and be part of it, put them to work and build their character. I want to have them work with their hands, show them how to do something, and then they want to do it themselves and take that independent step.”

Taylor also said that “supermarket food has lots of plastic packaging,” and “we have the resources to give people food that they can eat. We don’t need all of that plastic packaging.”

For education on the land, Taylor wants “to incorporate the basic ecology of the woods there, to be able to take in your environment and learn — looking for signs of spring, like moss or beginning buds or mushrooms.”

“Once they learn basic ecology, they can build various topics on top of that,” she said. “I want to teach kids about different energy sources, not only to fuel what makes things work on the farm, but also for yourself, your body, your soul. There’s only one way to do that — that is to visually experience it, to see it and live it.”

Foli added that, for her, the most important aspect to this endeavor is “having the assets to continue learning with Mother Nature in a natural progression, working with the nature of the land and not working against it, bringing the best out of it and keeping it the way it is.”

“Once we are maintaining Mother Nature, there is a lot that she provides for us that assists our ongoing projects,” he said. “The future is beautifully unknown. That is what I’m very excited about and that is my curiosity to involve my skills that I’ve obtained working in collaboration with independent community-based organizations and Cornell Lab of Ornithology to bring water monitoring to the farm because there is a lot of water there and also to look into ducks, chickens and farm animals that will be beneficial and adapt to the environment but not to change it.”

Foli started planting a rose hedge to protect the animals, hoping to naturally discourage predators.

“To have my animal friends, I’m building a thick rose hedge with ringing bells to distract predators,” he said. “For a better future, we have to invest into our own environment so we can have a better community and develop a better nation. The more time you spend on the land, the more the land speaks to you about who I am, this is where you are coming to live.”

Taylor offered this sentiment.

“We’re building a community where we are able to be ourselves, sustain ourselves and teach our children the same morals and beliefs about the earth,” she said. “I expect it to be different. Change comes from people who take initiative, and right now, I want to be able to create this for the next generation so that they will have knowledge of sustainability.”

Signs of Sustainability appears in the second and fourth edition of each month in Tompkins Weekly.

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