B. Ray Jeffers joined the RAFI-USA team in June 2021 and near the end of 2022 became Director of the Farmers of Color Network. Ray is no stranger to the job as he currently grows seasonal vegetables for wholesale and direct sale at his B.R. Jeffers Farms in Roxboro, NC, as well as raises heritage breed hogs for direct sale at markets and restaurants.
Ray also has the distinction of having run and been elected this past November to North Carolina’s House of Representatives, representing District 2: North Durham and Person counties. “After serving for 12 years at the local level, I felt it gave me a perspective that was needed in the state’s capital. I saw the need for support from the state for small and minority farmers, education, and the need for expansion of broadband throughout the state,” he shares.
In order to balance his two positions with running a farm he says he relies, “heavily on my calendar to make sure I am where I am supposed to be. We are a citizen legislature and therefore considered part-time. Though it’s a lot, so much of my work is really who I am, now I not only get to advocate for farmers through my RAFI work but also develop policy in NC that directly impacts farmers and our food system.”
Ray’s family’s century-old farm was purchased by his then-19-year-old great-grandfather in 1919; he paid $6,000 for 200 acres and the farm grew tobacco for more than 80 years. Ray remembers how much he loved the farm and how he enjoyed following his grandfather around on the tractor. One of his earliest memories is helping to pick up the tobacco leaves that fell off the slide. He was involved with Future Farmers of America and became the first Black president of his school’s FFA chapter. He then went on to be the collegiate treasurer at NC A&T during his junior year. “I was always around it, and enjoyed the farm and took pride in the length the farm had been in our family, but when I started competing in soil judging, tree identification, and dairy judging with FFA I really developed a passion. I had two very impactful Ag teachers and advisors for FFA that further nurtured my love for agriculture,” Ray says.
Ray’s interest in governance and policy led him to become the youngest commissioner for the Person County Board of Commissioners to which he was elected in December of 2008. He went on to serve for 12 years. “I was always involved civically in school and after graduation. I ran because I stayed, speaking to the outmigration many rural communities are seeing when the younger citizens leave and never return to work or live,” he shared. He also was the first commissioner from Person County to be elected President of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC). “I am also the youngest President in the NCACC history as I was sworn in the night before my 30th birthday,” he added.
Before Ray joined the RAFI staff, he received a grant from RAFI in 2018 to expand into raising pastured hogs. “The grant I received from RAFI was instrumental in adding pasture-raised pork to our farm. It has been extremely successful for us and introduced a whole new customer base to our farm and products,” he explained.
For farmers of color, Ray believes that two of the biggest challenges are heirs’ property and land access. “Oftentimes many families of color struggle with succession planning when there are multiple heirs due to the outward migration of many from the farm. Then the ones that may want to farm, especially first generation or beginning farmers struggle with the capital needed to purchase land or equipment,” he states.
Ray hopes to share his experience and knowledge in overseeing RAFI’s Farmers of Color Network. “I would like to see the FOCN continue to grow, and those members share the value of being a member with other farmers. I would also consider a big win if we are able to provide more support towards small BIPOC farmers as it relates to policy set in the nation’s Farm Bill,” he says. “I am extremely excited to work with farmers to help them become more sustainable and hope to see them grow like I did, with RAFI’s help.” His hope for the future of ag in the U.S. is seeing “…more programs to make it affordable for younger people to become farmers; more attention and support for small farms; and more broadband access for agribusinesses in rural areas.
For fun, Ray loves spending time with his dogs he has trained in the sport of Schutzhund, which he’s done for 25 years now. Ray also considers himself an outdoorsman who enjoys hunting big and small game.