Sisters plant the seeds for a new generation of Black farmers: “We want people to reconnect”

Author: CBS NEWS
Sisters Ashanti and Kadeesha Williams recently moved from the Bronx to a 95-acre farm in Sloansville, New York to start a farm that will act as an incubator to other Black farmers. (CREDIT: CBS News)

Sisters Ashanti and Kadeesha Williams come from a long line of American farmers who have stewarded land in the U.S. for over 100 years but have never owned it. Now, they’re creating a community of farmers called “The Black Yard Farm Cooperative.”

“Our relationship to the land started way before chattel slavery. Not just slaves but sharecroppers and the way that we have had access to land,” Kadeesha told “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Michelle Miller.

“The exploitative nature of access,” Ashanti added.

“(It’s) always been exploitive. We want to change that. And, we want people to reconnect,” Kadeesha said

The Williams sisters recently moved from the Bronx to this 95-acre farm in Sloansville, New York. Ashanti is in charge of livestock, and errands include picking up 3-day old turkeys at the local post office. Kadeesha will run the vegetable operation-all in a sustainable way that helps mitigate the effects of climate change.

“It comes down to lessening the carbon footprint in terms of where our food comes from and where it goes to,” Kadeesha said.

The Corbin Hill Food Project, a non-profit committed to food sovereignty, helped arrange use of the land for two years, at which point, the farmers hope to own it.

“So the idea is that throughout the 95 acres, as we expand and grow as a family, as a farmly as you said, we’ll bring in new farmers. The idea is they’ll apprentice with us,” Kadeesha said.

“An incubator program,” Ashanti added.

“And then they’ll incubate, yeah. So incubation is, I’ve gone through an apprenticeship. I’ve learned how to do my own business. Here is 10 acres. Here’s some start-up funds,” Kadeesha said. It’s essentially a one-stop shop to create a black farmer, they add.

Just 1.3% of farmers in the U.S. are Black. Over the last century, America’s Black farmers have lost more than 90% of their land because of systemic discrimination and a cycle of debt.

“At the end of the day, if you own your own land, then you have the capacity to create wealth and to preserve wealth,” Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, said.

He is looking to close the gap between White farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers.

“The eight years of the Obama administration were focused on trying to respond specifically to specific acts of discrimination and to compensate people for those specific acts of discrimination. So we had a variety of settlements of class action cases against the Department of Agriculture,” he said.

“And in that process, one of the things we learned was that the Farm Service Agency offices in the past made it more difficult for some socially disadvantaged producers to access credit, or when they accessed credit, it was late in the growing season. Or it was at a higher interest rate… So it’s a systemic issue,” Vilsack said.

President Biden’s coronavirus relief program aims to fix these inequities by providing an estimated $5 billion in aid and debt relief to farmers of color. The legislation provides as much funding as the USDA needs to wipe out the debt of roughly 15,000 socially disadvantaged producers.

This is Vilsack’s second time as agricultural secretary after serving for the Obama administration in 2009. While some critics say Secretary Vilsack didn’t do enough for Black farmers in his first stint on the job, he’s proud of the work he has done, including expanding the number of Black farmers who received loans.

“We inserted minority members in those county committees, so people got a fair shake on appeals. It’s a steady march,” Vilsack said.

As for the Williams sisters, armed with the opportunity of a lifetime, they’re working to regenerate their land, along with the lives of those committed to preserving it.

We’ll connect with the land in a way that helps us see that we belong here, and we can treat the planet in a way that makes it so we can stay here,” Kadeesha said.

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