Building land and racial justice (Josina from LION)

Episode 3 of the Resist + Renew podcast, where we interview Josina from Land In Our Names (LION).

So yeah, I mean ending racism, loads of black farmers, lots of use of the land that’s in accordance with spiritual practices or farming practices from places where we have heritage.
– Josina, on LION’s vision for land justice

Show notes, links


Ali: This is Resist + Renew.

Kat: A UK-based podcast about social movements.

Sami: What we’re fighting for, why, and how it all happens.

Ali: The hosts of the show are:

Kat: Me Kat,

Sami: Me, Sami,

Ali: and me, Ali,

Sami: I’m recording this now baby

Ali: Shit it’s a podcast.


Ali: Welcome back, everybody. Thanks for joining us again at the Resist and Renew podcast. This week we are joined by Josina Calliste from Land in our Names and we’re going to be talking about land inequalities, race, and visions for a more just relationship to land here in the UK and more broadly.

Ali: So Josina Calliste is a health professional, a community organiser, and after burning out of academia, she began thinking more deeply about food growing and land justice. Under an apple tree in June 2019, she co founded Land in our Names a Black led collective addressing land inequalities affecting black people and people of colour, his ability to farm and grow food in Britain. She loves forest works and hopes one day to set up an eco village. Thanks so much for joining us, Josina.

Josina: Thanks for having me.

Ali: So we’re going to talk about a lot of different things today. But if you could kick us off by talking about, you know, kind of what’s the context that Land in our Names is organising in, why why land justice? And why coming at it from like a race perspective? And yeah, what’s what’s kind of the context that we’re, we’re in?

Josina: Oh, so just small questions, then. Yeah, there’s huge inequalities in terms of land ownership in Britain, which is sort of only vaguely aware of, but land ownership is very invisiblised in this country. We do know that half of all land in England is owned by 1% of the population. And it’s concentrated into the hands of the elite, the crown, the royal family, aristocrats, and other random sets of oligarchs from various places, the church, universities. But lots of people don’t know this. And it seemed important to approach land injustices using a racial justice lens, because of the effects of those inequalities on the health and well being of Black people and people of colour in Britain. And the more that I go into food growing, and the farming world, which can mean that you’re in very white spaces, particularly in permaculture, and, you know, lots of lovely hippie New Age environments, aren’t necessarily engaged with those racial justice issues.

Josina: But it did seem really important because of how food inequalities affect black people. And women of colour who experience hunger or, you know, using food banks disproportionately. Health inequalities due to living in very polluted areas or in overcrowded areas of Britain. And those inequalities have become more stark due to COVID and lock down conditions and to the inequalities in access to green spaces. And yeah, outdoor environments, particularly parks and inner cities.

Ali: Hmm. Yeah, I think that’s really important. I don’t think many people necessarily draw those two aspects together. I think farming, like in most people’s mind, or is like a mainstream narrative is, is quite white. And it’s quite, mostly just about like countryside and maybe it’s like nice nature and food. But I think drawing that with the structural inequalities you were talking about is really important.

Ali: Yeah, my mom is actually a farmer. So I grew up around the countryside and land and yeah, as a person of colour, it’s not the necessarily the easiest place to to interact with things. So I am very much value the work that you’re doing. I’d be really keen to hear about like, how did you come along this path like what brought you to to land work and land justice issues?

Josina: Yeah, it’s funny because there’s so many people that do have family histories in their families, and I grew up with a Grenadian dad who took care of me, and would always be talking to me about his experiences with farming or nature in Grenada where he grew up. And
obviously, it’s a massively different context to be hearing about cocoa trees, mango trees, nutmeg, iguana hunting to Britain, or where I grew up in London, and it was my mom that would be gardening with me, and working with a very sort of dense clay that grew not as many things as fertile soils in Grenada would. And I was very lucky to have access to gardens and parks, from where I grew up, and not everyone has that. And not everyone has the kind of opportunities where they’re encouraged to do stuff outdoors. So I do think that yeah, I had two parents that encouraged me to learn about nature or lean into what what my interests were in terms of wildlife and animals. And I grew up wanting to be a vet, which I think pushed me into farming a little bit. Obviously discouraged from that.

