Sep 17, 2011
In California, black farmers are less common than they are in the Southern states. There are tens of thousands of farms in California, yet black-owned farms make up only a small percentage.
Farming advocate Will Scott Jr., President of the African American Farmers of California, is working to see things change in California's agricultural landscape --- one farmer at a time.
Established in 2004 and incorporated in Fresno, the African American Farmers of California organization provides black Californians with land to farm, it holds workshops in agriculture, and it trains young Californians in gardening.
"A lot of black people, their grandparents were farmers but they were forced out of agriculture. We're trying to help them easily re-enter into it. The goal is that they eventually become self-sufficient," declares Scott.
The African American Farmers of California started an organic farm in Fresno, using a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The AAFC leases the farmland from the County of Fresno, and participating farmers pay a nominal $200-$300 annually to use their learned skills to farm the land, plus irrigation costs.
About the AAFC President
His grandfather was a sharecropper, and his father picked grapes and cotton in California's Central Valley.
After 30 years of work as an engineer for one of California's largest corporations, Will Scott retired a decade ago.
Upon retirement, he got into gardening, then farming and, ultimately, farming advocacy.
Today, Will Scott, Jr. is a man on a mission, determined to keep the legacy of African American farmers alive and growing in the Golden State.
AAFC Black Farmer Training
The Fresno-based African American Farmers of California organization has doubled its membership since it opened a 16-acre demonstration farm, which serves as a testing area where new farmers can get hands-on experience growing a variety of produce.
At the Central Valley training farm, newbies learn everything from how to drive a tractor to how to irrigate their crops.
Many of them are now selling their own produce at farmers' markets from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.
"We bring in new farmers and existing farmers and we do all sorts of training. They can lease an acre or two and grow something and then they take the technology back to their farms."
Black Farming and Kids
"One of my questions I like to ask them is, 'Does this grow above ground or below?' and they'll turn around and ask, 'Do you know the nutritional value of that?' They'll turn around and quiz me! They really are amazing and a pleasure to have out to the farm."
"Agriculture is a multi-billion dollar industry, and our youth needs to be brought into it so they can play a part in it."
One of Scott's goals is to reintroduce Southern specialty crops, part of the traditional African American diet, into black communities, to help stop the obesity and diabetes epidemics.
"The nutritional value of this food was passed down the generations. It helped build our immune system; kept us healthy and strong. We hope to pass it on to sustain the next generation."
Growing Interest in Black Farming
Black farming had carried negative connotations for many African Americans due to the legacies of slavery, sharecropping and past discriminatory government policies, but Scott urges California's black farmers to rise above.
"You're on the other side now. You're not a worker, but an owner. You work for yourself. There's a pleasure in seeing things grow and when other people enjoy the fruit of your labor."
"We need to make sure African-American farmers are visible because, for a long time, we've been invisible. We, as a people, have played a tremendous part in agriculture throughout the U.S."
"If we can get the message across about supporting a variety of farmers, and get more people interested and taking quality food to where it should be, then I've done my job. This is what I was born to do."
Contact the AAFC
African American Farmers Of California
Will Scott, President
3171 West Kearney Boulevard
Fresno, CA 93706