In Georgia, 19 families are building a farm to feed their black community

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Ashley Scott got a glimpse of what it means to be self-sufficient long before the era of pandemic gardening. It was 2014, and Scott, fresh out of college, decided to grow a patch of cucumbers in her backyard as a small pet project.

Weeks later, however, her little garden manifested into something bigger than she had originally planned. Before she knew it, the Decatur, Georgia resident had more food to harvest than she knew what to do with.

“I really started to understand this idea of ​​abundance and felt so much closer to God. It became a provision for my family and friends, my extended neighborhood and my community,” she says. Inside each of those cucumbers we passed out was the potential for more sustenance so others could live and have access to fresh, healthy food.”

The memory of that experience has stayed with Scott ever since. He was also an inspiration for a project she co-founded called the Georgia Freedom Initiative. The project, which aims to provide the local black community with a safe haven, takes place on 500 acres in Toomsboro, Georgia. Scott and 18 other families co-own the land, which they are in the process of converting into a farm. Eventually, they also hope to add housing, recreational infrastructure and entertainment facilities.

This land in Toomsboro, Georgia will be turned into a farm over the next few years. Photo courtesy of Tabitha Ball.

The type of cooperative farming model adopted by the Freedom Georgia Initiative is particularly suited to supporting black farmers, who have historically faced discrimination in America. At the beginning of the 20th century, former slaves and their descendants owned 14 million acres of land. Since then, over 90% of black farmers have lost their land for a number of reasons, largely due to for discriminatory practices at the USDA. Over the years, many black farmers have been refusal of loan and credit, were unable to access a legal defense against the fraud and were subjected to acts of violence and intimidation.

The systemic inequalities that permeate the national food system have also had a significant effect on the health of black Americans. Compared to white Americans, black Americans suffer disproportionately from high rates of chronic health conditions, including heart diseasestroke and Diabetes. These conditions are only exacerbated and perpetuated by insufficient access to fresh, healthy food. The pandemic has further exposed these inequalities, as people with these health conditions are under severe strain. greatest risk to die of COVID-19.

[RELATED: How Did African-American Farmers Lose 90 Percent of Their Land?]

“We’re really, really into conservation practices and exploring this idea of ​​living, working and playing near our food,” Scott says. “This really is an opportunity for us to use agriculture as a way to address the health disparities that affect us.”

The initiative land consists of two adjoining parcels: one of 404 acres and another of approximately 97 acres. Right now it looks like an abandoned lumber yard with a strip of hills. In the words of Wayne Swanson, a family-hired regenerative agriculture consultant, “it’s a work in progress.”

Swanson, also a black farmer, says he intends to have the properties restored within the next two to three years. Currently, he is particularly focused on rebuilding the property’s topsoil, reforesting it, and planting native grasses. He says he feels honored to have the opportunity to use his knowledge to build something impactful for the community.

“I hope when we are successful, we can be a role model for others,” Swanson says. “I look at this as a blank slate to build an ecosystem, to farm sustainably, to see and hear wildlife, but I still have room for livestock…I feel like I’m working in a space that God created for me.”

Swanson helped the family get in touch with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to see if they were eligible for grants to implement conservation and regeneration practices. This would help cover the cost of some fencing they plan to build to prevent soil runoff from flowing into nearby watersheds.

The agricultural consultant adds that once the soil is arable, he sees it as fertile ground for the development of several market gardens and orchards. He also hopes to be able to introduce families to providers of heritage seeds of the african diaspora.

[RELATED: Meet the Modern Farmer Saving Seeds of the African Diaspora]

For Greg Mullins and Tabitha Ball, fellow co-owners of the property, the project is as much an avenue to address food security and related inequalities as it is an act of resilience and resistance given the painful past of their ancestors.

“It’s like we’re chasing grandma and grandpa’s dream and continuing to take back and reclaim some of this land that’s ours,” Ball says. “While this may not be the exact land that has been taken from so many black Americans, in symbolism it is.”

Greg Mullins and Tabitha Ball represent one of 19 Freedom Georgia Initiative families. Photo courtesy of Tabitha Ball.

The couple, who are currently raising two sons and a nephew, add that they look forward to sharing the space with younger generations. Hopefully, they say, their children will grow up feeling empowered and pass on knowledge of food, farming and land management down the family line.

Knowing that the land is in the recovery phase, the Freedom Georgia Initiative families, along with Swanson, plan to build raised beds for community gardens in the coming weeks. This project, they say, will not only allow them to begin a collective transition to food sovereignty, but also prepare them for the abundance to come.

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