Josina: And, yeah, it’s sorry, repeat. Can you repeat the question? Again, I just wanna make sure I’ve answered it fully. It was just like, what, what was your path to getting into, like, farming or land justice? Ah, yeah. So I started really far at the beginning. But more recently,
everywhere that I lived in, so I moved out of my family home, where where I was helping in the garden, we did grow a bit of food, not very much. But everywhere since then, I was the person that was growing or gardening,, often the only person in a house share that was doing that.
And I got more conscious of that as something that I was doing while I was burning out of a sexual health, PhD. And I enrolled on different permaculture courses. And I think that there were lots of people in the last few years who’ve been sort of going, Oh, yeah, nature, oh, yeah. I want to be outside more, or I want to grow food more. And so it began to be like drawing a network of that and meeting up with friends to go on these nature walks, or doing permaculture courses with friends. And I went to Portugal to do a month-long food forest course. And moved into a permaculture project for a year in London, and just was making it more embedded in my life. Also still working in sexual health, then. But I think there’s a lot of people now who sort of might read the news about climate change, or environmental degradation and think, Oh, right, well, my day to day is commuting into London, although we don’t do that anymore. But you know, getting my Pret sandwich and working in a way that doesn’t address this. So how can I increase that bit of my life, but where I want to feel like I’m doing something rather than just waiting for fire to engulf us all. And I felt like my way to not worry as much about changing climate environment was to heal the planet, or be part of the healing of the planet by getting into sustainable regenerative farming. And while I was living in a permaculture project, last year, I read the Land for the Many report, which touched on a lot of issues that were connected to racial injustice, but didn’t really directly address how land injustices are racialized. So that felt like the right time to co-found Land in our Names. And I was really lucky that I started to build a network of people, people of colour, Black people who were also interested in this. And I do still have moments and I Oh, wow, people are wanting to listen to me talk about this or wanting to listen to LION or get LION to do things. But there is a real appetite for it. And in some ways, the land sector and the land justice movement, haven’t paid attention to enough to racial injustice as a facet of its activism organising. So I think that means there’s like a real appetite now for for LION to say what? To say, well, we want to say well, we need to, you know, like we’ve got an audience ready and waiting.

Kat: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s really amazing to see how many spaces that you’re speaking in and and really being heard it feels like people are sitting up and wanting to hear now and that’s Yeah, late but but really good that it’s starting. And and I guess it’d be really wonderful to hear a bit more about kind of what LION and Land in our Names is all about. And, and yeah, maybe a little bit about how it came into being?

Josina: Yeah, sure. So, okay, I’ll start with how it came into being. And I had read the Land for the Many report and was planning to go to soul fire farm, which is a farm in upstate New York, which organises to end racism in the food system. And they talk a lot about land reparations. And it’s just sort of fermenting in my brain and like, sort of gone through a bereavement just a few weeks before that. And so I was really mulling over like, what am I doing in my life kind of thing. And woke up one day and thought of Land in our Names as a name for something to do. And it was a great acronym, I’m really good acronyms. Okay, gotta keep going with that, and thought of the logo, and then sat with Ola who I’d met only a couple of weeks before. And he works at a organisation that’s in the land sector, and just said, Hey, this is what I’m thinking. And, you know, we really bounce good ideas off each other. And under this apple tree in South London, this is where land in our names was co-founded. And then I got to go to soulfire farm and keep hearing about the stories of Black and African Americans who’ve been fighting to keep their land or to get land reparations and the ways that they’ve done that. And the context of America is just so vastly different in so many areas, but it was a really inspiring space and somewhere where I could learn a lot and bring back these ideas. And then I held like a dinner for people that I knew would be interested in this. And so we kept, kept the ideas rolling and, you know, kind of galvanised people through this through this dinner and then, I guess, yeah, like, we’re very, very young organisations. So it’s only been 13 months or so.

