Last week, the Farmers of Color Network, a project of the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA), hosted a Farmers & Buyers Connect event at Zweli’s Piri Piri Kitchen in Durham. The event was sponsored by PNC Bank. More than 50 local farmers of color, chefs, and retail and wholesale buyers participated in the inaugural networking event.
Approximately 15 local food buyers attended, including the Carrboro Farmers Market, Clirty Eats, Durham Co-op Market, Happy Dirt (formerly Eastern Carolina Organics), Farmer Foodshare, Firsthand Foods, FreshPoint, Piri Durham, Symbodied, Vimala’s Curryblossom Café and Weaver Street Market. More than 40 farmers participated, representing vegetable, microgreen, herb and apothecary, honey, fish, poultry, pork, beef, goat and dairy operations.
“It was great to be in a room full of farmers of color and to have an event that focused on connecting local farmers of color with local buyers. The Triangle has so much more potential to support all local farms than what is currently being actualized.” – Carolyn Twesten, Merchandiser for Weaver Street Market
Farmers of color in the U.S. have long been disadvantaged by systemic and institutional racism, including discrimination in accessing credit, loans, resources, and markets. In response, RAFI-USA launched the Farmers of Color Network project in 2017 to develop a holistic economic and cultural ecosystem that values farmers of color in regional food systems. The project provides farmer-led technical assistance and funding for farmers of color, and hosts farm tours, networking events, and gatherings to highlight ancestral traditions and knowledge, as well as explore market solutions.
Last week’s Farmers and Buyers Connect event provided an opportunity for producers to build meaningful relationships with buyers in order to grow their farm and food businesses. Tenita Solanto, Navy veteran farmer of Green Panda Farm said, “I enjoyed connecting with new buyers who were eager to connect with the farmers attending the event. It was great to see the excitement from everyone in the room looking to collaborate and help each other grow their business.”
“As a black food entrepreneur, it is valuable to me to know where my food comes from. Getting in touch with local farmers, especially those of color, has become an important part of my operating process. I would not have been able to make these connections without RAFI-USA, and I will be eternally grateful.” – Aric Shelton, Owner of Clirty Eats
During the event, Tahz Walker, Program Manager & Farmer Liaison for RAFI-USA’s Farmers of Color Network, invited producers and potential buyers to engage in a discussion about the challenges, opportunities and resources needed for successful farmer and buyer collaborations. Buyers also shared best practices for producers to position their farm operations for wholesale readiness and get their products into restaurants and retail establishments.
“The work of the Farmers of Color Network is informed and guided by farmers. We do our best to honor and uplift farmer knowledge as we approach learning spaces, events, and organizing efforts,” said Tahz Walker. “Right now, we are focused on growing the network and supporting farmers by facilitating market engagement, peer learning opportunities and supporting farm infrastructure needs. We are especially excited about connecting farmers of color with chefs and food entrepreneurs of color.”
Additional Farmers & Buyers Connect events are planned across the Southeast to connect farmers of color with chefs, food entrepreneurs, retail and wholesale buyers. Learn more about the Farmers of Color Network: rafiusa.org/farmersofcolornetwork
We are grateful for the generous sponsorship from PNC Bank which helped to make this event possible.