Last year, I read We are Each Other’s Harvest by Natalie Baszile with my then 14-year-old daughter as part of her homeschool studies. We’d just finished reading The Personal Librarian by Heather Terrell and it felt like an opportunity to continue the conversation about ethnic and cultural identities in America. We are a multi-cultural family in the Southeast and often find ourselves amidst heated discussions on policy, identity, equal opportunity, etc. so finding productive ways to communicate difficult viewpoints is essential. Author’s often take the lead in articulating what others may only feel. We are Each Other’s Harvest was a narrative field trip through rural America from the perspective of black farmers and my entry point into the conversation of who’s farming American land.
Food For Thought
In 2021, less than 2% of farm producers in the United States identified as Black, compared to 14% in 1910. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2017, Black farm owners were a mere 48,697 among 3,400,000 (3.4 million) producers in the United States (USDA NASS, 2019}. According to a recent 5-year study of almost 400 Indigenous American tribes over a period of 300 years, Indigenous peoples’ have been dispossessed of “98.9% of their historical lands, or 93.9% of the total geographic area they once occupied” in the Contiguous United States (Wade, 2021). Our concept of land/property ownership is often skewed by economic and political practices rooted in the historical practices of colonization and enslavement. Many people of color are still haunted by feelings of fear and distrust in rural spaces. The American story of land injustice is hundreds of years old. Full restoration of people and land cannot be expected to happen overnight, but conscious consistent efforts will make a difference.
While interning with Frog Song Organics, I paid more than usual attention to the number of black and brown people attending farm tour events, farmers’ markets in Alachua County, and participating in work trade, CSA, and EBT opportunities. The United States Census Bureau reports that Alachua County, FL has roughly 284,030 residents who identify as follows; 60% White, 20% Black, 11% Hispanic/Latino, 6% Asian, and 3% mixed race (US Census Bureau, 2022). Based on my rough estimates and novice head counts at three different farmer’s markets in Alachua County, less than 8% of market participants (vendors and patrons) were non-white. This figure is far less than the reported 40% of non-whites in Alachua County. My personal goal is to leverage my graduate studies in agriculture education & communication to develop programs that target and teach marginalized youths the value of land and food sovereignty. It is my hope that the future land stewards of America will develop ethnically diverse rural landscapes that build and nourish the community.
Planting Positive Intentions
In relationship with Frog Song Organics, I’ve observed many positive steps towards this endeavor. In 2012, they submitted their USDA application to accept EBT/SNAP payments for market produce and they doubled this effort in 2020 by joining Feeding Florida (Fresh Access Bucks) to match SNAP funds. This initiative makes fresh organic produce an accessible option for financially challenged families of any ethnicity. When I volunteered at Frog Song in 2013, about 1 in 9 farm crew members were nonwhite a decade later and 12 out of 38 farm crew members identify as nonwhite. A lot of this diversity can be explained by the bureaucratic hoops Frog Song jumped in 2017 to create legal employment opportunities via the H2A visa program for seasonal workers. By recruiting local and foreign workers without regard to ethnicity, age, or sexual identity, Frog Song has created a safe working environment where people passionate about the land and organic food production can thrive.
Every step toward socioeconomic equity and opportunity in rural development gets us closer to land and food sovereignty. For the past decade, I have witnessed the Frog Song family increase in size, diversity, knowledge, and cultural appreciation. The dozens of Frog Song collaborations and initiatives I’ve either attended or participated in exemplify the sincerity of their mission to feed and nourish this region of Florida. As a black woman, I am inspired by the various roles of female leadership on the farm and value the rural safe space that has been created for people of diverse social and ethnic backgrounds. In addition to hands on training, I’ve gained a deep appreciation for the tenacious effort required to run an organic farm operation.
The lessons I’ve gleaned in association with Frog Song Organics and its sister farm High Springs Orchard are helping to inform my path to land stewardship. Thank you, Amy, John, and Jenny for being key players in this equalizing work by creating an inclusive environment for development and growth on your farms. I cherish your friendship and mentorship.
About the Author:
This article was written by Candace Jones-Herreros (pictured above, left), as part of her studies in Human Geography & Agriculture Education at the University of Florida, which included an internship with Frog Song Organics. Candace met Amy Van Scoik, Frog Song co-owner (pictured above, right) at the 441 Alachua County Farmers Market back in 2013, and became involved with the farm through cooking classes, a work-trade CSA membership, farmers markets, events and education. She has also collaborated with Frog Song on educational programming through the Free Mulch, Inc. 501c3 non-profit, which she founded in 2010 in Atlanta, GA. Visit www.freemulch.org for more information on micro-grants for your agricultural projects in Florida.
Ko, J. Y. (2021). An Examination of Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program on Black Farmers in the United States. Academic Journal, 8(01), 502-513.
Reynolds, B. J. (2002). Black farmers in America, 1865-2000: the pursuit of independent farming and the role of cooperatives (Vol. 194). US Department of Agriculture, Rural Business-Cooperative Service.
US Census Bureau. (2022). Quick Facts Alachua County Florida. United States Government.
USDA NASS. (2019). 2017 Census of Agriculture Highlights: Black Producers. United States Department of Agriculture.
Wade, L. (2021, October 28). Native tribes have lost 99% of their land in the United States: New data set quantifies Indigenous land dispossession and forced migration. Social Science. https://www.science.org/content/article/native-tribes-have-lost-99-their-land-united-states
Photo Credits: Carol Tedesco