Josina: And, yeah, we’re still a Black led collective. And we are planning to do a lot of events on farms. And our biggest event was in January at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, where work was actually after the conference. And we had a caucus that was for black and brown people who were food growers are interested in farming and food grow. And Leah Penniman from this farm that I visited, had come to give a keynote at the US Federal farming conference. So we Yeah, I was so surprised that people showed up and in the numbers that they did.
Over 50 I think people came and it was to farm in rural Oxfordshire in January. And people have come from all over the country. And you know, there was a lot of hugging and crying and friendships that were formed. And that is what the plan was for this year. But 2020 has done a number on all of us. And yeah, we’ve kind of shifted our output and our organising but the plan is always to get people to come to farms which are led or owned by people of colour. And that event in January was at the Willowbrook farm which is the UK is first halal family farm.

Josina: Love people there and that’s what’s so nice about this work is just meeting these amazing people who are just so busy farming you don’t really get to hear their stories very much and all across Britain there are few people but there are they are there who are farming and yeah, getting more people on to their phones, because they always need volunteers. And there’s such an appetite for people that have been living in inner city areas. And I imagine the pandemic’s have accelerated that. But why do we live here? in our house? Can we actually cope? can we survive as healthy as an environment that’s nourishing for us. And so I’m hoping that over the next year, a few years, we can really push that accelerate that where we’re able to run events on farms and get people connected locally to Black and brown food growers in their area. But for now, we’re doing a lot of talking. We’re doing a lot of writing. And, and, yeah, like, hopefully, we’ve got Black History Month coming up. And yeah, we’re hoping to do a lot of championing the black and brown figures that we’ve met over the past year. during that month, mazing.

Kat: Sounds like there’s some really good plans in the pipeline. And, and, yeah, be great to see them unfold. And I just wanted to pick up on something you mentioned earlier about reparations, and just ask if you could share a little bit more with us around the connections between reparations and land, because that isn’t something that automatically connects.

Josina: Yeah, well, it’s, it’s quite common for that to be the case, because the reparations movement hasn’t typically talked about land in Britain, and hasn’t been as sort of widespread discussed in political spaces as it is in the States. And so I really like bringing the word reparations back to its original form of repair, and that we need repair as humans, particularly people who have experienced colonial oppression and enslavement forced labour exploitation, and that we need to heal from that. And at the same time, the land that was degraded and exploited and, you know, extracted from also needs that same repair. And if we’re talking about Black and brown people working with the land using regenerative farming techniques that are centuries old, it’s so so, so long, of our lineage of using good sustainable practices and farming.
That, then we can, yeah, we can really make a difference. And it’s easier in America to articulate a position on reparations, because of the more direct links with enslavement. And then if you’ve got communities here, who are from countries that were formerly colonised and displaced, as you know, I’m of African descent, family is from Grenada, have been moved around quite a lot. And it’s harder to say why Britain owes me something. But my family’s suffered to build the wealth of this country, and had to alter their diets, lives, family structures, etc. for the benefit of Britain, and then now, if Caribbean communities for example, experiencing food inequalities, then Britain is implicated in that, and there is enough land. And that’s something that we don’t really talk about enough that you know, that the land scarcity is made up, it’s not real. If you look at a golf course, we could use that to grow food, it’s a choice that we don’t it’s a choice when people, someone’s made the choice that others are going to go hungry, and that we are meant to be okay with that. And reparations is partly about stopping that, that normalising of suffering. And saying like, we we have a right to be able to live well and live in harmony with the land.
And so it’s something that we’re still working on, like what is what is the ask, and learning from people who have quantified that there’s been more work done by you know, Caribbean governments, Queen Mother Moore, I think was the first person whoI think was based in America and said, like, this is the amount. This is the amount that we want on our checks
and learning from successful reparations, movements that were not connected to the Britain. And it’s still difficult just getting an apology from people who have directly descended from from
slavers. And so yes, a long way to go.

Josina: But ultimately, we’re also seeing some recognition from progressive land owners that something needs to change. And people that want to interrupt this idea that they’re the inheritance of land. Yeah, that they don’t want to do that necessarily. So people are approaching us with offers and asks that are to do with their land. And so that is an area where we might see reparations also hoping to yeah, like learn from the reparations map that Soul Fire Farm have been building, which will sort of match land projects run by BPOC communities with white people who want to redistribute or donate. So a project in Carolina might need a tractor and someone is able to see that very like on the map and be able to donate what they have.

