TAMPA, Fla. — Last week we brought you an in-depth report about Black farmer’s complaints of racism and a history of discriminatory practices in the agriculture industry. This week, we’re focusing on the future of Black farming in our area.
ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill spoke with young, Black farmers and he’s also digging deeper to find out what’s being done to give the next generation of Black farmers the tools they need to excel.
Black farmers have long complained that racism and discriminatory practices are leading to the disappearance of Black farmers in our area, but that’s not stopping a new generation of Black farmers from learning the trade.
“When I’m out actually working with the plants in the field, I actually feel a better connection,” said James Pleasant, a new farmer.
The USDA certified his land in Citrus County as a farm back in November. His farm is only about five acres, but his dream is a lot bigger.
“My future aspirations are to do good on this five acres so that I can go out and get 50 acres and do way better on it,” he said.
James works night and day to cultivate his turnips and collard greens. He’s only 40 years old, which is considered young in a profession where the average farmer is about 60.
He hasn’t always lived in Citrus County. Originally from Philadelphia, he decided to trade in the hustle and bustle for a slower pace, and a connection with the land.
“I feel better farming,” he said. “I feel more like I’m accomplishing something working on this farm than I did knocking doors, even though knocking doors and being a door-to-door salesman paid for this farm.”
Though farming is a new trade for him, he comes for a long line of farmers.
“My grandfather was a sharecropper on my mother’s side. My grandfather on my father’s side was a farmer also. My dad grew up farming,” he said.
James and many other young, Black farmers know that farming is not for the faint of heart, but there is one local organization that’s doing everything they can to help young Black farmers in our area excel.
“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even have them turnips in the ground,” James said.
Dr. Latresia Wilson is with the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association. Her organization supports local Black farmers and she said they’re noticing more young people moving from the city to start farming in the countryside.
“A lot of them who are doing gardens around their house and they’re saying ‘hey, maybe I can go back to the family farm and do this for a living,’” Wilson said.
The Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association has also done online webinars to help train beginner farmers due to the pandemic. They’re also informing new farmers about the programs the USDA offers.
Her organization is also embracing the future. Eventually, they want to teach their farmers how to use the latest technology in agriculture to stay competitive.
“You’re looking at drones, you’re looking at some wonderful technological things that are going on and the young folks, surprisingly, with all of the video games they’re playing, they’re actually very good at it,” she said.
Though some young, Black farmers are learning the trade through local organizations, research, and hard work. Many are deciding to study agriculture at the university level.
“We’ve been trying to cultivate new and beginning farmers, our farmers are younger,” said Vonda Richardson from Florida A&M University, a historically Black university.
They have one of the best agriculture colleges in the country.
According to the Census of Agriculture, 100 years ago – in 1920 – there were about 13,000 Black operators of farms in Florida.
Today, that number sits at about 2,000. That’s why Florida A&M University is trying to prepare the next generation to embrace all of the aspects of agriculture.
“There’s more to agriculture than just farming. There is the science, there’s the business, there’s the law, the environmental side of agriculture,” said Richardson.
She said many of their students are from the Tampa Bay area.
They’re also trying to inspire Black children to see a future in agriculture through their 4H program. The program teaches children different life skills through hands-on activities.
Richardson said she’s hopeful about the future of Black farming, “the agricultural side of it is being able to whet that appetite for agriculture as a business, and so as we develop this new generation of agro-entrepreneurs, not farmers, but agro-entrepreneurs.”
Many young, Black farmers also say they’re optimistic about the future of Black farming in Florida. For them, farming and having a connection with the land signifies a return to their roots.