BOLD stories

March/april 2023

This following is the first of a series of multimedia content highlighting the liberation work of Black land stewards. BOLD has long been future-dreaming about possibilities for maroon space and exploring the role of land stewardship in shaping Black Futures. In the months ahead, we connect with farmers and advocates who are working to steward, regenerate and deepen their movement practices on reclaimed land, towards liberation.

Life Is A Farm: Sowing the Seeds We Have Planted

Rural Georgia—Ras Kofi is a Guyanese-American land steward, cultivator and veteran educator and a known entity in the greater Atlanta area. He recently moved to rural Georgia to be fully present as a caretaker of land reclaimed by Black people. Ras Kofi is active as a practitioner and educator in urban and rural farming movements in Atlanta and surrounding districts. He uses popular culture to engage communities around issues of sustainable farming, community resilience and food security, self-development, and wellness. We caught up with him on this “maroon” land. We thank him for his gifts, and for sharing his story. Q. How did your relationship to land stewardship begin? A. Fast forwarding from the beginning, that’s where it began. You know, as a child, really, again, there’s a proverb that says, “If you teach a child  what to love, or what you teach a child to love, or what they learn to love is more powerful than what they just learn,” you know? So I have to give credit to my mother and those in the village who helped her to nurture the green space, and she, as she manifested, animated something that was fast to her from her mama, you know? So that, that became a real powerful memory and a lasting memory in my mind. As a young boy, I remember having tasks in the garden. We came to America in political exile by the time I was about 10 years old. So, between birth and 10, there’s plenty of memories that were formed of chores and responsibilities, you know, even composting and all those things before I knew what composting was, you know, taking eggshells and peanut shells and urine from the potty. So that’s where it started. Q. What does having the opportunity to help shape this land mean for you (in all of your identities)? A. It means the fulfillment of promise, so to speak: the way to be is to do, like practicing our culture, you know? When there’s a laceration or something in the skin, what does the body do? Immediately, it starts to heal. There’s a vision there of a healed, restored fullness, you know? So being on this land helps us to accomplish that. Not just because it’s the land, but because of the full mission, as I overstand it, of the organizations that come together to steward this land. That’s part of that connotation of a maroon, because it’s a hostile environment, so you must go into your own space. I would like to always remind us as well, in that same breath, that again, it’s a return. We’ve been separated from the land and we’re part of the welcoming committee to welcome our people back. So it’s a real serious thing. One of the reasons I have a special love and space of honor for ancestors and martyrs, prisoners of war, revolutionaries who deliberately sacrifice their life is because I know that …it’s the way of looking seven generations ahead and responsibly creating our future as our parents did for us.

Q. How does planting a seed and harvesting its outcome change a person, in your opinion? Impact change?

A. Just being here, that gives us a feeling, a more settled perspective. A very realistic [one], because it’s based on science and science of life. So we can build on that. We can build community. We can build organizations. We can edify ourselves. We can nurture ourselves. We can eat good food. Based on just the fundamental relationship that we are here with our mother.

The more that we collectively in this society…practice things — collectively as well as individually —that remind us of our power, the more we’ll know our power. And that’s completely without any limit.

Q. What brought you to Atlanta and how have you been able to share the gifts that you come with your community?

A. I’m truly a child of the village, so that’s always how I move throughout creation. I don’t know anything else…I actually came to Atlanta in 1994 as a student in the CAU broadcast program. My mother and aunts all went there. So I’m third generation. I was a knucklehead in high school, so that’s the only place I could get in….The students at any of these universities could go to Clark for their junior and senior year to deal with mass communication. So that’s what brought me to Atlanta.

There was a return to Atlanta too, I must say. Cause when we came here in political exile to this country, this is where we came first. So people like John Lewis, you know, and Abel Mabel Thomas, who were still with us in the flesh, and Jose Williams and, and Sue Ross…and they all worked with my mom. That was my foundation. 

Later…I had been divorced from the mother of my children. So during that time is when I met Barbara Rashid…I can bear witness that [agriculture was] one of the arts, one of the sciences, one of the gifts that helped to heal my family. My father-in-law was an avid gardener as well; he remembered that from his days as a policeman in Trinidad. And, so again, agriculture steps in to really heal — in very practical ways — relationships.

Eventually… he (Baba Rashid Nuri) asked me to come to Truly Living Well to be the trainer. So that’s when we started with The USDA Beginners Farmers and Ranchers program. The two worlds came together where I could do what I love doing, which is teaching, and love what I always had a distant, but growing and rejuvenating interest in, which is agriculture.

Q. What are some of your practices and is there any traditional knowledge that you apply?

A. Irrigation is big, so I’ve always kind of had that as a central part of my practice. I am always looking to do some waterways. Because Guyana means the land of many waters. So that becomes a technique in many ways, because you’re always thinking about the water flow and how the plants are going to be hydrated  and using waste. So that’s something that’s very intriguing.

Q. I mean, you taught me it’s best to plant during the full moon.

A. Sewing seeds on a certain type of moon. You know, like on the dark moon is when you’re on the [low tide], so certain things affect the way you pick certain things…Seeds, just like our bodies, have a huge percentage of water. So everything works together. It’s all the same when the moon controls all that. And so then it’s the opposite for the waning moon.

When you plant a seed, visualize that seed in its fullness. If I’m planting pak choy: visualize my family at the dinner table eating that juicy pak choy or a big bunch of it. See the fullness, start with the end in mind. Life is a farm, you know? It’s a huge part of farming, to keep that visualization. And in the same breath, to be at peace. It may seem almost ironic or paradoxical, but you hold a clear meditation, and then let it go.

Q. To you, how else can farming be a metaphor for life?

A. My mama always told me that you reap what is a universal law, that the world … will not grow unless you cultivate. You got to see the victory coming out of the gate. As we develop more knowledge, the more intentional we are about what we are doing. So whatever you put in is what you’re gonna get out, you know? The fundamental principles of agriculture are congruent, are parallel; they are the same as the fundamental principles of the cultivation of the human experience…Think about the things we do that make life important: cultivate, harvest, repeat.