We were lucky to attend the Minority Farmer & Landowner Conference in Greensboro, NC this year along with over 300 participants from most of the Southeastern States. The theme for this years’ conference was “Resources: Agencies, Organizations and Professionals Who Support Family Farms”. These resources included state agriculture and forestry related agencies, USDA/federal agriculture and forestry related agencies, universities, community-based organizations and other nonprofits, and resources within the private sector.
Representatives from agencies such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Forest Service, the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farming Coalition, AgrAbility, Land of Sky, Land Trust Alliance, and various Land Grant Universities were conducting the themed classes. From aquaculture to forest farming, the inspiration and engagement from the participants was infectious. Victor Harris, the founder of Minority Farmer & Landowner Magazine, has a background in forest management, and the marriage of farm and forest land was an important theme, and one not talked about nearly enough in our woody WNC landscape.
One of the largest barriers to farming in the African American landowner community was identified early in the weekend by the conference participants and provided lively discussion; getting young people back to the land and retaining family land ownership. For many systemic reasons, Latinos make up 3.2 percent of today’s farm owners, American Indians or Alaska natives make up 1.8 percent, Asians constitute less than 1 percent, and Black or African people make up 1.6 percent; the African American population is in fact the only demographic in which this already small percentage is shrinking even more.
One of the most powerful presentations was during the closing of the event, where we heard from eight young panelists who were all in Land Grant Universities pursuing degrees in various aspects of Agricultural Management; one student spoke of his experience waking up early to let out the cows at the school’s farm before a 6am exam; one spoke of her experience studying bioengineering and her desire to feed the world; one spoke of his passion for adopting his family’s land despite open criticism from his peers. The presentation moved most of the audience to tears.
I left the conference with more questions than answers. How, at OGS, do we best address the needs of our farming community? How do we better our programs to answer the big questions that were asked on climate change and the future of agricultural lands in the South? Or how do we pursue partnerships with organizations already doing this work? The theme of “Resources” really helped facilitate the exchange of information between resource agencies and farmer/landowners; not only, “What services are we providing you?” but “What services do you need in order to take your work to the next level?”
The Minority Farmer & Landowner Conference takes place bi-annually in various parts of the Southeast.
Sera Deva has a B.S. in Microbiology and Agroecology from The Evergreen State College. She was hired at OGS as the Farmer Programs Associate in 2016, and as the Conference Coordinator in 2017. When she’s not geeking out over genetics, systems theory or soil hydrology, she spends her time working for farmers, homesteading, and river jumping in the South Toe Valley.