*Song – “Fucking Melt” by Brown Belt*

Ali: I really liked the point you made about Yeah, this the the current situation is a choice and to be reminded that certain distributions of land, certain inequalities our choices is because they’re because they are normalised. So there, it’s like hard to imagine things as different. But I think that’s really important to see that certain things were chosen. Like it was a choice around land distribution, it was a choice around the fact that former slave owners got paid for millions and millions of pounds. And the UK Government and taxpayers only stopped paying, what, five years ago for that, and that that was a choice, but it wasn’t a choice that was made to pay or repair anything around formerly enslaved people. And I think yeah, it’s good to just keep reminding ourselves about about that. And I’m wondering, I know, I know, you said you didn’t have like a clear ask, but do you have like, does LION have like kind of a vision for land justice? And like, means in the UK?

Josina: Yeah. It’s probably written down really well, somewhere. And it’s, we would want the Black people and people of colour are able to grow and sell and eat food that is localised, nutrient dense, you know, “healthy”, in inverted commas. And it’s, we also would want that people are able to access the living environment around them without it being based on productivity. And, you know, so there is like an element of growing food, but it’s also about just being able to be and enjoy and access this. Yeah, the beautiful places that exist. And it’s also it’s really important that we’re able to experience rural environments without feeling any kind of fear or racism which is quite common that there will be attacks on people or like there’s less of a feeling of safety than there might be in illicit areas. So yeah, I mean ending racism, loads of black farmers, lots of use of the land that’s in accordance with spiritual practices or farming practices from places where we have heritage. And that’s something I was really not expecting this to emerge from the land justice work, but that I was able to cultivate a connection to a spirituality or multiple forms of spirituality through land, having been raised as an atheist,
actually, just and I’m still on the edge of it, and it’s not fully formed, but like West African, spiritual traditions make sense because they’re so rooted in land, going to Willowbrook and hearing Lutvi to be speak about Islam and land connection and land stewardship, I was blown away. And indigenous traditions and you know, how we talk about loads of places being better in terms of how they will work with the land to avoid the really disastrous impacts of climate change. Like if we, if we just listened. California wouldn’t be on fire. So for sure, yeah, that’s, that’s something really beautiful and I, we should be leaning into that a lot more. And it’s, I think Britain is one of the places that’s most divorced from that kind of spiritual inequality, ecology. And I don’t see Christianity as some some belief system that’s particularly in line with with that, like, giving, like, animating the land, or believing that it’s as alive as we are not something that we extract from or have dominance over. But yeah, personally, I’m really enjoying that. It’s a very nourishing aspect of of the land justice work for me.

Ali: Mm hmm. Yeah, I like I like that as like using or not using but like, the land as like a way of like, developing a relationship to, to land to a place and to spirituality. I think that’s really like a nice avenue. And I’ve been I’ve been doing a lot of reading about like, the body and like, the capacity to like feel and like if we could feel our impacts on each other we wouldn’t have done like war, we wouldn’t have done colonialism and like I feel like that’s a similar thing that’s coming through for like land if you like, can feel our impact on the land or like, I don’t know have a relationship with like, the trees that are around us, like you wouldn’t chop them all down to make cheap paper or something like i think that’s that’s really important. And I guess I’m wondering like, I yeah, how within this like, transition you talked about like ending racism and like having more people of colour and Black people on the land to does this like in this vision is like land ownership still a thing? Is it like other different models of land ownership? You like thinking about or? Yeah, how does that how does that fit in with that justice framework?

Josina: Yeah, it’s funny cuz Landon, our names could be interpreted as something that is just about land ownership. And, mm, I am anti-capitalist raised by communists and definitely

Ali: Amazing.

