Black farmers are stepping up to take back what is theirs, while reconnecting with the land and paving the way for future generations.
Young, Black, and farming. Three words that, just decades ago, society wouldn’t link together as it was typically an industry only associated with our grandparents or older generations. But now, it certainly is becoming the norm as more young, Black men and women seek to not only grow their own crops, but also take back and own land that was once seized from their families and communities.
According to the 2017 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agriculture Census, 32,910 farms in the United States reported as having at least one Black producer and 32,052 have at least one Black principal producer— the person in charge of the farm’s day-to-day operations. This means that of the more than 3.2 million documented farmers in the country, only a little over one-percent identify as Black or African American.
Black farmers in America have always been at a disadvantage, in large part to discriminatory practices from lenders as well as the government. In 1999, a judge ruled that the USDA had long discriminated against Black American farmers on the basis of race, and because of that, an initial class action settlement of more than $1.15 billion was awarded. However, only a fraction of that money was actually paid out to farmers affected at that time. Nearly a decade later—in 1999— then Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a $1.25 billion settlement, of which the original $1.15 billion was finally approved by the Senate and signed off by the President to be paid.
On Wednesday, the USDA announced a new plan to allocate an additional $550 million to help farmers at a disadvantage, including Black farmers, in an effort to increase diversity in agriculture careers. The plan also designates up to $250 million to fund a program that will give students at HBCUs, minority-serving institutions, and tribal colleges educational opportunities in areas that include agriculture.
As Black farmers continue to recoup and rebuild, more young, Black farmers— primarily across the South— are stepping up and stepping in to take back what is theirs, while reconnecting with the land and pave the way for future generations. And this time around, they aren’t backing down. As we move forward in reclaiming our land and spaces in this country, we wanted to highlight a few of the young Black men and women defying the odds in farming in the U.S.
Farmer Cee- Green Heffa Farms
Located in Liberty, North Carolina, Clarenda Stanley aka Farmer Cee has been in the farming industry since 2009 when she first inherited a tree farm from her mother. In 2018, she launched Green Heffa Farms, which is the first farm in the country to attain Certified B-Corp. status. Stanley works directly with Black women agri-preneurs who want to create environmentally and financially sustainable farming businesses. “I also conceptualized and coordinated the W.A.S.H. (We Are Still Here) conference, which will provide 20 Black and Indigenous farmers with $1,000 plus connect them to industry leaders who are interested in creating a more diversified supply chain,” Stanley told Ebony.
Jarrad Nwameme- Triple J Farm
Farming has been a part of Jarrad Nwamame’s family for several generations. His grandfather initially started Triple J Farm in Windsor, New York over 13 years ago after learning the industry during his upbringing in Georgetown, South Carolina. After jumping in as Director of Operations around 3-4 years ago, Nwameme says his message is very clear, “make farmers Black again.” To help spread the message of rebuilding the Black farmer, Triple J Farm adds messages to the inside of its egg cartons. You can find mantras like “build generational wealth, buy land,” and more when you purchase eggs from the farm or through local businesses that sell the farm’s products. Jarred also recently released a docuseries called “Black Farmer” which highlights the disparities Black farmers in this country have faced over the decades. “This is my life mission,” Nwameme told Ebony. “I really want our communities to take in these messages that we’re spreading.”
Candace Dantes and Edward Morrow- Private Family Farm
This sibling farming and cowhand duo was raised in rural town Milledgeville, Georgia, where their family has owned centennial property going back four generations. Initially belonging to their great-grandparents, Candace and Edward were taught the importance of land ownership and sustainability early in life by their parents. “To change the narrative of how Black Belt Region farming families and rural communities are portrayed in mainstream media, we both use agriculture and arboriculture to educate Black producers about 21st-century agribusiness possibilities in today’s digital economy,” Dantes told Ebony. Today, Candace is an award-winning agriculture journalist; project manager of USDA grant project Black Farmers’ Network; and marketing and communications manager of national not-for-profit Outdoor Afro. Edward serves as Baldwin County’s first and only Black International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist.
Kamal Bell- Sankofa Farms
Kamal Bell of Sankofa Farms has been farming for just over six years. Based in Cedar Grove, North Carolina, but operating in the Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill areas— Bell realized that there was not only an income gap but also a food gap for minority communities in the area, and he wanted to change that. “We are defying the odds by introducing a sustainable farming business model centered around issues that directly affect African Americans,” Bell told EBONY. “We realize that the farm is the engine to rebuild our community.” Currently, the farm produces: fresh eggs, dehydrated chips, and other farm goods. It also offers a summer agricultural program.
Tammy Harris- This Old Farmhouse GA
Now based in Franklin, Georgia, Tammy Harris co-founded This Old Farmhouse GA six-years ago with her family, which serves as an agritourism site and 1920s-built museum experience. She spent her younger years growing up in Carrolton, Georgia where she learned to camp, homestead, horseback ride and hone wilderness survival skills. Today, Tammy is also executive director of This Old Farmhouse GA and leverages the authenticity of the homestead to tell empowering stories about Black small-scale landowners and tenant farmers who contributed to rural economic development for generations. She specifically shares with tourists the uplifting roles of women and children to ensure the family’s survival through gardening, food preservation, craft work and subsistence agriculture.