Calif. group seeks to interest blacks in farming

By Gosia Wozniacka

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 16 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

For Vance, a licensed vocational nurse who has been unemployed for a year, the benefits of joining the farm extend to her family and entire community. Vance's father, mother and aunt gather at daybreak to help pick the crops that later transform into delicious meals. Vance also brings her nieces and nephews, who are high school students, to plant and harvest. And she distributes her organic veggies at two area churches.

"I've always wanted to farm. It's my time with God," Vance said. "When I'm out here, I talk to Him all the time, I praise him. Farming is a much healthier way to live."

Vance, whose great-grandfather was a farmer in Arkansas, hopes to develop an after-school program at the farm to teach children how to plant, cook and live healthier.

Scott also hopes black children can reap financial benefits from farming. "Agriculture is a multi-billion dollar industry, and our youth needs to be brought into it so they can play a part in it," he said.

Other organizations across the U.S. are also trying to educate African-Americans about farming and create jobs in agriculture for unemployed or underemployed blacks, especially in urban areas.

Black churches are hosting farmers markets and connecting black farmers with customers.

And in July, several black farming groups hosted the first National Black Agriculture Awareness Week to reach out to African-Americans and bring attention to the decline of black agriculture.

These efforts have been bolstered by first lady Michelle Obama's interest in farming, said Michael Harris, publisher of Black Agriculture, a Sacramento, Calif.-based quarterly.

"The physical example of seeing the first lady on her hands and knees in her garden working, that picture speaks a thousand words," Harris said. "It changes the concept of farming that black people have."

But the change in imagery, Harris said, needs to be followed by changes in policy. Black farmers still lack access to opportunities, information and financial assistance, he said.

"We're still fighting last century's discrimination," Harris said. "But African-Americans are hungry today and we need to concentrate on teaching and policy change so there is job creation in agriculture."

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