By Cowgirl Candace | Originally published for the AJC
Living and creatively working on the land is becoming new business law for young, Southern entrepreneurs.
“It’s a coming home,” said Veronica Womack, a Black Belt Region researcher, black farmers advocate and chief diversity officer at Georgia College & State University. “Because of new technology and the way this generation wants to live — with self-fulfillment, community building, healthy lifestyles and environmental consciousness — we’re seeing more young folk who aren’t so eager to give up their independence to traditional ways of working for someone else. There is this new entrepreneurship piece where young people are returning to the land, working for themselves and using technology to do business.”
Atlanta runs above the Black Belt Region, which is America’s crescent-shaped geographic area including hundreds of counties from Texas to Virginia. This rural South territory is also where a large population of African Americans live.
But it’s a territory that is underdeveloped and underserved.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of young folks would love to bring their educational and agricultural brilliance back to the very rural places they grew up in,” said Womack. “We’ve just got to do a better job of advertising resources for young folk to use in order for them to become successful business professionals and sustain the land.”
Despite centuries of racial discrimination, Southern black farmers and entrepreneurs have continued to cultivate, preserve and prosper on farmland. These black-owned businesses are land-loving proof:
WeBuyBlack.com: It’s a digital platform for black-owned businesses to circulate products and money back into black communities. To take this concept to new agricultural heights in Atlanta, founder Shareef Abdul-Malik has crowdfunded to develop Soul Food Markets. With its first supermarket set to open in Atlanta, Soul Food Markets will become the first black-owned store chain to sell primarily black-owned products and naturally grown produce from black farmers in Georgia. As of June, the market has earned $411,112 of its $425,000 goal toward purchasing, renovating and operating a $1.2-million building location.
Gangstas to Growers: This Southwest Atlanta community enterprise was established by activist and organizer Abiodun Henderson. Gangstas to Growers helps at-risk and formerly incarcerated youth transition into agriculture and gain entrepreneurship skills along the way. Empowering people of color, the ag program teaches the importance of food systems, proper nutrition, business management, environmental responsibility and financial literacy. Trainees also earn $12.50 an hour as part of a three-month program and future job placement at a farm within the South West Atlanta Growers Cooperative.
West Georgia Farmer’s Cooperative: The Southwest Georgia co-op was so instrumental to Grammy-award winning rapper Killer Mike’s diet that he requested its fresh produce on his 2019 Netflix original series, “Trigger Warning with Killer Mike.” West Georgia Farmer’s Cooperative (WGFC) is one of the South’s and state’s oldest black farming co-ops based in Hamilton. Since the 1960s, it’s been educating about cooperative economics — working together and sharing resources — and growing/selling its organic fruits and vegetables to surrounding communities. Monthly, WGFC hosts meetings that teach innovative farming techniques and agricultural literacy. It also holds an annual Small Farm and Community Conference every February to discuss trending topics in agriculture. Its Saturday market in LaGrange carries poultry, eggs, kale, beets, red potatoes, green tomatoes, lettuce, herbs and jams.
Black Farmers’ Network: Part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant project, Black Farmers’ Network documents the stories of Black Belt Region farmers making an entrepreneurial change within their local communities. The online hub also serves as a directory to help black farmers share, promote and sell their products while working the land. It instantly connects rural farmhands and their services to the digital economy so they can reach more consumers.