For Black farmers, there are clear links between sustenance, land ownership, and liberation.
Food producers are a vital but often overlooked part of a community. They employ, train, and empower people while producing and increasing access to culturally relevant food.
Farms are direct producers of food and may sell their goods in local stores or farmers’ markets. They may also participate in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.
These are systems that connect consumers to fruits, vegetables, and other items (like eggs) that are grown or produced within their communities. CSAs often work through delivery services, though some allow you to pick up your weekly or monthly bundle at a farm or local distribution center.
Especially important are farms and CSAs that are Black-owned.
The community work they do — from introducing children to gardening to equipping formerly incarcerated people with the skills to grow food and transform it into livelihood — is critical.
One of the main goals of these organizations is to reduce the number of food deserts, which are neighborhoods with limited or no access to fresh foods, due to a lack of grocery stores or major distances to the nearest ones. Food deserts exist disproportionately in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
Fast food chains and convenience stores often dominate food deserts, offering poor nutrition and failing to cater to cultural and dietary needs. This gives residents little choice but to eat processed foods, and it contributes to the deteriorating health of vulnerable communities.
A common response to this issue is “grow your own food.” But for most people, that’s basically impossible.
Enter the six Black farmers and CSA programs below.
They’re not just filling the gaps for their communities by growing culturally relevant produce and making it available to consumers. They’re also working to restore food sovereignty, connect communities with healthy options, and increase access to and skills for growing food.
Black Farmers Collective
Black Farmers Collective in Seattle started 5 years ago in the Yesler neighborhood.
“Yesler is connected to a historic Black neighborhood and used to be an affordable housing project, maybe for about 50 years,” says Hannah Wilson, volunteer farm manager of the Yes Farm urban farm project, an urban farm and partner of Black Farmers Collective.
“We’re now seeing the development of downtown, units being knocked down, and new units going up and being sold at market rate, so we are witnessing gentrification,” says Wilson. “It’s becoming coveted property and Black people are being pushed to the south end.”
The Black Lives Matter movement has raised the profile of organizations, like Black Farmers Collective, that advocate for reconnection to our food source. They also call attention to the ethics of food, including farm worker conditions, pay, and the distribution chain.
“Food deserts are a reality for Black people and people of color. People have to leave their neighborhoods for fresh, organic produce, and this is the result of environmental racism, redlining, and unsustainable development,” Wilson says. “It then leads to disparities in health.”
Black Farmers Collective is focused on intentional engagement with the community. When starting community gardens, its founders noticed that many Black people weren’t able to use them, due to barriers like location, transportation, and time.
Wilson emphasizes the need for more farms, noting that funding would help the collective acquire the space and skills needed to run successful projects.
“Yes Farm is a baby of the collective, and we hope to do more. We’re now focused on building community and running education programs for schools,” Wilson says. “A class can grow in a row or a bed, take food home, and learn to cook with it. These are skills they will have for life.”
Kale, collard greens, mustard greens, peas, beans, squash, radishes, turnips, and chamomile are among the crops on the 2-acre farm. In the near future, when funding allows, CSA boxes will be available on a sliding price scale, if not free of charge.
Swanson Family Farm
Wayne Swanson, also known as Farmer Wayne, runs Swanson Family Farm in Hampton, Georgia. He, his wife, and his son raise cows, sheep, goats, and pigs on their farm. They also run a buyers club that connects directly with consumers.
“I was always outdoorsy,” Swanson says. “I love the woods, and I spent summers with my grandparents on their farm. My farm has been a hobby for 14 years and a business for 5 to 6 years.”
The farm has a wide consumer base, with people who come from all over Georgia and even out of state to get their meat.
Farmer Wayne has always been determined to run a sustainable farm. He credits his ability to remain strong during the COVID-19 pandemic to his farm having better conditions than the big businesses where workers are in small spaces and more susceptible to contracting the virus.
As those businesses shut down, people turned to local farmers.
“The animals are my staff. I started with chickens, then cows, then sheep and pigs. The system we have here mimics how the animals want to live. They want to move, graze, access ponds, and access clean water,” says Swanson. “The neighbors must have thought it was ridiculous, but I would stand in the field with cows, watching them to see what they want.”