Josina: Yes, yeah. And yeah, it’s we’re not in favour of private property. And if there was someone who was just wanting to buy a house for themselves, or to own land that no one else is going to be able to use then people in LION wouldn’t be in in supportive that really like the idea or the best goal for Land in our Names is and that’s why like Ola, a co founder, has been really peeved when people have said Land in our Name this if we just want land that’s in Josina’s name or Ola’s name, but if I had land, then there have been no fences around it. If I have land then I’m not really going to have my doors locked all the time. I should maybe I shouldn’t say that. It’s a security issue. But in general, I want to people to be able to access it and for multiple communities to be able to benefit from it. And so, yeah, like, there is that tension between like fighting for more people to be able to own land, and who are people of colour, but also inherent in that is that it’s common use that we ultimately want from that. And, you know, it’s a massive scar that’s been created in this country and everywhere else from enclosures. And I find it really hard to enjoy British landscapes because of how it’s been scored up and, you know, fences everywhere, and there’s, you know, very little ability to access some of the most beautiful parts. So, yeah, in the vision the land is for everyone. And
the organising principles that we’re starting with, you know, it’s not just self interest its also working from the bottom up. You know, we’re not interested in land ownership for black communities, because we’re black are interested in land ownership for that community is because it’s the that communities that need it most.

Kat: Yeah, absolutely. And I feel like in a lot of what you were just sharing in terms of the kind of values that are underpinning your work, I guess, that’s what I’d like to explore a little bit more. And so one of the reasons we started this podcast was to kind of look at how groups that are doing social justice work are, are working kind of more internally, how they kind of functioning, as well as what they’re working on out in the world. And, and, and this, yeah, this next question is around how you’re living these values that you’ve just been talking about, in terms of the way that LION works. And if he can share a little bit about that, that would be exciting to hear.

Josina: Great, yeah, um, well, we’re a collective, which means that we’re trying to be very democratic in our decision making. And there’s a lot of organising principles, which are new to the team. And I feel like I’m not necessarily the best person within the team to answer this, because there’s other people who are like, they’ve had to slow me down a bit, and remind me that we need to talk about care. And how we don’t burn out because having come from academia, and very sort of fast paced job in sexual health, which is the last thing I did before I went to do LION stuff full time. And it’s hard to embed care into the organising and, you know, like, there’s a lot of older generations of activists who are like, well, if you don’t burn out, you’re not doing it properly. So how I felt, I mean, there’s always enough work to occupy our time. And so yeah, I guess like thinking about process a lot and trying to have like strategy meetings every other week, so that we’re always going back and reviewing what we’re doing and why we’re doing it is one of the ways but we’re also I’d say that in all of our events, there’s that spirituality stuff coming in, which really grounds the values of our work in the events. And yeah, like, we will talk about our ancestors quite a lot. Both our like, named, personal, connected ancestors, and then just the wider concept of the ancestors, and encourage people at our events to think about those. So a couple of events, it’s a question I like to ask people, which is, like, who, in your family or who’s from where you’re from that inspires you? And you always get such rich answers from that. And in the context of land work, lots of people have a mother or a grandmother who’s inspired them to do what they’re doing now. And yeah, honouring that because, you know, as we said earlier, the image of the farmer is a white man, but for so many of us, we have these farming histories of people that were like there work wasn’t valued, their backbreaking labour wasn’t really talked about, or it was really normalised that it did that and that they fed countless people maybe. And so yeah, I guess there’s a lot of uplifting in our work and that that’s one of our key key values.

Kat: Amazing.

Ali: I was just gonna say as a, as a process head, I can’t imagine having strategies days every two weeks, that sounds like incredible and tiring at the same time.

Josina: Yeah, it’s, I’d say that it’s good. But it’s really hard to shift from that, like, productivity always my mindset, and you know, I’m often out the strategy meetings being like, yeah, yeah. Okay, so what are the outputs? Like, why are we talking about this? Um, but yeah, I’m glad that I won’t use the language of like, yeah, it’s slowing us down. But it is like encouraging that reflection. And I think overall, for our well being is really good to be able to make time for that.
And it’s, I don’t, I think that there’s something like in how we’re organising that means that we, we sort of move move as one, in some ways, it’s getting a bit by more spirit-see than I usually do. But I’m, like, there’s been weeks where we’re all sort of feeling it all at the same time. And we’ve had, like, people that do somatic stuff, and body work come in to do like a meditation or breathing session with us. And at the height of the latest BLM news cycle, where it was pretty relentless. And not only the bad news, and all the protests, but also being asked to comment on it in our work. And lots of organisations that were white majority that didn’t have, you know, position on it, or they didn’t have a black person in their teams or lives that they could ask and coming to us and, you know, while we’re also feeling it in a really sort of personal and painful way. That, yeah, like, we just sort of collectively made the decision, okay, we’re not going to have a meeting, we’re going to get someone to come in and meet a meditation with us, because working is actually like, not the right thing for us to do. And it was nice to feel like we could do that. And that we were a team that we’re all on the same page. Whereas if I was in like, a white majority space, like, when I was in academia, I felt like, you know, all right, there’s something wrong with me today. And it’s only me that is really bothered by this. And that I should probably just give it to myself, and, you know, the, the expectation to soldier on is, has gone from doing the work, I guess, the pain is very, like, we’re able to bring our whole selves to the workspace.

