On Juneteenth 2020, a coalition of Black farmers banned together in a major way to form the Black Farmer Land Fund. The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, along with Keep Detroit Growing and the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, launched a GoFundMe campaign intending to raise $5,000 to help Black local farmers buy land. In just one week, they raised more than $20,000 and eventually reached $54,000.
In partnership with Tostada Magazine and Planet Detroit, we are profiling some of the farmers who were granted these funds to find out what drives them toward reclaiming the land and what it will mean for their communities.
In the first in our series, we talk with Travis Peters. Peters is impacting his community by providing sustainable food sources, neighborhood employment opportunities and therapeutic outdoor space for veterans and others who’ve experienced mental health challenges. This is his story in his words.
Green Boots Veteran Community Horticulture Gardens and Marketplace, located at 13500 Southfield Road at Davison and Southfield, is operated by Greenthumbz Consulting Incorporated. I wanted to continue cultivating in the neighborhood, so I reached out to the Black Farmers Land Fund.
We always had a garden in my backyard growing up when I was little. I’ve been trying to grow watermelon seeds since I was a kid. In elementary school, we had a garden space as well. My grandmother had a community garden in the city, so it was natural. Then, my father’s side of the family had land in which they grew down in Arkansas. Me being plant-based and vegan, I wanted to be able to grow things in my backyard myself, so I took my own little home garden and decided to make it bigger into a community project. I thought, what if there were more people like me who wanted to grow more than just a little bit of food, but maybe a few months’ supply? What can you do? That’s what put me on a track in 2016 to become a part of the growing urban farm service here in Detroit.
Help is on the way
I found out about the farmer’s fund through members of Keep Growing Detroit and the different gardeners and urban farmers throughout the farming community. Other farmers saw what I was doing (in the community) and they thought that I would be a good candidate. My site plans and designs, I guess it fits right along with the Detroit Black Farmers Land Fund. It was just the community, I heard it through the grapevine. Just visiting other gardens and just networking with local urban farmers, really that was it. Word of mouth.
Winning and plans for the space
I applied in the fall and was awarded the fund from the Detroit Black Farmers within a month and I received an email not too long ago from the Detroit Land Bank approving my site plans. I received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grow tunnel or Hoop House will be here between July and September of this year. We applied for two plots and they were awarded by the Black Farmers Land Fund. I don’t have prices on the foods. People will come up and ask, “how much” and I’ll ask “well how much do you think they should be?” We do it like that. We make it really affordable for the people. I want to bring fresh high-quality produce and accessibility to the community. Not only will we be giving fresh high-quality produce and vegetables to the community at a discounted price, but the community can come in and work and cultivate. They can cultivate in their own spaces. We plan to lease community space. By lease, we don’t necessarily mean we’ll be contracting and receiving dollars. Their blood, sweat, and tears, that sweat equity, will pay for their land use and they can grow their own right along with us.
We’ll be able to hire veterans to deliver our produce to people’s homes, we’ll bring the community up to learn to grow their own food, children, disabled folks. This will also provide horticulture therapy for those in our community, like myself — I’m a veteran who suffers from PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Horticulture therapy is a great way to relieve those things and relieve those ailments.
We’re going to provide a place where veterans can work and live and learn. Like a small cultural center or marketplace. That’s the vision. Where they can be self-sufficient. So, a veteran can live there, help cultivate and recoup part of the harvest and earn wages.
What is grown?
I grow a variety of tomatoes, butternut squash, and I’ve created a geothermal bedding place so the ground can be warm for the watermelons to go because we are traditionally not in a climate to grow profitable watermelons. This season, I’ll be planting herbs, from sage to alfalfa, tomatoes, beets radishes, all your salad greens. I want to be able to grow things for salads, cucumbers. I want this food to go right back into feeding the community.
We did multiple classes that were successful because it allowed people to get out of the house have so many people that are saying, “Wow this is so grounding. The energy, the people, this is really what I needed, to get out the house. I feel like I’ve accomplished something.” The people who came up and helped us plant seeds during the pandemic, in a couple of months, they were holding butternut squash in their hand. It was easy because people wanted to come out. We can be apart but together. To physically distance in a garden is easy. I think this is the way to go; doing activities that are part indoor and outdoor.
Our farm is designed as a place of therapy. It’s designed as a place to learn, to improve our quality of life through wellness and health, and to use fresh high-quality produce. Our gardens are there and purposed for the community to use. It’s a community marketplace. We want the community to come up and take responsibility for growing their own food and helping to beautify their neighborhood.
(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity)