'Black to the Land' Nurtures Growth and Connection

Helping students find kinship with the land and the community through the Black to the Land Farm Project, which trains and supports Black students to be the next generation of farmers. 

Cal Poly Humboldt students Dakari Tate (foreground), with Gloria Thompson (far right) and Umoja Center director Doug Smith at  Bayside Park Farm in Arcata
Cal Poly students Dakari Tate (foreground) and Gloria Thompson (right) with Umoja Center Coordinator Doug Smith at Bayside Farm Park in Arcata.

Working as an intern at a local farm in Humboldt County gave Douglas Smith (‘13, International Studies) the sense of belonging he had struggled to find when he transferred to Cal Poly Humboldt from Los Angeles. 

Now an Applied English Studies graduate student and coordinator of the Umoja Center for Pan African Student Excellence, Smith is helping students find similar kinship with the land and the community through the Black to the Land Farm Project, which trains and supports Black students to be the next generation of farmers. 

“Community-supported agriculture is a large part of the culture here on the North Coast, and it offers a special platform to learn while doing,” Smith said. “Farming and community-supported agriculture also creates an opportunity to build bridges with the local community and to share culture.”

Smith launched the program to encourage Black students to engage with farming in 2019, soon after he became the Umoja Center coordinator. Every Wednesday and Friday, he brings six students to Bayside Park Farm in Arcata to grow kale and collard greens. They will soon be raising chickens, too. 

The students’ expressions when they see the farm for the first time is all the validation Smith needs of the program’s value, he says.

“It’s so rewarding to see students take in their surroundings and get excited about the opportunities to settle into a space here in the local community while engaging in multiple forms of learning.” Smith says.

Wildlife major Dakari Tate says his experience at the farm offers an opportunity for self-reflection. "One of the reasons I'm out here is to find myself. Find out what I want to be. Find out where I came from and hopefully that will shape me into who I want to be in the future,” says Tate.

Gloria Thompson, a Child Development major, says working the land is fun and reminds her of family. "I enjoy going to the farm because I do well growing things, and it helps me feel connected to my grandpa, who was a farmer."

Black to the Land continued to encourage student farmers even as the pandemic shut down campus, mailing them home planting kits and copies of Leah Penniman’s book, Leah Penniman’s book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land. Penniman’s virtual lecture during the Umoja Center’s Black Liberation Month lecture series in February was by far the most popular talk, attracting more than 300 students, faculty and community members.

As part of Campus Food Summit 2022 this month, Black to the Land invited campus and community members to get a taste of farming life during work days at the Bayside Park Farm. The group led participants in cleaning out the chicken coop  and will be building raised beds and putting together a small hoop house. 

For more information about Black to the Land, contact the Umoja Center at umoja@humboldt.edu

About the Umoja Center for Pan African Student Excellence
One of four  centers of academic excellence at Cal Poly Humboldt
, the Umoja Center is a Pan African cultural community of students dedicated to  elevate the level of African diasporic knowledge. This cultural community seeks to uplift and support its students academically, professionally and personally through advising and mentorship. The Center also hosts guest lectures, films and events to educate the campus community about the Pan African diasporic experience.