OK: Land, Food, Future

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Project Team

Authors: Rachel Mulder, Leanne Nagata, Sasha Zwiebel

Institution: Yale University

Instructor: Keller Easterling

Studio: Old New Deal; Graduate Architecture; Fall 2020

Project Description

Oklahoma is a place of fields, faith, and football, built on a palimpsest of past and current failure, violence, and disaster. It is home to the forcibly removed, the end of the Trail of Tears, the Dust Bowl, and racial discrimination and terrorism, including the Tulsa Race Massacre. Here, there is continued systemic discrimination and racism in the agricultural sector, while big ag’s commodity monocrops are heavily subsidized originating from the New Deal at the cost of the environment, biodiversity, human health, and rural economies.

Where there is failure and funding, there is opportunity. Opportunity to face the violence in our shared past and confront their new forms by working to end continued harm and to restore, repay, redistribute that which is owed: reparations, Land Back. The Green New Deal must reconfigure how farming communities are subsidized if we are to see a sustainable and equitable future.

Our first interplay utilizes the power of collective ownership by changing the terms of the state trust lands and partnering with the Agrarian Trust to facilitate land redistribution to BIPOC farmers. Our second interplay adapts USDA subsidies in crop loss areas to create ecosystem regeneration and renewable energy investments. Our third interplay aims to facilitate food sovereignty by shifting USDA resources to support community-based, diversified food farming and local markets and food processing initiatives.

We are not the experts — the experts are all the many organizations and folks on the ground. To support their work, we have hosted our research on a website and distilled our interplays into a collection of ideas.


Studio Description

From tribal lands in Oklahoma to urban Minneapolis where George Floyd was murdered. A stack of data layers might map industrialized crop monocultures next to food deserts, energy intensive meat production on feedlots and meatpacking plants that are also covid hotspots, aquifer depletion and drought threatening another dust bowl, earthquakes and fracking accidents from fossil fuel extraction, and trade wars and government programs that perpetuate precarity. We work on the Green New Deal from the political vanguard—on jobs, justice and decarbonization. But since these politically red states rail against big government even as they receive massive subsidies that have been outspending many government programs since the depression, we wondered if there was the possibility of a political trick on another front. Disarming right wing opposition to the Green New Deal could you say that the Old New Deal is still in place? And, calling a bluff, could you see just how much of the GND could be accomplished by diverting funds from the OND—making the OND into an engine of its own reversal?

Neutralizing binaries and weaponized cries of lost causes and forgotten men, might the move come with political Teflon, as well as a chance to more quickly meet immediate needs on small farms and Indigenous land. Rather than solutionist thinking the studio found value in problems that could be productively combined with other problems. It worked on designing open-ended interplays—mutually beneficial exchanges across entrenched political divides that worked to transition from abusive to productive industries and retool some mechanisms of social welfare, energy, policing, and reparations for Black and Indigenous peoples. Students were in dialogue with interlocutors—regenerative farmers, agricultural extensions, community and agrarian land trusts, energy specialists, farm mediators, and tribal leaders, among others.

In Minneapolis, Samar Halloum, Jiaxing Yan and Scott Simpson designed interplays that used an unusual urban-rural community land trust as a vessel for reapportioning the monoculture budgets for farming, policing and real estate development. In the extreme political and environment climate of Oklahoma, Rachel Mulder, Leanne Nagata, and Sasha Zwiebel leveraged existing subsidy failures to reaggregate land for reparations, regenerative agriculture, food production, and wind farms. Fort Berthold in North Dakota, like areas of Oklahoma, sits on a shale basin with huge reserves. While not rousing sentiments against renewable energy, Rebecca Commisaris, Steven Sculco and Gabriel Guttierez Huerta showed what it would take to convert oil revenues into wind energy and greater autonomy for the three tribes in the area. All the projects demonstrated how a synthetic design imagination about spatial variables in situated conditions—maybe even more than legal, scientific, or economic assessments—is crucial to political decision making and political temperament. Quoting Isabel Stengers, how do you convert capital’s “chains of dependence” back to “relationships of interdependence?”