February is Black History Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the hard-fought achievements, sacrifices, and contributions made by Black Americans to every aspect of our country’s diverse cultural heritage, and particularly to the agricultural industry. It’s also a time for us to honor the Black farmers and ranchers of today, who are providing food, fiber, and fuel for the nation.
Meet a few farmers and ranchers:
Christopher Sumpter, Jr.
Chris is a fourth-generation farmer from Borden, SC, where he raises Hereford and Black Angus cattle. As a responsible steward of the land, he is continuing his family’s legacy, running a cow-calf operation and working daily in the pastures.
Chris participates in NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentive Program and FSA’s Conservation Reserve Program. He wants to create a sustainable operation that is both environmentally friendly and good for the land. In addition to his farming operation, Chris runs an insurance company that supplies life and crop insurance. Read more about Chris.
Karen is an urban farmer and native of New York City, who founded the Garden of Happiness, a verdant farm of diverse crops carefully tended by a community of growers, and a community farmers market, La Familia Verde Community Garden Coalition. The garden grows healthy food in an area with limited food access and feeds the soul of the community. Karen worked with NRCS to add a high tunnel to the Garden of Happiness. Plants grown inside the covered hoop structure are protected from pollutants, pests, and severe weather. High tunnels allow farmers to plant earlier in the spring and later in the winter, which makes a big difference to communities with limited access to fresh, healthy food.
As a nationally recognized leader in the urban farming and food movement, Karen was named as one of the 100 Most Influential African Americans by Ebony Magazine and awarded the 2014 James Beard Leadership Award. She is also a founder of Black Urban Growers, and is on the board of the New York Botanical Garden where she works to expand community gardens in the Bronx. Read more about Karen.
Tommy Turner, Jr.
Tommy is a beginning farmer who operates near Eudora, AR. He passed up many doors of opportunity upon graduation from college with a degree in agribusiness to push forward and live his dream of farming. When starting out, he worked with FSA to purchase equipment through their direct loan program and received a line of credit through the guaranteed loan program to fund his operating expenses.
As his operation grew, he enrolled in FSA’s Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage program to provide a crucial safety net, and also participates in CSP to give back to the land, which includes conservation fertility and different types of land improvements. Read more about Tommy.
Cindy Ayers-Elliott, Ph.D.
As owner and operator of Foot Print Farms, located in the heart of Jackson, MS, Cindy Ayers-Elliott is making a big local impact on her community. Foot Print Farms has been a catalyst for healthy food in the inner city, seeking to give access to a new way of life for thousands of Mississippians. For the past five years, Foot Print Farms has taken thousands of pounds of food every Saturday to the farmers market located in downtown Jackson. According to Cindy, it’s more than just selling food at a market or putting a seed in the soil. It’s about planting a seed in the mind.
Her partnership with NRCS has helped her succeed and change lives in ways that she never imagined. Cindy participates in the EQIP and has installed six high tunnels, cross-fencing, a micro irrigation system, and a water well. As a USDA Harmonized-GAP-certified farm owner, Cindy has also been taking precautions during COVID-19 by offering drive-up, pick-up service. Read more about Cindy.
Kimberly is the manager of Caney Creek Ranch – a diversified operation started by her parents – in Oakwood, TX. She got into the ranching business in 2007 after leaving a prestigious job with a large financial services firm in New York City. Under Kimberly’s management, the formerly 150-acre ranch has grown to a 2,500 acre environmentally sustainable and scenic operation. She also owns Farm to Freezer Beef, a locally-owned, family-run business that offers fresh, wholesome beef direct from east Texas ranches to consumers.
With so many irons in the fire, Kimberly credits hard work, access to federal assistance, persistence, and staying abreast of the latest technology as keys to her ranching success. She found assistance with NRCS that enabled her to implement conservation practices that continue to benefit her operation and the environment. She serves on USDA’s Advisory Committee on Minority Farmers and in 2008, helped establish 100 Ranchers, an organization comprised of minority farmers and ranchers in Texas, that helps promote agriculture at the local level. Read more about Kimberly.
USDA Programs and Services
Whether you are new to farming like Tommy, raising livestock in the country like Chris and Kimberly, or feeding neighboring communities like Karen and Cindy, USDA has programs and services that can help.
Some helpful resources online include:
- Farm Loan Discovery Tool
- My Conservation Concerns Tool
- Conservation at Work Video Series
- Disaster Assistance Discovery Tool
- Urban Agriculture Webpage
USDA also provides one-on-one support through USDA Service Centers. Find contact information.
Kristina Nelson is a public affairs specialist with USDA in Washington. Kristina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.