A Look at Urban Black Farmers

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Black farmersDon’t count Black owned farms out–some are still surviving and going strong. A 2012 Census of Agriculture found that the number of Black farmers has actually increased 12 percent since 2007, even though Black farmers still make up less than 2 percent of the nation?s farmers in total. The numbers of Black-owned farms have decreased over the years–in 1920, Black farmers comprised around 14 percent of America?s farmers. Today, Black farmers operate just a mere 0.4 percent of the country?s farmland, accounting for 0.2 percent of total agricultural sales.

And some Black-owned farms are in major cities. Here are a few Black farms to consider:

Mansfield Frazier has led an interesting life. The writer and journalist also spent numerous years in prison for counterfeiting and fraud. While there, he penned “From Behind the Wall.? Today, he writes for such outlets as Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He also runs Cleveland-based nonprofit Neighborhood Solutions, Inc., which won a competitive grant in 2010 to establish the country?s first inner-city vineyard. As executive director, Frazier hopes Chateau Hough will help rebuild lives.

Neighborhood Solutions Inc. provides educational services with a focus on ?promoting and improving the communication, dissemination and use of information and knowledge? in the areas of literacy, employment and entrepreneurial skills. As the organization?s website says: ?Currently our prime focus is creating jobs through community revitalization by repurposing vacant lots for urban farming projects, such as the establishment of vineyards, orchards and other income-producing green endeavors.?

The group also does peer mentoring for prisoners and those about to re-enter society through its “prison-to-work pipeline” for formerly incarcerated persons.

Over in West Oakland, there is a firece fight to save a community garden called Afrikatown Community Garden. It is a community garden by and for Black people in West Oakland. The garden has served as a community hub, where volunteers offer free community breakfast as well as free vegetables to people in the community.

The fight is over the property. According to Afrikatown, the owner of the lot wants to sell the property to luxury condominium developers.

?Afrikatown Community Garden is just shy of two years old. However, community members have been preparing and revitalizing this plot of land for five years. The land was deeply neglected and, at this point, a lot of people have put time and love into this project to make it the community garden that it is today,? explains a spokesperson for Afrikatown.

The aim of Afrikatown is to provide the community with fresh produce. ?People have started just about everything in this garden! Neighbors particularly love the three sisters (corn, beans, and squash) as well as kitchen stables (onions, garlic, and medicinal/herb beds). We also seasonally grow watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber, kale and more,? says the Afrikatown spokesperson.

Why farming? ?That is a great question. There are so many people who frequent this garden over the course of a mere month! From the stories that we know, some people started getting into farming and gardening through their grandparents or an elder. As we all know, Black Oakland has deep roots in the South and our garden reflects a lot of passed down knowledge from that region. With many other individuals, we see people aiming to reconnect to ancestral ways, both indigenous life ways of natives to the Americas and Africa. Overall, people come to this garden to fight for the neighborhood,? shares the spokesperson. ?There is no better tradition of expressing love towards your community than growing and providing soul-filled food.?

What are the main challenges for Black farmers today? ?Different variables impact the answer to this! When Black people regain their attachment to the very soil they once labored on unwillingly while enslaved, they become freer and more autonomous,? offers the Afrikatown spokesperson. ?Unfortunately, Black people have been made landless through institutional, systemic racism. It is sad to say, but one of the major challenges to Black farmers might just be loneliness and lack of support/resources. There are many initiatives to turn this around?.For the Black farmer that is trying to grow healthy food that nourishes the soul, it becomes difficult to become successful. Afrikatown calls for all Black farmers to come together, not to isolate ourselves from the farming communities that exist, but to extend generosity to one another and find better ways to share resources.?

Walker Marsh took the flower route when he decided to start his own urban farm in Baltimore. Tha Flower Factory (TFF) is a recent winner of The 2014 Growing Green Competition. It focuses on producing cut flowers and herbs.

TFF is a repurposed empty half acre with the mission of growing high-quality sustainable flowers and herbs, as well as promoting green entrepreneurship.

?The farm is officially two years old, but this year is the first growing season,? says Marsh. ?At Tha Flower Factory we primarily grow flowers and we have a small demo veggie garden as well as community plots. The flowers being featured this year are saliva, celous, asters, phlox, sunflowers and Black-eyed Susans.? Once the farm starts produing, the flowers will be sold citywide. ?Our flowers will be sold through local florists such as local color flowers and they will be on display at Terra Cafe and Dovecote Cafe,? says Marsh.

Once Marsh tried farming, he was hooked. He says, ?I actually just tried farming and fell in love with it. Honestly I didn’t want to do it at first but I’m glad I did because it changed my life.? Still, life is a challenge for Black farmers. ?The main challenge I see for up-and-coming Black farmers would be access to skills development and access to capital. You can learn a lot on your own but having programs and workshops are a must. And there are a lot of upfront costs to owning/starting a farm that can be hard to take into account, so having extra funds is very important,? says Marsh.