Amirah AbuLughod discusses the way racism affects the food system. This talk was part of a Food & Faith Convening event held in November 2018 at Duke University. The event was developed through a partnership between Duke Divinity School and the Rural Church Program Area of The Duke Endowment, the Duke World Food Policy Center (WFPC). Convening discussions identified several themes that drive the work of faith communities: moving from charity to justice, food sovereignty, and equitable food-oriented development; moving from charity to justice for the land & environment; the need for bridging and relationship building between practitioners, funders, and the academy; and the need for bridging between faith communities and policy. Additionally, several academic themes for future research were identified focused on cross-faith comparative analysis and the broad impact of faith community-based food systems work.
About Amirah AbuLughod
Amirah AbuLughod is a farmer at Stony Point Center Conference and Retreat Center, home to a small-scale farm in the Hudson River Valley of New York. She is also a resident of Stony Point Center’s (SPC) multi-faith intentional community, the Community of Living Traditions. Amirah’s formal educational background is in environmental geography from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her hands-on education began as a child in her backyard garden and continued with two years as a farm apprentice. She now serves as a food grower and educator at SPG Farm. Both sides of Amirah’s family have a rich history of farming tradition; a long line of dairy, beef, and crop farmers near the Mississippi in Wisconsin and orange growers beside the Mediterranean in Palestine. Even with the family background, the real seed of her love for working with the earth sprouted when she was a little kid working in the backyard garden with her mom. That seed has continued to grow and flourish as Amirah’s Muslim faith informs her farming experience and as her farming experience deepens her faith.
In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful. Peace be upon you all. My name is Amirah AbuLughod, and I am a farmer at Stony Point Center, Stony Point Conference and Retreat Center.
One of a number of nontraditional things about the Center is its being home to the Community of Living Traditions. A multi-faith intentional community of Muslims, Jews, and Christians who work and live at the Center, engaging in the practice and study of hospitality, nonviolence, and justice through the lens of our faith traditions. It is also home to a small-scale farm where we grow food as a form of hospitality, to feed and nourish our guests and a space to engage the people and land where the food is grown.
So we’ve been asked in these flash talks to present to you a problem or a challenge as it relates to food and faith and race. And in this short amount of time, I won’t even be able to scratch the surface of this topic, but I want to bring to you the challenge of the land itself, and Stony Point Center is in the Lower Hudson Valley, and is owned by the Presbyterian Church. What’s missing from that description of place and is often missing from our description of place is that Stony Point is actually just the northernmost part area of land originally belonging to the Ramapough Lenape Nation, the original inhabitants and original stewards before being dispossessed of their land through the establishment of the United States of America. We as the Community of Living Traditions are attempting to face the challenge of offering hospitality and growing food on stolen land, land that has been and continues to be violently and systematically taken from the people indigenous to it.
So now, before I elaborate on the tangible work of addressing this challenge, I first want to emphasize that our engagement with the Ramapough Lenape Nation has been built on years of individuals having relationships with tribal members and our multi-faith community cultivating genuine relationships with the tribe. Building trust and genuine relationships between individuals in this work I believe is what can make institutional change possible.
So now onto the work of addressing the problem. As you might imagine, similar to most Indigenous communities, their access to land, especially their own, is very limited if at all. And it’s the true for the Ramapough as well as they continue to battle to keep their ceremonial grant. So when we were approached by the Ramapough with the ask of opening up garden space at Stony Point Center in order to grow fruits and vegetables for their own community, we said yes and entered into an intersectional partnership with showing up for racial justice in New Jersey, and the Ramapough Lenape, and have completed one season of this partnership. Sharing land in this way is symbolic but by no means institutionally permanent. While it is a stretch to call this reparations, our organizational efforts to model sharing land with local Indigenous community has the potential to influence the practices of Presbyterian and other land-owning faith communities worldwide, nationwide, I should say. Due largely in part to this partnership, the first of these efforts is actually in the works as we speak. The Stony Point Presbyterian Church just down the road from the conference center has recently had to close its doors as a church. A proposal is in the making that returns or gifts the land and building to the Ramapough Lenape Nation. The Regional Presbyterian Governing Body will be voting on this proposal early next year. The Ramapough have a beautiful vision of turning the space into a cultural center and the gathering space for Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere.
So now that I’ve given you a very quick glimpse into a piece of the challenge that we’ve been engaging as a community, I want to leave you with this question. Do you know whose land you live on? Who were the original stewards of the land that you call home before white settlers arrived, and what’s happening in that community now? Thank you.