Get inspired with Candace Clark

A woman stands between rows of cultivated plants, wearing a large straw hat and a grey hoodie, smiling at the camera.

(Courtesy of Candace Clark)

Related Topics:
Agriculture, Climate, Green Living, Justice, Storyfest 2023

By Hannah Krantz and Aleena Fayaz

Candace Clark is a Ph.D. candidate at Tuskegee University and an impressive voice in the environmental justice space. Learn how she built climate-sustainable housing out of recycled trash, why her community-given name is Kandeaux the Farm Plug, and why she cares about climate change in the first place.

Sometimes, before a call to action, we need a call to inspiration. Come get inspired!

Learn more about Candace’s mission by visiting her website.

Full Transcript:

Krantz: Hi there, I’m Hannah Krantz.

Fayaz: And I’m Aleena Fayaz. We are two students at the George Washington University who care about the environment. But we know how easy it can be to fall into a negative doom spiral when reading the news about climate change, trust me, I’ve been there.

Krantz: When we think about our futures we worry about access to clean water, food, climate resilient homes, combating the excessive heat and extreme weather and so, so much more. So we wonder: what’s being done about this, what real changes are being made so that we can have a safe future? And most importantly, how can we solve these issues through the lens of environmental justice, acknowledging what groups are disproportionately affected by these disastrous effects of climate change?

Fayaz: Our generation needs a flood of innovative ideas and new mindsets for surviving and thriving in the climate crisis. We can ground ourselves and hope for the future by looking at young people who are not only making a difference in their communities right now, but also whose ideas truly have the potential to move the planet forward.

Krantz: In this episode, we bring you one outstanding voice in the climate space: Candace Clark. Candace is going to teach us about the importance of Black voices in climate solutions, how she learned to build climate sustainable housing out of recycled trash, and why she even cares about climate change in the first place. Let’s get inspired.

Fayaz: Candace, thank you so much for coming to the show. If you wanna give us a brief intro just about who you are, what you do.

Clark: For sure. So I’m Candace Clark, better known throughout the hood as Kandeaux the farm plug. I am a beautiful black woman from the south side of Chicago. I’m now currently a PhD student at Tuskegee University and my research specifically is anchored in agricultural policy, and even more specific than that, land use policy around the intersections of land use policy and sustainable, affordable and efficient housing.

Krantz: That is outstanding! When were you first aware of the climate crisis, to get on the really specific path of education that you’re on?

Clark: Almost immediately I’m called to, you know, pay homage to my ancestors. There was also a really beautiful natural space, called the Japanese garden, and it’s inspired by Yoko Ono. And it’s one of the places that makes Chicago a sister city to Osaka, Japan, and it’s a place that you know, my father and my brother and I, we would ride our bikes and we would just spend a lot of time at this garden. And I know one year I came back and you know, of course I’m trying to walk around, I went to the garden and it was like totally flooded. You know, I’m saying like the little waterfall was damaged, algae blooms all over the place, the fish and aquatic life was not as vibrant. It was just a moment that was really shocking for me, because I’m like, Oh my God, these are my real childhood memories. And I think about all the young people on the South Side or the East Side, who you know, may want to go to the beach or may want to relax or may find a sense of meditation and rejuvenation by going to the water, but what are they going to be seeing when they get there?

Fayaz: So Candace, you mentioned this term “farm plug,” and that you’ve been bestowed this name? What does that mean? What is the farm plug?

Clark: So every time I try to say what it is, the next time I say that it changes a little bit. I’m not gonna lie. Because it’s as real and true as I’m sitting here in front of you. It is a living thing and it’s dynamic. On a foundational standpoint, a farm plug is an intersectional advocate of the environment, of the community, and of earth, that sees agriculture and farming in like everything that you may do. It’s kind of wild right, but people call me farm plug because I will be outside and I would hear people talking about things and I would almost always connect it back to agriculture, right? So when I say outside, I mean in places like, for example, when Trayvon Martin happened, everyone’s protests and everyone’s marching, and I’m sitting here. I remember being outside, I remember feeling all of these feelings and looking around. I’m like, man, all these people are marching and we’ve been marching, and we’ve been doing this, and it’s not I’m not seeing the type of change that I would like to see. Right. So I started doing more research and I’m like, well, every single form of discrimination in the history of discrimination was always connected to a natural resource, no matter what it always comes back down to the land. If we want to be free, right, if liberation is our end goal, then our liberation as humans is deeply deeply invested in the liberation of Earth as an entity.

