This is the fourth of four essays in July about the complexity of the relationships black people hold to land. This interview reflects the ways farming and gardening as a relationship to land has communal and social implications for black people, implications that are overlooked by the dominant culture and its policymakers.
Land as Self-Sufficiency with Dorsay Ross
Dorsay Ross is an unlikely land use policy advocate. He was born in Phenix City, Alabama, but for decades has called Flint, Michigan home. He is imagining new ways of building relationships to food, land and economic self-determination in Flint using his own resources, including land he owns just outside the city.
Only time I go to the grocery store now is to buy meat. Otherwise, you know, I don’t need to go to the grocery store. I have a garden about seven to six hundred square foot. So I do a lot of canning, freezing, and a whole lotta other stuff. Drying food. So, I really appreciate it. It save me money. It really makes me work hard. But it is something that I can appreciate, more just having that [food handed] in front of me. I appreciate being able to do that.
I have access right now to twenty acres of land here, as well as another five acres of land in different location, in Mount Morris, which I plan to put to use this spring. I have a group of people– it’s about seven, eight people– that want to utilize the land to grow food. They want to start a co-op, which we started meeting for the last month and a half. And hopefully we– it — can hopefully come to fruition by May.
When I looked at property, I looked at economy. I looked at what can it do for me, and how can I serve others. And, thus far, you know, it has been working out on both advantages. I’m not here to just make money but I don’t want to lose money.
And [I see] people in Flint who cannot afford the high grocery bills. So, what’s the next best thing? “If I can’t afford it, let me grow it.” With my garden, I just have people over. Hey, you want food? Come help me grow it. You can’t get here? I’ll pick you up. Let’s get it done.
Still, if I want to sell veggies out of my garden, they can’t come to my garden and buy. I have to take it to the Farmer’s Market so they can purchase. Which, people can’t afford, you know? They gotta get on a bus or walk to the market, [but] they live next door to the garden. Why can’t you just come over and buy, or whatever? So I just put a little sign up, “donation.” I don’t like to sell stuff anyway, on the most part. Other people, that’s their livelihood, so some of the policy needs to be changed.