Listening to the Land


The Foodlands Cooperative of BC was founded in 2017 with the goals of holding land in trust, decommodifying agricultural land relations, and helping farms and community organizations practice equitable land stewardship. These missions are complex, interconnected, and often at odds with the colonial model of land ownership, which reduces land and its more-than-human inhabitants to commodities for individuals to own, possess and exploit.

Land-as-property is a system of hierarchy which both underlies and mirrors the larger systems of colonial capitalism; in these relations, the land, its inhabitants, and the people that work it are exploitable entities, stripped of agency and made responsible for the upkeep of their landlord. In this framework, relationships founded on accountability, mutual responsibility, and reciprocity between land and its stewards are neither desirable nor even conceivable. The mission of Foodlands therefore demands that we practice, nourish, and regenerate ways of being and becoming within a world which transcends and conflicts with colonial capitalism.

The ubiquity of the colonial model, and its incompatibility with Foodlands’s mission, has given rise to ongoing conversations about decolonization, equity, and agricultural land stewardship. These conversations were already underway when I joined the governance working group in 2020, and they have evolved and grown with time. The decolonial work they emphasize will outlast both the working group and Foodlands itself. Decolonization is not a place to arrive at, nor a quantifiable process with a beginning and end, nor a set of expected returns and promised dividends. Decolonization is relational, and relationships are living entities; they must be nurtured and maintained. Further, this maintenance cannot be reduced to a series of checklists. Instead, decolonization is a holistic endeavour. It is at once relational, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual.

Decolonization is not a single concrete project. This is not to say, however, that the ongoing process of decolonization do not have concrete components. Maintaining right relation is never solely an individual exercise. It requires that we open ourselves and engage reciprocally with the lands we inhabit, the beings who share them with us, and the indigenous people who are their historical and ongoing stewards. Many agricultural workers know very little about the history of the lands they inhabit and lack personal and professional relationships with indigenous people.

For Foodlands as a network, and many of our members, Listening to the Land represents a way to explore and establish new relationships with the land and its people, and to nourish old ones into mutually hospitable forms. Listening to the Land brings settler farmers and indigenous people together on the land to share knowledge, build community with one another, and begin a conversation about how to listen to each other and the land. Listening to the land is an ongoing process as well; it involves recognizing the signals embedded within the land, working to ensure sustain it as it sustains you, and responding to its needs both present and ongoing.

Several Foodlands member organizations have hosted Listening to the Land events, and many more are engaging with decolonization and land stewardship in their own processes. The form that right relationship takes is always situational; thus, no two projects are entirely alike. Each organization has its own history as well as a unique set of circumstances and ongoing needs, and so do those of the indigenous people whose land they live and work on. The relationships must be built, rebuilt, nourished and so that it suits the needs and capacities of all involved. To highlight the ways in which these relationships begin and grow, and give voice to the work Foodlands members are doing, I plan to highlight specific Listening to the Land events and other relational and decolonial projects within Foodlands member organizations in an upcoming article.

Gerhardt Troan
July 2023