Clark: Okay, well, what is the history of Black people in agriculture? So when I started to uncover more and more research, it became clear to me that during the Freedom Rides in the South when people were going to try and register all these black people to vote, that these black people were not welcome in the South. They couldn’t stay in hotels. They didn’t have diamonds that they could go to. The green book, there were only specific places that they could stop and be safe. It was the farmers and the land owners, the Black land owners who had the capacity to support the Civil Rights foot soldiers as they matriculated through the south. And so literally, if we did not have Black people who own land, there would not be a civil rights movement. If there was no Civil Rights Movement, there would be no environmental movement, which was deeply deeply based on the civil rights movement, the decade right before it. When I started to see what it really meant to be a Black person, let alone a Black woman in agriculture, it just became everything that I talked about, everywhere that I went, to the point where people are like, “Alright, I farm plug we heard you.” 

Fayaz: When you say farm plug, your primary role is connecting, then? What is that problem you’re trying to solve, or who are the people, moreso, that you’re trying to serve?

Clark: Farm plug has three main pillars, right? And those three main pillars are educate, thrive and connect. Each one of those pillars is deeply inspired by a theory or a person. I’m really really really deeply invested in this idea of not settling for survival, because that’s something that we’re going to do anyway. We should be fighting and advocating for the opportunity to thrive as Black people in this place.

Krantz: That is a really important reframing.

Clark: If you are committed to a thriving lifestyle, your next goal, the next thing you really got to do, your charge, is to go out and connect with other people to make these things a reality. We need to make science cool. We need people to care about the information that is going into the policy that are deciding the fate of everybody on the face of the planet. And what farm plug is doing, what I’m doing as a farm plug is, I’m really kind of just living my life really, really loud. And I am telling stories of other people who are Earth cultivators, Earth workers, who are in policy and all these things doing things that Black people don’t typically see. My solution is: nothing is really cool without Black people. So we need to get more of us in these spaces, telling these stories and bringing our culture into the solutions that people are vying for in the face of climate change.

Fayaz: So, I saw that statistic from the Food and Agriculture Organization that states by 2050 we’ll need to produce 60% more food to feed a world population of around 9.3 billion. That’s a lot of people. So how does your role as a farm plug help us reach that goal? What are your thoughts on at that point? I mean, it’s pretty stark.

Clark: We educate, we drive and we connect shawty, that’s what we do! Right? So another kind of scary and wild statistic to add on to that is that it’s been projected that the United States only has about 60 harvests left. So the state of our soil is so depleted that if we continue doing what we’re doing, we will only be able to quite literally grow food across the country for the next maybe 55 to 60 years. To combat all of these things— Education is the key to everything. If a person does not know, they will not do right. You can’t inspire someone if you can’t connect with them, right? And so for me, when we think about regenerative agriculture or sustainable agriculture, my job is to first of all remind all of my white allies in the space that they’re not the first people who said these things, right? You have the whole indigenous Native American population who were in the United States for hundreds of 1000s of years. We don’t know how long. But they managed, quite literally managed and stewarded in this place in a way that maintained a form of harmony and balance that we have totally obliterated. And not only just indigenous people here, but really indigenous people all over the world. For Black and indigenous people to really see ourselves in that and to enter this space, unapologetically, by reclaiming our culture.

Krantz: So you said science needs to become cooler. I am very blown away by the coolness of Earthships.

Fayaz: It sounds utopian, almost like it’s part of some alien Jetson you know, futuristic model. So please tell us everything we need to know about an Earthship and how your role in the Earthship makes it possible.

Clark: So Earthships are essentially, what I call a 21st century post apocalyptic dwelling that is made from upcycled tires, cans, and bottles. It is a house that is fully sustainable and self-sufficient on its own made from trash! This super cool dude, his name is Michael Reynolds, he saw an article that was talking about aluminum cans and how you know, as we enter the microwave age, more single use items, trash is gonna be a bigger issue. So he shifted his entire architecture model to figuring out, well, if this is going to be an issue in the future, how do I capitalize on this to make it not an issue? In April of 2021 with all of the uprisings and George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, they decided to roll out a BIPOC Scholarship, which was basically: if you’re a black indigenous person of color, if you could get to New Mexico, and you’ve received the scholarship, you don’t have to pay for anything. Typically it’s around like 2500 to $3,000 to participate in the academy. And so I had the privilege to be the first recipient of that scholarship.

