Wednesday, August 10, 2022

11 female farm influencers redefining rural entrepreneurship

Each hails from the Black Belt Region — demarcated by its crescent geographic profile. Stretching from Eastern Texas to the Eastern shore of Virginia. A territory historically known for the “lack of” is called home. Systemic disparities have prevailed since slavery. The Old Confederacy days. In education. Health care. Technology. Infrastructure. Black land ownership. And economic development opportunities.

And yet, the agricultural descendants do their part to help heal and retell the Black Belt’s broken legacy. In a region that has relied on fertile black soil and Black enslaved labor to nurture the land for its future survival. Currently, the region numbers roughly 300 rural counties with at least a 30-percent African-American population within the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Introduced through U.S. Department of Agriculture grant project Black Farmers’ Network (BFN), these 11 rural innovators represent generations of ag scholarship, policy, leadership, entrepreneurship and creative careers in a 21st-century Georgia and Alabama Black Belt. BFN founder Dr. Veronica L. Womack and the network’s award-winning communications and marketing team have documented the trailblazers’ individual stories online for the past four years. Dec. 4, 2021, became the first time they gathered for a historic fellowship. To bond. To build. To just be beautifully Black.

Network farmer Kaneisha Miller of EM Farms in Culloden, Georgia, hosted the daylong exploration. DIY and how-to conversations to leverage and sustain agritourism and agricultural enterprises on the land. International photographer Matt Odom and national videographer Kuumba Rashidi captured the occasion. Chef Chelsia of Her Majesty Kitchen provided culinary designs. Meaningful moments to storytell and strategize modern solutions to help increase African-American entrepreneurship in the Black Belt. Land acquisition and retention. Asset and capacity building for rural individuals and communities. Everyone knowledge-sharing possible prototypes for pragmatic rural economic growth. All on behalf of the region each lives in and genuinely loves.

DR. VERONICA L. WOMACK

AGRIBUSINESS: Black Farmers’ Network. LOCATION: Milledgeville, Georgia. ROLE: founder of BFN, political scientist and rural researcher. YEARS IN AG: A lifetime. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SOUND: a rooster crowing. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SMELL: bacon sizzling in a skillet. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SPACE: both grandparents’ properties in Greenville, Alabama. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SAYING: “Everything has a purpose and a season. It’s a strange wind that blows the same way every time.” — Momma

TAMMY HARRIS

AGRIBUSINESS: This Old Farmhouse GA. LOCATION: Franklin, Georgia. ROLE: co-founder and executive director; agroecology education resource coordinator for SAAFON. YEARS IN AG: 5. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SOUND: trees swaying in the breeze. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SMELL: a country breakfast: smoked sausage links, eggs, cheese grits, homemade biscuits and apply jelly. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SPACE: I love wrapping up in a fluffy blanket and roasting smores around the firepit area of the farmhouse. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SAYING: “When you give to someone, don’t expect it to come back from the same direction from which it came. If you can’t lose it, then don’t lend it.”

KIYAH HARRIS

AGRIBUSINESS: This Old Farmhouse GA and KIYAH. LOCATION: Franklin, Georgia. ROLE: fellow board member; corporate engagement officer of KIYAH. YEARS IN AG: Dirt has stained my feet for many lifetimes. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SOUND: the wind when it blows through leaves. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SMELL: Grandmother’s Sunday dinners. Her specialty is fried chicken, collard greens, rice and cornbread. Don’t forget the sweet tea. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SPACE: the garden grounds of the farmhouse. It’s comforting to watch the fruits of my labor prosper. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SAYING: “It’s no good use cryin’ over spilt milk.”

BETTINA VERNON

AGRIBUSINESS: This Old Farmhouse GA. LOCATION: Franklin, Georgia. ROLE: co-founder and treasurer. YEARS IN AG: 5. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SOUND: rain beating on a tin roof. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SMELL: coffee percolating in the early morning. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SPACE: rocking in a rocker on the front porch. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SAYING: “Once a man. Twice a child.”

KANEISHA MILLER

AGRIBUSINESS: EM Farms LLC. LOCATION: Culloden, Georgia. ROLE: owner and operator. YEARS IN AG: 12. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SOUND: rain falling on a tin roof. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SMELL: cornbread cooking. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SPACE: I actually drive up on the family farm, past the home house, through the pasture and on top of the hill to journal, count my blessing, and simply think. My farm is close to the highway, so friends and family often stop by to chat. I can also reconnect with God there. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SAYING: “It’s your little red wagon. You can push it or pull it however you want.” — Grandmother Emma

HEATHER WILSON

AGRIBUSINESS: Zek & Bud’s Organic Farms LLC. LOCATION: Albany, Georgia. ROLE: owner and producer. YEARS IN AG: 3. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SOUND: gospel music and Southern dialect. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SMELL: pound cake baking. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SPACE: in the field tractor driving. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SAYING: “Every tub has to sit on its own bottom.” — Grandmother Erestine Potts

VERONICA MCCLENDON

AGRIBUSINESS: McClendon Law & Consulting LLC. LOCATION: Macon, Georgia. ROLE: founding and lead attorney. YEARS IN AG: 11 practicing law, 5 in law-related agriculture. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SOUND: cicadas in the summertime. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SMELL: green peppers and onions frying. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SPACE: in the woods somewhere. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SAYING: “Do your best because you never know who is watching.” — Mom

ASHLEY JOHNSON

AGRIBUSINESS: ShyGuy LLC. LOCATION: Leesburg, Georgia. ROLE: owner and operator. YEARS IN AG: 10+. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SOUND: dirt bikes and ATVs. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SMELL: peach cobbler. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SPACE: A big tree in the woods. I feel connected to my people. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SAYING: “A heap sees, but only a few know.” — Grandma

LESLIE WEAVER THOMAS

AGRIBUSINESS: CJ’s Produce LLC. LOCATION: Savannah, Georgia. ROLE: director of operations. YEARS IN AG: 6. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SOUND: crickets and trains. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SMELL: fried chicken and roast. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SPACE: any farm or working in our garden plots. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SAYING: “This too shall pass.” — Momma Rose Weaver. “You look more pleasant plump than you do poor.” — Great-Grandmother Carrie Smith

TIFFANIE PAGE

AGRIBUSINESS: Tiffanie Page Creative LLC. LOCATION: Birmingham, Alabama. ROLE: founder, web and graphic designer; design and development consultant of BFN. YEARS IN AG: 4 as a designer, 12 as a photographer. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SOUND: crickets in silence on a warm summer night. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SMELL: fresh banana pudding straight from the oven. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SPACE: the front porch. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SAYING: “We were poor and didn’t know it.” — Mom Sandra Page

CANDACE DANTES

AGRIBUSINESS: Southern Styles & Steeds LLC. LOCATION: Milledgeville, Georgia. ROLE: founder, ag journalist, marketer; project manager of BFN; marketing & communications manager of Outdoor Afro. YEARS IN AG: my entire life. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SOUND: the Eastern whip-poor-will in the summertime and a teapot whistling in the winter. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SMELL: that greeting aroma of honeysuckle on the family farm. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SPACE: my great-grandmother GG’s front porch swing. FAVORITE SOUTHERN SAYING: “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” — Harriette “GG” Hill. “Watch as well as pray.” — Grandmother Mary Thomas

Photos by Matt Odom

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I enjoyed the articles. Farming can be a bit lonely out here. I have horses and I’m composting manure for commercial sale of fertilizer in Bridgeville, Delaware.

  2. Fantastic display of what the black families knew all along, our black women, mothers, sisters and daughters are and have always been the backbone to our family. It is now, the world sees them more due to technology.

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