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Tamarya Sims Is on a Quest for Land

Sims bases their landwork out of Asheville, North Carolina. A city rooted in the ancestral lands of the Eastern band of Cherokee and the Yuchi people, Asheville is, as local historian Roy Harris puts it, a city that embodies “the worst of everything and the best of everything.” Surrounded by rural land in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has drawn over 10,000 people in the past decade, on the heels of an urban renewal movement that started in the 1960s and, like so many across the country, eradicated almost exclusively Black and Brown neighborhoods. This movement claimed 500 acres of city land and displaced once bustling communities into public housing. Communities of color saw the closing of local businesses, groceries, and elementary schools in their gentrifying neighborhoods.

Asheville is also one of the only cities to unanimously commit to a Reparations Resolution, a plan designed to uplift the financial, social, and communal well-being of Black communities and atone for a long national history of racial inequities. Harris, who preserves Asheville’s stories, histories, and legends, looks to the younger generation for how best to utilize this long overdue recompense. “Land and education. Getting elementary schools back, grocery stores back, replacing urban renewal land with vegetables and farm land,” says Harris. “Supporting young people to do things that help a community survive, to get some of that back.”

Enter Sims—ecologist, conservationist, farmer, healer, educator, storyteller, environmental translator. Modern industrialized agriculture has emphasized land as a “natural resource” rather than an entity that is as alive as the people who live off it. Subsidized monocultures like the vast soy and cornfields endemic to American rural areas, chemical augmentation to ensure perfect produce or fatty livestock, even the newer, nebulous criteria characterizing organic and free-range, they all maintain the same illusion: that human needs and nature’s needs are separate, that they don’t deeply rely on each other. The result has been practices that are both extractive and unsustainable.

Land stewardship, by contrast, relies on cultivating equitable relationships with the natural world. Permaculture, polyculture, low-impact sustainable ecological design—they all derive their language, philosophy, and technology from land stewardship as developed by Indigenous cultures across the globe, far preceding agriculture in its most modern form. Farmers like Sims are among a vanguard of young Black, Brown, and Indigenous land stewards who embrace farming not just as a means of production but as a way of creating avenues for sustainable life.

“I’m an environmentalist before I’m anything else,” Sims says. “I’m an ecologist before I’m anything else, and that’s kind of how I run my life, and I think farming is one of the branches that comes off of it.”

By adapting their operations to align with generations of Indigenous knowledge, Sims prioritizes an ecosystem that thrives on interdependence, community, and regenerative cycles of growth, adaptation, and rest. For Sims, land stewardship isn’t just about what they grow or how they grow it, but ensuring that they cultivate a safe space for their community to explore their relationships with land.

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