With time running out for farmers and ranchers to participate in the upcoming 2017 Census of Agriculture, we thought it would be a great idea to shine the light on five black farmers who are not only growing food according to Yes! Magazine, but are also changing the way their communities view land and commitment to social change.
The Census of Agriculture, which is conducted once every five years, reported in 2012 that the number of black farmers in the U.S. rose to 44,269, which is a 12% increase from the previous survey conducted five years earlier.
The information collected from the census data helps inform decisions on farm policy, rural development, and new farm technologies. It also aids in the creation and funding of loans and insurance programs and other forms of assistance, as well as in the cultivation of the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
In a 2016 article published by Albany farmer and educator, Leah Penniman, she recalls receiving a cold call from a Boston farmer looking for reassurance from another African-heritage agriculturist that despite the discrimination and obstacles she faced as a black farmer and the lack of access to land and credit that it was still possible to make it in the sharecropping business.
Leah states that for decades the U.S. Department of Agriculture discriminated against black farmers, excluding them from farm loans and assistance, which led to the loss of about 14 million acres of black-owned rural land.
In 1982, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights predicted that the black farmer, who only makes up about 1% of the industry, would be extinct by the year 2000. However, these black farmers prove that to be incorrect, including Kafi Dixon, Leah’s cold caller who went on to found Seeds of Change Solidarity Network.
Here’s to a black farmer appreciation post!
Blain Snipstal and Aleya Fraser
Farm: Black Dirt Farm Collective
Location: Preston, Maryland
Number of Years Farming: 7
Revered Elder: Harriet Tubman
About 80 miles southeast of Baltimore, Black Dirt leases 2 acres that long have been home to the Black freedom struggle. Harriet Tubman once rescued her parents and nine other people from enslavement in this place, which was one of the first stops on the Underground Railroad.
The 10 farming-collective members who work here today revere Tubman’s example and work to continue her legacy of revolutionary social change.
Eugene Cooke and JoVanna Johnson-Cooke
Farm: Grow Where You Are Collective
Location: Atlanta and Stone Mountain, Georgia
Number of Years Farming: 14
Revered Elder: Wangari Maathai
Since 2009, Grow Where You Are members have trained more than 100 urban farmers and helped start 18 urban farms, 14 school gardens, and 40 home gardens. They also prepare free vegan feasts for the local community, where neighbors gather for to learn about health, make new friends, and even practice capoeira—an Afro-Brazilian martial art form that brings together elements of dance and acrobatics. Founder Eugene Cook says these events show “what a sovereign community can feel and be like.”
Farm: Hattie Carthan Herban Farm
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Number of Years Farming: 16
Revered Elder: Hattie Carthan
For Fleming, farm work is an essential part of healing from the trauma of racism. Among her Brooklyn neighbors, she found Black elders who had worked as sharecroppers, as well as young people who’d never set foot on a farm and told her they wanted nothing to do with dirt. She brought the two groups together in a series of monthly storytelling circles in the garden, which built connections between the generations and addressed the young people’s aversion to the land.
Farm: Tuskegee United Leadership and Innovation Program (TULIP)
Location: Tuskegee, Alabama
Number of Years Farming: 2
Revered Elder: Booker T. Washington
Lunsford is just getting started as a farmer, but her vision of a healthier community keeps her motivated. “We have a 24-hour McDonald’s, but we don’t have a 24-hour health care facility,” she explains.
When young people come to work in the garden, she starts off by asking them to draw a picture of Tuskegee, where more than 28 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Many draw scenes of violence, she says, often with the McDonald’s restaurant at the center of the image. “That’s what we are working to change.”
Farm: Community Farm and Food Resource Center at Bantram’s Garden (a project of the University of Pennsylvania’s Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative)
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Number of Years Farming: 12
Revered Elders: Rufus and Demalda Newsome (his parents)
Before the “food justice” movement existed in the United States, Black farmers in the Mississippi Delta were cooperating to feed the community. Raised by farmers in that movement, Chris Bolden-Newsome assumed that growing food was something everybody did and was shocked to find otherwise when he moved north. He now manages a 50-bed community garden in his current home of Philadelphia, where he reconnects Black people to their agricultural heritage.