By Cowgirl Candace | Images by Suhyoon Cho and Trarell Torrence
The academic voice for the South’s rural voiceless: That’s who Dr. Veronica L. Womack is for thousands of residents of the United States’ Black Belt Region.
The political scientist, rural researcher and black farmers advocate has studied the very region we were both raised in — the Southern region, which has higher poverty rates than other territories in the country. The Black Belt South maintains the highest rate.
She’s using her roughly 20-year research to prune this rate and create agricultural change.
“My work is representative of my life story,” said Womack, Greenville, Alabama, born and raised. “The same goes for a lot of Southern folk who have had generational connections to the land. The Black Belt Region is the only region in the country that is predominantly black and highly poor, so I wanted to create an online space where black farming families like mine could share their services and talents with the world.”
During March 2019, Womack launched pioneering digital platform, BlackFarmersNetwork.com, to help rural communities of the region connect their products, services and stories with today’s global economy.
The Black Belt includes counties from Virginia to Texas with a large concentration of African-Americans who have been living in underserved and underdeveloped areas for centuries.
Womack has spent her life’s work confronting policies, procedures and people who have hindered rural communities of the Black Belt from developing economically and advancing with the digital times.
“The ongoing goal is to bring global awareness to this regionally problem,” she said. “I collaborate with a lot of local, state and national leaders and influencers to think more strategically about ways we can all improve Southern, rural economic development for this region.”
Womack’s subject matter has already brought international attention through inclusive coursework, extensive research and community-university-governmental initiatives.
BlackFarmersNetwork.com piggybacks on Womack’s academic research site, VeronicaWomack.com. The scholar’s research site documents her work with federal agencies, national nonprofits and a working group of experts at the United Nations to address the educational and economic hardships of the underdeveloped region.
“The two sites work together to tell a comprehensive story,” Womack said. “On one end, readers learn more about my role as chief diversity officer and professor of political science and public administration at Georgia College & State University. Then, they see how my work in higher education actually aligns with the struggles of African-American farmers and communities of the Black Belt.”
Currently, Womack is analyzing how agricultural policy has been implemented in the rural South through a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) seed grant. She also travels the region conducting listening sessions with black farmers; recording Black Belt agriculture and cultural trends; and identifying the most beneficial programs and resources from USDA’s Farm Bill to assist underresourced black farmers and growing rural communities.
“These farmers are resilient, talented people,” she said. “I just want to make sure they are equipped with the right information, resources and support to continue to sustain on the land.”