Clark: I was like, I shouldn’t have to pay rent. I shouldn’t have to struggle, nobody should have to struggle when we have this technology, right? They (Earthships) are the embodiment of six key main points. It’s water, food, electricity, waste, comfort and garbage. The house catches water, so it catches rainwater, it has a greenhouse in the front of it where you can grow your own food. It does waste management. So every time you flush the toilet, it literally runs through the botanical beds and your boo boo is basically feeding your plants. 

Fayaz: Woah!

Clark: Yeah! It embodies it utilizes geothermal dynamic heat. It’s an Earthship, it’s a home that’s basically in the ground. So you don’t have to worry about, you know, paying for an H-VAC system because quite literally the warmth of the Earth is what will support you. It also talks about solar energy. So we have solar panels on it. And again, with food, you can grow your own food in those in that greenhouse in the front and then garbage right garbage is a problem. But it’s a house made from garbage. So you’re turning that problem into a very, very real solution.

Krantz: Earthships are one of the coolest things I have ever heard of in my entire life. Only 21 years of life so far, but I feel that few things will beat it. What did these look like? When you walked in there, what did you see?

Clark: I mean, they are gorgeous, you know what I’m saying? So imagine, you know, you got different color bottles. If you got a Don Julior or a Bombay bottle, you know, it’s that sapphire gives you that blue hue. Well imagine that, in a wall at times, with the sun blasting behind the siding behind it into your living room. You know what I’m saying? Like that’s what it looks like. That’s why I say 21st century post apocalyptic, because it can definitely go anywhere from super luxurious or to super super rookie. There is an Earthship on every continent except Antarctica. You can build it yourself, but if no one from Earthship Biotecture Academy is present and guiding you through that build, you can’t legally call it an Earthship. So my dissertation will be building one in Tuskegee, but I will be doing the first all Black cohort.

Fayaz: Well, how much does this cost? How long does it take? Can you kind of dig into the timeline and the process of making an Earthship?

Clark: I mean you it’s either one of two things: you either got a bunch of friends and a bunch of time, or a bunch of money. And even if you got a bunch of money, it’s still gonna cost more because of the labor. Earthships can be anywhere from as cheap as $2,000 and majority recycled, upcycled and reclaimed materials to anywhere from anywhere to a hundred thousand to a million dollars. It can be beautiful, and you can use brand new everything if you want to. So as we started to face more issues with feeding ourselves, getting water, having electricity, a home that already has a rainwater catchment as a greenhouse in it, and has solar panel electricity hooked up to it is wanting to do nothing but increase in value. That’s why I say post apocalyptic because they can truly withhold these challenges that we’re about to start seeing more and more.

Krantz: So you’re building the first ever Earthship with an all Black cohort, and you’re doing it in Tuskegee. So, what black specific issues do you hope to combat by creating this community?

Clark: I mean, so many things. But basically by the time I finished the Earthship Academy, I understood how my house was built. I understood how my water worked, I understood my plumbing. I understood electric loads, how to calculate them. I understood so much about building a house and owning the house, that I’m like everybody needs to know about this. Everyone needs to know these basic principles. And then when I learned about how much wealth can be generated from your bare hands, it’s almost like you know, Black people, we can afford to not know this information, especially when you have gentrification, people being pushed out of their communities left and right. You know, it’s real out here. Nobody’s saving us, so we need to be equipping ourselves with the skills to build whatever new community, whatever new society, whatever new Utopia, you know, we want to actually see. We have to be the ones who know how to work the drills, work the hammers, use those nails to build it.

Fayaz: I’m a young person, Hannah’s young person, and you are a young person too, working in this field, really pioneering this solution that inspires us to carry it forward. Why should young people care?

Clark: I think a lot of the time, we make it too much of an individual thing. This is collective. So if you care about your — even if you want to be selfish, and you want other people to care about you, you should care about climate. Like in every regard. Whatever you think is important, imagine it existing without clean water, food, or fresh air. If it can still exist, you’re in outer space and you are hella rich and I’m probably not talking to you.

Krantz: Sometimes before a call to action, people need a call to inspiration. You have just illustrated that so excellently. I want to go build an Earthship.

Fayaz: Yeah, me too. We’re off!

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