28, Executive Director of Black Oregon Land Trust
2022 Prize Winner
On a fall morning on a farm in the Columbia River Gorge, Qiddist Ashé has already fed the goats, harvested herbs for medicine-making, and tended to the farm cat Sheba, who just gave birth to a litter of five kittens. Ashé is weeks away from purchasing a nearby 10-acre farm as the co-founder and executive director of the Black Oregon Land Trust.
But Ashé, 28, isn’t ready to call herself a farmer. It’s a matter of humility.
“I want to give a lot of reverence to the people pulling 10-hour days with their hands in the soil,” she says. “I’m a ‘budding land steward’ and learning so much from my friends and colleagues.”
That same morning, she had a handful of non-agrarian tasks as well, including working on a grant application for BOLT, a photo shoot, and meeting with other Black land stewards in the area. BOLT, which she started two years ago, creates opportunities for Black farmers in Oregon to connect with each other, access land, and build generational health and wealth.
In the most recent U.S. Department of Agricultural census, only 64 of Oregon’s 67,000 farm producers were Black. Although this strikes Ashé as an undercount, her visibility work has been effective: “I just talked to a farmer out in Eastern Oregon who told me, ‘I had no idea there were other Black farmers here.’”
The lack of diversity on Oregon farms traces back to the state’s founding: An 1857 law excluded African Americans from settling in the territory.
Ashé lives in a 140-square-foot tiny home perched on the 19-acre Mudbone Grown farm in Corbett, which is growing crops such as greens, beans, flowers and squash this fall. Youth organizations and volunteer groups visit weekly—a benefit of being so close to the eastern outskirts of Portland.
“Qiddist approaches her work with a spirit of abundance, and this has been an inspiration for me,” says Mudbone co-owner Shantae Johnson. “She works with an open hand and heart.”
Growing up in Southwest Portland, Ashé hosted an environmental club in her parents’ backyard in elementary school. At 15, she journaled about wanting to raise her future children communally and grow her own food.
Before she started BOLT, Ashé was an elementary school teacher and then a midwife, attending hundreds of births (just the one feline birth so far). She sees BOLT as a continuation of that work: making sure mothers and children are well-fed, educated and have opportunities to build wealth. “All of these threads came together with land at the core.”
She also draws from her birth work when she conceptualizes the growth of BOLT itself. She tries to resist the pressure to always be “scaling up” while fundraising and pitching to donors, and instead move at the “pace of the relationship.”
“We’ve done a lot in two years, but we’re still young,” she says. “We have to think about what is sustainable for each other and for the earth.”