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Meet Amanda Brezzell of Fennigan’s Farms

Today we’d like to introduce you to Amanda Brezzell. 

Hi Amanda, so excited to have you on the platform. So, before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I grew up in the heart of Black culture that is Detroit, Michigan. Inspiration for music, film, and arts of all sorts burst from my city. Detroit is as original as it gets, and much like our art, our goals are deeply tied to the endless possibilities of our craft. Reaching into the past for the blueprint in order to create the future we know is possible is not just represented in our art. The preservation of our culture exists in every space of this city, and it is this honoring of the past that I believe will take Detroit, and other Black uptown cities like us, into a space of thriving in a way that is culturally, environmentally, and socially responsible.

Black cities in the Midwest were agrarian societies post Jim Crow. The Great Migration pulled many poor Black farmers from down south to places like Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and even places like New York and New Orleans. Here, farmers and tradesmen were able to set up self-sustaining and community-specific centers for growth, such as community farms, and places for childcare, education, and trades. This allowed for each community to have their specific needs met while also laying the framework for community financial sustainability.

When Detroit became the Motor City, the transition there left this kind of community behind. Detroit, though booming with cars and infrastructure, subjected dwellers to a new kind of life. Black People in Detroit lost their access to land and self-governed work, and that translated to a loss of access. No longer were we growing food for one another and building community, we were made to be reliant on a system that, though built on our backs, was never designed to support us.

When the recession hit in 2008, cities like Detroit were left behind again. This time again by the grand monuments we’d been told to build. Detroit was left to rebuild. This rebirth is where I came to understand the connections between our food and our freedom. I was born in Detroit to a father who worked for one of The Big Three auto companies, and a mother who still teaches for the city school system. My siblings and I were taught the deep culture of music, art, and the Black community in our city, and were encouraged to use our crafts to add to the intricate collage that is the City of Detroit. We didn’t grow up with a lot, but most of the time we had exactly what we needed. We were in close proximity to greatness, but very much so in the center of food apartheid.

Encouraged to seek out what it was that I wanted to contribute, I graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2018 with my Bachelor’s focus in Biology, Chemistry, and African American Studies. From there I transitioned to Georgetown University, where I studied Biohazardous Threat Agents and Emerging Infectious Diseases, focusing on Agricultural Defense and Community Resilience. By the time I graduated from there in 2019 with my Master’s of Science, I had gained a deep understanding and clear view of the food system as a whole, and the direct implications it had on the wellbeing of my people. I had only understood this on a social level before, but by this point, the hard evidence had been placed in my hands to study, and so had the solution.

Farms and community centers for growth can and have sustained freedom for the Black and other purposefully excluded communities. It is the reaching back to the roots that keeps our freedom movements centered on the responsibility to community sustainability. Combining my passion for my community and our ability to thrive, with the privileges I’ve had in my education, I started Fennigan’s Farms with my older sister, Claire, in the Fall of 2019. Her background is in business administration, so the combining of our skills really is a perfect fit.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
My biggest challenge thus far has been breaking into the field of agricultural innovation as a young Black Queer person. Many Black people were pioneers in the way of agriculture. They created and patented many innovative technologies that helped to set agriculture apart as a more than 4-billion-dollar industry in the United States by 1860. Today that figure would be about 40 trillion. Innovation like this is often not talked about, so it is not surprising to me that I am going to have to work a little bit harder to be taken more seriously. There is also a level of bravery it takes when you are tasked with bringing to life a vision that only you can see. It has been a great honor to get in touch with those who see different pieces of this work and identify with it. I am putting together my own collage now of ideas and projects that each play a part in the work I am doing with Fennigan’s Farms. I have learned a lot already and am eager to take on projects that will challenge me to keep creating.

We’ve been impressed with Fennigan’s Farms, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Fennigan’s Farms is a sustainable agricultural design team and agricultural tech start-up stationed in Detroit, MI. We are dedicated to the food freedom movement and believe that every community should have access to sustainable options, giving them the space to be food sovereign. Our motto is “Grow. Teach. Build.” because this is how we work.

We grow herbs, spices, and free produce for our community using techniques found across the African diaspora and within permaculture. Using these same methods, we set up raised beds, edible landscapes, and farms for others looking to grow. These techniques allow us to return to the natural growing cycles unique to each community. Our most recent farming projects are located in Detroit, MI in both the Northwest Goldberg and Brightmoor neighborhoods (All sites that are currently under fall/winter construction will be operating again beginning in the spring of 2022).

We teach seasonal classes designed to guide individuals through the growing season in person and online, and offer green-space consulting for farmers, growers, and businesses looking to install thoughtfully designed centers for growth.

Using innovative agricultural technology, we build and transform old spaces and recycled materials, like shipping containers and warehouses into greenhouses, vertical farms, and outdoor open-concept markets designed to grow food and host community space.

Fennigan’s Farms was created to guide communities to sustainability. We take with us the history of Black freedom farming into the creation of centers for rebirth in our city and those like us. The preservation of a culture determined to thrive is present in our work. We focus on community-specific and wanted community reinvestment. We believe that wanted, culturally relevant solutions to hunger, displacement and climate change exist, and that it is this deep connection to the culture of each community that will keep them thriving.

What are your plans for the future?
Our future plans include building more structures for sustainable and fair food growth and development. Whether that means pioneering a liveable wage for those that work on our farms or building an open-air market with a community garden, our goals will always be tied to what makes sense for each community we work with. Every neighborhood in Detroit is different, much like every city across the globe. Our solutions will continue to be custom designed to fit the wants and needs of those asking for our services. We’d love to partner with other businesses and organizations that are looking for new or refurbished ways to support their communities in thriving.

Contact Info:

  • Email: Fennigansfarms@gmail.com
  • Website: fennigansfarms.com
  • Instagram: @fennigansfarms
  • Facebook: @fennigansfarms
  • Twitter: @fennigansfarms
  • Youtube: @fennigansfarms

Image Credits
Dylan Austin Photo

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