Zel Taylor (they/them)

Tay has been farming on farms not their own for 5 seasons. They are in the process of moving to Maryland to work on a vegetable farm for the upcoming season. They have farmed in California, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

After college I feel like I was really in a place where I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was dealing with anxiety and depression, and not feeling like the professional world was a fit. I was bartending and working in the service industry, living in Atlanta at the time.

I remember going to a garden space that was in downtown Atlanta, a black owned space, and thinking, “Wow! I didn’t know okra looked like this when it grew.” I had no idea the way plants looked before they got on our plate.

There was so much happening in the world as BLM protests were happening and other events that were challenging to process. I remember the immense peace I felt in this place, it didn’t feel like I was in the city: it was a place outside of the city, but still in the city. I came back a few more times, and decided that I really wanted to do this, and jump into it and get my hands in my soil. 

It was the catalyst event for me.

Immediately after, I signed up for an Americorps thing to do trail work for 3 months, and then realized that I really wanted to grow food.

I got a job at an educational farm in California, packed up my car and drove…that was the beginning of the journey.

On both sides of my family, they were sharecroppers. I’ve been 1 or 2 generations removed. I didn’t think I had much of a connection with land before. I didn’t grow up with growing spaces or gardens, not doing much outside of being a kid growing up in the south.
I didn’t have much skill at the time, so I thought I would go to California to work on these other folks’ farms, and it’ll be a learning experience and it’s going to be great.

It was an experience where I learned things, but I also realized just how exploitative farm labor can be.

The first farm experience I had in California  – I feel like folks weren’t clear about what they expected. Whenever I signed up for the farm, it was this 40 hour job, and I was told – “this is your weekly pay, this is your housing”… I didn’t know at the time that I needed to see what the housing looked like.

Also when people write up contracts, they try to make the words be very open ended, so that you are obligated to do whatever unrelated task they ask of you.

I ultimately left because it wasn’t a safe place for Black and Brown Queer folks to exist, but through the rough experience I fell in love with the work. Waking up at 6 am to do farm chores, growing fresh herbs and produce, being around horses that wasn’t at the fair were all clarifying moments that this is what I wanted to do.

Idealistically I envision being on land that I can steward and growing food and herbs to feed folks in the community. I try to imagine it outside of capitalism and the white supremacy that says we have to have ownership of land and spaces. Do I want to put seeds in the ground that I can see fruit and come to be? Yes, I want that, but within capitalism, it has created this relationship of constantly taking and operating from a place of scarcity. I desire to live in a more harmonious relationship with land and others. I really like the ideas of collective land “ownership” and land trust. 

I stayed at the last farm for a year because I had bills to pay and had just transitioned out of a period of living in hotels and my car.  It provided me stability so I stayed longer. Moving into this new farm, I want to be up front, asking for what I need, which I already have. 

It took me a really long time to leave my last farm, but around the time of the Black uprising, I saw so many Black queer people saying, “No, we aren’t going to take this.” They were sharing their experiences and using their voice.

The energy inspired me.

So I told my boss, “We’re not doing this anymore.” 

My boss had such a fit, and I was done that day. I felt really empowered that I took the situation into my own hands and advocated for myself.

It feels good to walk away from a bad situation.

I have had unfair experiences on farms, but also good experiences. Moving forward, the boundaries I am setting for myself are:

To be aware of the red flags, ask questions

To advocate for myself

If things get to a point that are beyond what I can handle, I can just leave. There are a lot of farms hiring. 

I definitely feel like my ancestors are smiling down on me when I’m working or foraging things in the woods. They remind me to acknowledge the life around me. It’s been a liberating and healing experience for me.

I would like to work in a space where there are other people of color, queer people of color.

Folks who are farming because they enjoy working with the land and the vision is beyond the capitalist mindset. We are growing and operating so we can sustain, but we are also feeding the community and taking care of the people around us. 

I’m inspired by Fannie Lou Hamer’s Freedom Farm and other cooperative farming operations – black folks and poor folks doing what they need to do to put food on the table, but also taking care of one another.

Hamer said if you have a pig and a garden and can feed yourself nobody can push you around, I believe that!

A cooperative, community centered situation: when you’re putting blood, sweat and tears into soil, everyone deserves to have access to the benefits of their labor. 

What brings me back is coming outside and seeing the seeds that I placed in the soil sprouting.

Feeling connected to my ancestors. Knowing that before enslavement they were farmers and herbalists.

During enslavement keeping gardens and foraging was what kept them well.

And that our liberation as Black Indigenous peoples is tied to the land.

In the motions that I do in harvesting a carrot or feeling the rough of the squash stalk on my skin, I feel that ancestral muscle memory.

I am reminded I am my ancestors dreams manifested.

I feel it in my body and spirit. It has been a healing and grounding experience. 

One of the biggest reasons I started growing food was because I understand how food apartheid impacted my people. The reason I continued to grow food was because there were times when what was growing in my garden or the community garden was what I had and it was enough.

I really enjoy working at farms that provide lunch and water for their workers and care for the health of their workers. That is something small that people who have access to land can do – have a place to relax out of snow or rain, have proper gear for their workers.

When I started doing production farming full time, I didn’t have access to the fancy rain gear, overalls and coveralls…I couldn’t afford them. I fundraised for them. 

I would like to see farm owners providing gear and supporting their workers to protect themselves from the elements. I would love if farm owners made body care such as acupuncture and massage accessible . Health insurance, safe housing, and safe working conditions!

The focus on sustainable agriculture also needs to include the sustainability of the people actually doing the work. 

Sustainable Ag isn’t sustainable unless they talking about reparations, Periodt.