Of all farmers in the U.S., only 4% are farmers of color. This number could drop even lower as farmers of color face monumental challenges in acquiring and retaining farmland. Beginning with the colonization and land theft from Indigenous people to the loss of millions of acres of Black-owned land since the 1920s, both racial and economic barriers to land ownership persist. To add to these impediments, too many farms are vulnerable to loss due to the aging of the principal farmer with no clear succession plan nor the proper legal instruments to keep their families on the land.
In this webinar, we will listen to and witness stories of legacy farms across the South. We’ll also explore tools to bolster farm resilience and strategies needed to ensure a successful transfer of the land to the next generation.
This webinar is a part of a series continuing through November, and is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Harold Long – Long Family Farms and Gallery, Murphy, NC
Long Family Farms is a Cherokee Indian Family Farm, using organic practices and heirloom seeds. For the past twelve years, they have participated with the Eastern Band Of Cherokee Indians in providing heirloom seeds in annual garden kits that go out to 800 Cherokee families. Long Family Farms was named North Carolina Small Farmer of the Year in 2019.
Bernard Obie – Abanitu Organics, Person County, NC
Abanitu means “from the heart of God,” and is the name of a certified organic farm located in northern Person County near Roxboro, North Carolina. Soil health and fertility are a central focus of the farm and owner Bernard Obie feels it is “a great privilege and honor to farm the land tended by one’s ancestors!” Abanitu Organics is the latest expression of love for the land — five consecutive generations of farmers tended the same farmstead in Person County. Obie says that as he walks the roads and trails of the farm, “Memories of family and events revolving around the life on the farm are constant. We can proudly stand, plant, eat, and share with others a legacy as rich as the soils of Abanitu.”
Monisha Renee Brooks – Grow Green Acres LLC, Nakina, NC
Monisha Brooks is the owner of Grow Green Acres. She is a fifth-generation farmer, who started a produce farm on land that was farmed by her family for more than 100 years. Her fore-parents were tobacco farmers in the rural South, and like a lot of other rural family-owned farms, they decided to leave the tobacco farming industry after the decline in the market, at that time not transitioning to any other crops. Monisha decided to make the transition to healthy, farm-fresh, sustainable living production on her family’s farmland. Her hope is to create a “farming spark” that will flame throughout the coming generations.
Helen Fields – Joseph Fields Farm, Johns Island / Charleston, SC
Helen, and her husband, Joseph Fields (a third-generation Gullah-Geechee farmer), are the owners of Joseph Fields Farm, a 50-acre certified organic farm located on Johns Island, SC. The Fields are committed to ensuring that their grandson is well prepared to take over the farm and that any other young person who is interested in farming can have an opportunity to learn from their farm, too. To that end, they provide educational opportunities for students from nearby schools and host farm tours. Helen and Joseph hope to eventually host summer kids camps and operate a kitchen for making value-added products
Michael Carter, Jr – Carter Farms, Unionville, VA
On a crisp fall morning in November 1907, Mr. Jeff and Catherine (Walker) Shirley purchased a 150-acre parcel of land in Orange County, Virginia. The land became the Carter family homestead after their daughter Mattie (Shirley) Carter acquired the now 185 parcels of land from her siblings in 1947. She purchased it to ensure that her three sons serving in World War II and the rest of her children had a place to come home to after their service to this country wasn’t as appreciated as one would expect.
Carter Farms is a century farm in the Piedmont region of Virginia that specializes in growing ethnic, African tropical vegetables organically. Michael Carter Jr. has taken over the family farm operation, converting it from a beef cattle, swine, and hay production operation to an ethnic vegetable Afrotourism teaching farm that shares its Africulture interdisciplinary platform.
Mavis Gragg, Esq. – Director, Sustainable Forestry & African-American Land Retention (SFLR) Program
In 2014, Gragg opened The Gragg Law Firm, PLLC specializing in what she called “death and dirt” law. The idea to focus on estate planning and heirs property law came after her parents’ death when Gragg suddenly became the custodian to a number of family estates, and her family lost considerable property. She wanted to help other families get organized and prepared for what happens when a family member passes, particularly for people of a low socioeconomic class whose wealth is even more precious.
That practice ran until 2019 when Gragg accepted the position of director of the Sustainable Forestry & African American Land Retention Program with the American Forest Foundation. Black land ownership in America has steadily declined since its peak 100 years ago, so Gragg helps Black families maintain and keep their privately owned forest land. It is a departure from the legal world, but Gragg enjoys the conservationist aspect to her work in protecting African American property.
In her former practice, Mavis synthesized her professional experiences as a lawyer and mediator with her passion for helping individuals and families maintain and grow wealth. She accomplished this by dedicating her energy to assisting her clients with estate planning, estate administration, and heirs property matters. Mavis particularly appreciated working with clients who have low to moderate wealth because she is able to counsel them in planning and problem solving that meets critical needs.
Georie Bryant, Moderator
Georie Bryant is a Durham native through and through. He is a Stagville descendant (one of NC’s largest plantations) — the great-grandson of one of Durham’s prominent African American tobacco farmers, William Holman, and the grandson of the president of the East End Council and founder of the East End Clinic, Luther McDuffie Holman. His grandmother, Mary Holman, cooked for the protesters of the Royal Ice Cream Sit-in and organized the boycott of the Broadway Supermarket (she was also a gardener). Georie grew up in the “North Durham” or East End Community, which is rapidly gentrifying. He learned to cook in that community, went on to culinary school, worked in almost every part of the food industry – from institutional cooking, grocery stores, fine dining, and food trucks. He reunited with the land through farming with the help of his close friend and brother Howard Allen five years ago at the conception of Faithful Farms in Chapel Hill. Georie is a Durham Food Advocate, an ancestral Historian, and cultural theorist.