Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.
A note from adrienne maree brown: Ebony Ross (one of the co-authors of this piece) is at the Conflict Transformation Fund, working hard to ensure that resources are centered in Black, Indigenous and people of color communities, to allow us to handle our conflicts for ourselves and have somatic practices that feel aligned and indigenous to us.
In the fall of 2020, while sheltering in place during another surge of COVID-19 cases and after the summer racial justice uprising, Kirtrina Baxter knew she was ready for a change. She was traveling in Ghana on a seven-month healing journey to tend to burnout and a breakup when she remembered a conversation on a walk through the urban garden where she had worked with a fellow cooperative professional a year earlier. Her friend turned to her and said, “Kirtrina, you need to think about who you want to be in business with.” The pandemic put a pause on her earlier efforts to create a cooperative, but the pause and solitude of 2020 provided the clarity she needed to see a different path of opportunity.
She took the time to answer the question for herself—and began to envision the roots of what would grow to become 4DaSoil. Then, she went a step further to reach out to each person she wanted to build and connect with. All five of us—exhausted, struggling to care for ourselves and our families, care for sick loved ones, grieve losses, and remain employed during the pandemic—trusted and respected Kirtrina enough to say “YES!”
Today, three years later, we are a Black and Asian women–led cooperative and intergenerational community that leverages and shares our collective gifts, respect for the land, and our connection and wisdom of ancestors to build relationships and provide fiscal sponsorship, technical assistance, and resource generation to strengthen and sustain Black and Brown land stewards and food ecosystems.
During our early conversations, we acknowledged that we were yearning for something different than what any of us had experienced in our rich and varied work and lived experiences. We dreamed of creating a space steeped in love and care, one that welcomes and invites Black and Brown folks to heal, grow, learn, and share, and to receive the resources, support, and space to plant and nurture individual and collective dreams. We agreed to prioritize our relationship building and take the time to learn who we are, how best to connect, and what is most important to us. We understood that if we wanted to create something different intentionally, our “how” had to change. The way we come together and learn to adapt is an important practice for us, and our relationships are the core of all of this. Feeling seen and loved, as well as having the space to practice being loving in committed relationships with each other, enables us to transform culture, partnerships, work, and lives into what we have been dreaming of—and to become the women we have been dreaming of.
Change Is Constant, and Needed
As we focused on how we partnered with each other, we knew we would have to change our belief in what could be possible. We committed to stretching ourselves and sitting in discomfort, trying new ideas, and making mistakes—while releasing blame and shame connected to those mistakes. What we didn’t expect and were pleasantly surprised by was the adaptation that happened organically within each of us individually, as well as collectively. Our adaptation to open space for authentic check-ins at the beginning of every meeting enabled us to share how we were feeling honestly, what we were bringing to the space, and what our capacity looked like for the meeting and the work each week. Collectively, we made decisions to adapt our workflow and process based on the capacity and needs of our members. We were awestruck that our hypothesis of change proved correct! We prioritized care over production and relationship over checklists, and in so doing, strengthened our trust in each other and our commitment to our work.
Taking two years to focus on relationship building was different. It was challenging for us personally, for our funders, and our families. Some of our members were transitioning out of organizations and relationships, others were moving and traveling internationally, and some were raising children. Most of us had never been part of a collective before, and we were each trying to heal in our own way. It felt important to honor all of what we were holding and bringing into our space, while also holding fast to our commitment to expanding what could be possible for us collectively.
We leaned into the lessons learned from Kirtrina’s leadership in and experience with Soil Generation, a Philadelphia-based collective of Black and Brown farmers and organizers working to ensure people of color regain community control of land and food. She shared with us how essential it is to value historically unnamed labor as work and see that work as worthy, especially when creating cooperatives. Taking the time to connect and heal is work—and is vital to how we learn, grow, and build together.
We have spent these first three years weaving together an understanding and alignment around values and ideologies—hard work that takes a lot of time, listening, trust building and rebuilding, frustration, and learning. Most of us had an idea of what a cooperative intergenerational space looked like before we began, but we quickly learned that the reality and practice of creating and sustaining such a space requires consistent work, commitment, communication, grace, forgiveness, and the ability to adapt and pivot to constant change.
Now, we are continuing to build in ways that strengthen our relationships with each other and enable us to learn about ourselves in ways that impact how we show up in our families, communities, and other work. Our collective and individual ability to adapt, expand, and remain resilient and connected has been essential to our practice of revolutionary care. It has also helped us understand how we can adapt visions for ourselves that are full of abundance—and far more expansive than the limited versions presented to us in a society created in the imaginations of white men.
At 4DaSoil, we are committed to this revolutionary care practice for ourselves and our partners. We lead with who we are—our stories, and our intentions. We are mothers, small-business owners, recovering Wall Street workers, land and food industry workers, and activists. Our lived experiences reflect our identities, and we leverage our generational strengths as we struggle to make caregiving and life-sustaining decisions for ourselves and our families. We do all this while navigating white supremacist and oppressive systems that are designed to limit access to healthy food or full-service grocery stores in the predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods in which we live.
4DaSoil is our intentional attempt and commitment to adapt and create ways of living, working, and loving—curated, defined, and held within our collective imagination. We are:
Kirtrina Baxter (U.S./Brazil) is a dedicated mother, spiritual drummer, returning generation farmer, food and land justice activist, community strategist, Afroecology educator, and a friend to Black women in the environmental justice movement and land workers internationally. Her work focuses on supporting collective development of Black and Brown growers. She is the reason 4DaSoil exists.
Robin Broughton-Smith (Philadelphia, PA, U.S.) is a former nonprofit executive director in the restaurant industry and business manager and accountant in the entertainment sector in New York City. She owned and operated two successful businesses in Philadelphia, her passion project was a successful bakery in Philadelphia called Sweet Nectar Dessert Kitchen, where she was the business owner and baker.
Hannah Chatterjee (London, U.K.) is the daughter of Asian immigrants with extensive experience in food systems planning, food policy, and public service in Philadelphia. She is a food industry worker who has cooked and served in kitchens, restaurants, and bakeries all over the world.
Nykisha Madison-Keita (Ghana) is an international agricultural business consultant who specializes in food safety and training for African farmers in and out of the African diaspora. She is an activist for land and has years of experience in business administration, community engagement, and urban farm and community market management. She offers food safety training and support that honors and aligns with practices that uplift cultural and ancestral wisdom.
Ebony Ross (Pittsburgh, PA, U.S.) is a capacity builder and coach for social justice leaders, organizers, and movement builders. She provides thought partnership, leadership development, and organizational development strategies that connect heart, vision, and strategy. She is a burgeoning farmer and doula in training.
Jasmin Washington (Brazil) is a descendant of farmers and small business owners. She is a former hedge fund and bank auditor with extensive experience in corporate, nonprofit, and small business settings. She is committed to providing healing and non-extractive fiscal management approaches and practices.
4DaSoil is a Black and Asian women-led cooperative and intergenerational community that leverages and shares our collective gifts, respect for the land, and our connection and wisdom of ancestors to build relationships, provide fiscal sponsorship, technical assistance, and resource generation to support the strengthening and sustainability of Black and Brown land stewards and food ecosystems. We are creating a space steeped in love and care that welcomes and invites Black and Brown folks to heal, grow, learn, share, and receive the resources, support, and space to plant and nurture individual and collective dreams. Learn more at 4DaSoil.org.