Faces On Today’s Black Farms

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“We need to make sure African-American farmers are visible because for a long time we’ve been invisible. We, as people, have played a tremendous part in agriculture throughout the United States. This is one last-ditch effort to say we do exist, even if it is in a small number,” said Fresno, California Black Farmer Will Scott, Jr.

The African American Farmer isn’t any more monolithic than the story of the black businessman or woman. To touch the surface is to feel a womb pregnant with thousands of stories. Will Scott Jr’s story … that of the “New” black farmer is merely one. But his is the type of farming that reflects the greatest possibility for immediate change in the quality of life for African Americans fleeing urban comfusion.

Currently we’re facing what some prognosticators predict might become FIVE years of the greatest economic challenges since the Great Depression. (I can still hear some of the stories my mother told me about life on 40 acres in Mississippi during the greatest period of economic challenge this country faced in its modern history. Her story in short? “We didn’t miss a meal.”)

Blacks migrated to build farms on the West Coast more than half a century ago. Many left the soil for jobs in California cities. Others, due to over a hundred years of USDA’s Institutionalized Racism, were forced off the land. Currently there are at least 300 African-American farmers in California. While it’s true that there are 80,000 farmers total, the fact that 300 of them are black is a heroic story in itself. It’s also something that Scott would like to change. As President of the African-American Farmers of California, Scott and co-founder Will Robinson, are helping new farmers setup in the area. In recent years they have even built a demonstration site where beginning farmers can test their skills and earn valuable, hands-on experience.

“We bring in new farmers and existing farmers and we do training. They can lease an acre or two and grow something and then they take the technology back to their farm,” Will said.

Another way Will is trying to market not only his produce, but the produce of all African-American farmers, is by making the nearly 400-mile round trip journey to one of the newest and most unique markets in California: West Oakland’s Mandela’s Farmers’ Market. Every Friday and Saturday, come rain or shine, this is where you’re sure to find Will and his family out sharing the fruits of their labor. Besides selling his fruits and vegetables, he’s also selling a little bit of the rural life to people who normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to see a ripe tomato or a fresh ear of corn.

“I think regardless of where people live, they should have access to fresh, quality produce, and that’s one of the main reasons we started coming to the market in the first place,” Will said.

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