An Earth Day Fix for Urban Food Deserts
Rewind: Black organic farmers took Malcolm X's "by any means necessary" and turned it green.
Then there's the Southeastern African-American Farmers Organic Network (SAAFON), which lives up to its name: It is believed to be the nation's first black farmer-run organic organization. The organization, which partners with American Indian Mothers Inc., has members that raise vegetables and livestock in the Carolinas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to SAAFON executive director Cynthia Hayes, the organization is an umbrella network of 121 farmers which includes individual family farms and co-ops. SAAFON provides technical assistance and training to ensure that they stay in compliance as organic farmers. Hayes says that 90 percent of SAAFON members are USDA-certified organic farmers. That allows them to display USDA organic labels and stamps--a label that certain customers at farmers' markets, restaurants and corporate clients look for. Since its founding, certified members have seen their revenue grow between 40 and 60 percent, according to Hayes.
SAAFON certified organic members Mary and Nelson James, know what benefits organic farming can reap. They own the 20-acre Dogwood Nursery Farm, in Maple Hill, N.C., and raise free-range chickens and pigs, as well as turkey, rabbits and pesticide-free herbs and vegetables. Their customers include a local four-star restaurant and Whole Foods. In an interview with North Carolina A&T's School of Agriculture's 2008 small farmer of the year, Nelson James, says, ''That's what small farming is going to come to: a pick-a-pack here and a pick-a-pack there. You just cannot have one thing and survive.''
In northern California, the communal nature of modern black farming meshes with the vertical integration model of business: Get the food from the ground, to the food stand, to the restaurant, to the customer.
Jay Foster, 37, is the chef and his wife, Deanna, is the administrator of the neo-soul food Farmer Brown's restaurant and Farmer Brown's Little Skillet in San Francisco. The four-year-old restaurant, says Foster, makes a deliberate political statement by using African-American farmers to supply the kitchen, and a diverse staff to cook and serve the food. ''I wanted to do it in such a way that incorporates the meat and vegetables that you can get here with the recipes of southern chefs like Edna Lewis. But I couldn't find the black farmers,'' Foster says
It took a Morehouse College grad in Oakland, and the owner of restaurant to help make the connection. David Roach, 45, is the organizer of Mo' Better Food, a nonprofit group that supports urban gardens, aquaculture farming. and a founder of an April through November farmers' market in Oakland. He is also a friend of Keba Konte, a co-founder of Guerilla Café, an organic and natural food restaurant in Berkeley.