Kat: Hmm, that sounds incredible in terms of being able to have that level of collective care. And, and to be able to kind of hold each other and know what is needed. And if that’s not work, that’s amazing that our team can decide to do that. And I think something else that really struck me when you were sharing was around the, just in terms of like the connection between the outward facing work and the in inward work around like, changing the story around land, and really bringing a strong racial justice lens to land in the UK, and then inviting people in your spaces to have that real connection with, with their own stories. And that the ancestor work and, and bringing that into a way of working. And just feels like such an amazing mirroring of, of the connection between that inner work and that outer political goal. And so yeah, thanks so much for sharing, sharing those things with us.

Josina: Thank you.

Ali: Um, yeah, just a couple more questions that the next one is just like, I’m sure you get asked this a lot. It’s like, if someone’s listening to the podcast, and they want to, they’re inspired by what you’re doing. What would you recommend that they could do? Like, how could they support LIONs work or just land justice? More generally? Yeah. Um, well, I’m really conscious of that, like LION’s team is pretty based in London. And so depending on where they are,
you know, if they’re already in a rural space, or have access to farm or food, growing projects, like getting involved, put seeds in the ground, and then you’re already ahead of what we want to do in some ways. If people want to support LIONs work, then that’s fantastic. You can get in touch with us if you want to be really, really hands on. And if you want to follow us on Instagram, that is a nice way to be a supportive member of the wider community. People can write about us, donate to us, or encourage reparations to come away. And, and, yeah, I mean, like we were forced in a lot of ways to act local, at the moment. And so there’s lots and lots of parts of the country where it might be a easier to do the direct land justice work in places where there’s arable land that can be used for farming. And that, yeah, like LION shouldn’t be taking on the work in those regions. You know, there’s like a couple of places where we might be doing events over the year. Over the next three years in Gloucestershire, for example, we got some events happening. But, yeah, the work has to happen nationally, by many, many people. And we are really supportive of people who want to act in their areas to do to do things that are relevant to their local communities, and will help that that community to eat and sow and grow their own food.

Ali: Yeah, that all sounds so good. Um, that that’s the end of our questions. Is there anything you like, you feel like you’d like to add in that we didn’t ask about?

Josina: No, I just add that this is we’re on the cusp of something really exciting. I’ve never seen so many people talking about land and land justice. And it’s, it, it’s sort of shit that it’s taken a pandemic, and the latest iteration of Black Lives Matter to bring up how nature connection, farming, and yeah, like rural experiences of racism all are connecting. But there are so many different groups and organisations, they’re taking this on: colonial countryside, Black girls hike, Black Girls camping, all of the different projects that LION connected to, Aweside farm and black roots project in Tottenham, actually. And so yeah, it’s just on the days where it feels really hard to get up and do anything, I’m reminded that there is suddenly so many people that are doing things that are in this in the same remit that, you know, we’re fighting alongside. And I just want to tell everyone that yeah, this is something big, and we’re gonna see massive changes in the next five to 10 years when it comes to the land sector and racial justice.

Kat: Amazing

Ali: Can’t wait for the pandemic to be over and see all the seeds starting to come up that’s gonna be exciting times. Okay.

Ali: Thanks again to Josina from Land in our Names you can find them at or Land in our Names on Instagram.

Ali: Thanks as well to Brown Belt for letting us use their song fucking melt. You can find them on Bandcamp and Instagram.

Ali: As always, thanks to Klaus for letting us use his song Neff as our intro and outro music

Ali: And if you want to find out anything about Resist Renew as a training collective, our website is and you can support our work and support the podcast there. See you next time.

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