Swanson Family Farm’s best seller is ground beef. But along with livestock, they also raise bees for honey. The success of this small business is in its simplicity and attention to the natural ecosystem.
“Really, we’re grass farmers, and animals help with that, and the byproduct is honey,” he says. “It’s about the ecosystem, being very sensitive and in tune to that.”
The Swansons plan to open another farm in New Jersey at the end of the summer in 2020.
Farms to Grow, Inc.
Promote, document, and improve: These are the stated goals of Farms to Grow, Inc., a farm in Oakland, California, that was co-founded by Dr. Gail P. Myers and Gordon Reed in 2004.
Its focus is on preserving the local environment while helping Black and underserved farmers create and maintain their own farms to grow food for their communities.
Projects include the Freedom Farmers Market, hands-on in-school programs, after-school cooking classes, and connecting people to farmers within their communities. Its CSA program also encourages farmers to donate 10 percent of crops for meals for unhoused people.
Soul Fire Farm
The driving force of Soul Fire Farm — a Black-owned farm in Petersburg, New York — is to uproot racism in the food system through justice, ecology, and healing. They see the environmental impact of unsustainable practices that disproportionately affect Black people, as well as the potential for reconnecting with the land to heal communities.
One of the ways they hope to do that in 2020 is by building at least six urban gardens for the Capital District, which is the metropolitan region surrounding Albany, New York. They also aim to train at least 130 new farmer-activists through 1-week programs.
Mother’s Finest Family Farm
Samantha Foxx owns 2.5 acres in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is leasing more land to expand production of Mother’s Finest Family Farm. She started the farm after deciding to be what she never saw as a child: a Black farmer wearing lipstick.
Foxx includes her crops in 14-week CSA boxes, along with products such as honey, shea honey butter, healing salves, and elderberry syrup. The farm includes bees, mushrooms, worms, and a variety of produce.
Foxx is a beekeeper and has a certification from 4-H, a program originally started by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to teach kids life skills like farming and animal care. Mother’s Finest also offers beekeeping classes for those interested in it as a business or hobby.
Foxx often teaches classes herself. And she’s involved all of her children in the business, including her 6-year-old son, who goes along with Foxx when she checks on her beehives.
Through her work, Foxx is reclaiming the land and encouraging other Black people to renew connections to the earth, transforming the narrative from one of slavery to one of community building.
Gangstas to Growers
In Atlanta, Georgia, community organizer Abiodun Henderson has been running an agribusiness training program for at-risk and formerly incarcerated youth for 4 years. It’s called Gangstas to Growers.
In a 3-month program, trainees participate in yoga classes, attend seminars, and work on a cooperative farm. The program integrates life skills with sessions ranging from financial literacy to cooking.
Participants earn wages and gain skills in production and business management. They not only grow and harvest peppers themselves, but transform them into a retail product. Sweet Sol hot sauce, named by program participants in a marketing class, is sold to help the project become self-sufficient.
Upon completion of the program, participants find job opportunities in the food business with Henderson’s assistance. The goal is to reach and assist 500 young people by 2025, giving them an alternative to the limited prospects often facing Black youth.
You can support Black-owned farms and CSAs by subscribing to their product boxes, encouraging your favorite restaurants to source food from them, and donating to their programs.
For Hannah Wilson from Black Farmers Collective, there are clear links between sustenance, land ownership, and liberation for Black people who farm.
“For the Black community to find liberation, we need to access more land and control growth of our own food — not rely on the same system that has oppressed us. We need to figure out what food sovereignty means, grow culturally relevant food, and cut the supply chain shorter and shorter,” she says. “It’s important for community to have places to gather and build trust. I have personally found healing working with the land, and I want this to be available to the entire community.”
Supporting Black-owned farms and CSAs shifts power and attends to the needs of their communities, one veggie at a time.
Alicia A. Wallace is a queer Black feminist, women’s human rights defender, and writer. She is passionate about social justice and community building. She enjoys cooking, baking, gardening, traveling, and talking to everyone and no one at the same time on Twitter.