On a crisp, sunny Sunday morning, Tope Fajinbesi and her husband, Niyi Balogun, do steady business at their produce stand in the District of Columbia, selling green beans, sweet potato greens, encore lettuce, sage, mint leaf basil and tomatoes.
The couple grow their produce in Brookeville, Maryland, about 40 miles outside the District. With pride, Fajinbesi says that their business, Dodo Farms, grows veggies and fruits without using any chemicals, pesticides or fertilizer. Their vegetables and fruits “taste just the way they were intended to taste,” she says.
On this day, the Dodo Farms stand is part of the farmers market in Dupont Circle, an upscale neighborhood in the Northwest quadrant of the District. Dozens of vendors sell their products at the popular farmers market, and Dodo Farms is one of just a handful of Black merchants.
That reflects the demographics of farmers nationwide. As of 2017, there were 3.4 million farmers overall in the U.S., according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, a federal government survey. Just 1% of these farmers are Black.
Many farmers — including most Blacks — don’t generate huge amounts of revenue. As of November 2019, more than 75% of all farms generated less than $50,000 annually in gross annual income, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service.
Many Black farmers run small operations with razor-thin profit margins. For example, Gail Taylor owns and runs Three Part Harmony Farm, located on a small parcel of land in the District of Columbia. Taylor grows vegetables, herbs and flowers. Though she’s operating at capacity, the income Taylor earns from her farm puts her below the poverty line, so to make ends meet she has a second job as a contract manager for a sustainable agricultural organization.
“We (Black farmers) have difficulty accessing markets,” Taylor says. “We don’t have equal access to land and capital as our white counterparts.”
Given the economically precarious state of farming, what can individual consumers do to help Black farmers?
Plenty, it turns out.
Here are five things you can do to help Black farmers:
— Buy from Black farmers.
— Use social media to spread the word about Black farmers.
— Ask Black farmers how you can help them.
— Donate to nonprofits that help Black farmers.
— If you have unused land, consider donating it to a Black farmer.
1. Buy from Black farmers. Fajinbesi doesn’t hesitate when she’s asked what people can do to support Black farmers. “The best thing people can do to support our farm is to buy their produce from us,” she says. The quality and freshness of produce grown by Black farmers is top-notch, she says. To find Black farmers selling fruits and vegetables in your area, stroll through farmers markets in your community. You can also search for Black farmers on social media. For example, there’s a number of groups for Black farmers on Facebook. In addition to buying from Black farmers at markets, you can arrange subscriptions for ongoing buys on a regular, scheduled basis.
2. Use social media to spread the word about Black farmers. For starters, go ahead and tell friends and family about the great produce you bought from a Black vendor at your local farmers market. But you can reach a lot more people if you circulate the word on social media. Posting photos of fruits and veggies you purchased from a Black farmer on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook “is a way to democratize and amplify the voices of farmers who have been the hidden figures in our food system,” says Tambra Raye Stevenson, a Black nutritionist based in the District of Columbia.
3. Ask Black farmers how you can help them. Talk to the Black vendors you meet at farmers markets and ask if there’s any way you can help them, Stevenson suggests. You may learn that you have a skill that you could provide pro bono. “Can you organize a Zoom call to talk about the farmer’s work and spread the word? Maybe you can help with their website or social media,” Stevenson says.
4. Donate to nonprofits that help Black farmers. Another way to help Black farmers is to contribute to nonprofits that provide legal services and technical assistance to them, says Jillian Hishaw, an attorney and the founder and director of F.A.R.M.S., a legal nonprofit based in Rock Hill, South Carolina. F.A.R.M.S. provides legal and technical services to Black farmers. The need for such assistance is great, she says. For example, every year, Black farmers nationwide lose 30,000 acres of land primarily because of discrimination, lack of estate planning, eminent domain and tax liens, she says. Many Black farmers die without a will, which can threaten the inheritance of their land by the next generation. “A lot of my farm clients can’t afford a lawyer,” Hishaw says. “I provide pro bono legal services.”
5. If you have unused land, consider donating it to a Black farmer. Taylor, the owner-operator of a small farm in the District of Columbia, says she could grow and sell much more produce if she had more land. Additional land would help her and other Black farmers grow their businesses to their full potential, she says. If you have unused land, either in a city or a suburb or rural area, consider donating it to a Black farmer.
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