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NC Farmers Collaborate to Get Culturally Relevant Crops to Market

This year, with the support of a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), RAFI-USA has been working with farmer collaboratives in supporting the expansion of  local sales and reaching  new, untapped markets. RAFI-USA is currently working with three collaboratives led by farmers of color in North and South Carolina. These farmer groups are working together through collective support and labor to ensure broader market access for each farm, as well as bringing specialty crops to market. Each collaborative has a coordinator or lead organizer to help coordinate activities and needs with RAFI-USA staff. 

Eggplant growing in a field at Allied Organic Farm in Hurdle Mills, NC

One collaborative, working out of Person County, NC, is producing african derived vegetables that are being sold to vendors and restaurants in the Triangle region. Tom Savage of Allied Organic farm, Michael Graves of Porte’Lu Farms, and Sam Crisp of HTS Farm are all separately growing various vegetables on their respective farms. The seeds for some of these vegetables were brought to North Carolina by Chijioke Kanu (Kaycee), who was born in Nigeria but has been based in Raleigh for the past 20 years. Kaycee and his wife, Angela diligently work to save seeds and re-propagate shoots at the end of each season. Shoots are replanted in greenhouses and cared for over the winter months. Kaycee serves as coordinator for the group, helping to manage crops plans, seed saving, and getting the produce to market. 

At Tom and Linda Savage’s farm in Hurdle Mills, Kaycee is growing waterleaf, Nigerian pumpkin leaves (known as ugu), and special varieties of eggplants and peppers. Waterleaf (pictured above) is an important leafy vegetable in Nigerian cooking. The plant is similar to spinach in that it can be used in soups and it is rich in vitamins A and C and minerals such as iron and calcium. Waterleaf originated from West Africa and prefers wet, tropical climates but it can be found being grown by communities in warm climates throughout the diaspora.

The FMPP provides funding in the form of market-related technical assistance, online sales and branding and marketing support, as well as marketing resources such as packaging and labels for the collaborative. The hope is that this collaborative and others like it will have the support to expand market access for their crops and continue farming and growing foods of personal and cultural significance to local communities.