These Black farmers provide more than healthy food

The Black Farmers’ Market draws entrepreneurs and shoppers on a mission for more racial equity and a sense of community.

By Chiung-Wei Huang

Dawn Henderson just had a fruitful shopping trip to the Black Farmers’ Market in Durham.

Her bag was packed with meat and vegetables. Often on her trips to the Durham site, which is open once a month, she picks up one of the many types of honey and desserts available there.

Visiting farmers markets is part of Henderson’s routine, and she really likes the concept of the Black Farmers’ Market. That’s why she has become a regular at the one in Durham.

“I like the space, in terms of the way it spreads,” she said. “I like the diversity of offers. Go there and you can pick up dinner and a dessert.”

Fresh produce and the diverse array of merchandise are not the only things on Henderson’s mind when she goes out to support and encourage local Black farmers. There are more than 46,000 farms in North Carolina, only three percent of which are owned by Black farmers, about 1,500 farms, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Black Farmers’ Market has been set up to address some of those inequalities in North Carolina.

The focus on supporting Black farmers intensified after George Floyd’s death on a Minneapolis street sparked a global movement to stamp out racial inequalities and injustices there and elsewhere.

The Black Farmers’ Market in the Triangle area of North Carolina holds events twice a month in Raleigh and Durham. It grew out of Black August in the Park, an annual event organized by a sister organization in 2015.

Entrepreneurs at the different tables and tents in Durham are as enthusiastic about the Sunday afternoons as the shoppers.

Learn more: Black Farmers’ Market

Durham – every second Sunday of the month, from 1-4 p.m.

Where: Golden Belt Campus • 930 Franklin St.

Raleigh – every fourth Sunday of the month, from 1-4 p.m.

Where: Southeast Raleigh YMCA • 1436 Rock Quarry Road 

Go local, grow local

For her part, Henderson makes it a point to visit the market because of the history of farming in her family. Her great-grandfather was a sharecropper on an Arkansas farm owned by white people.

Difficult circumstances forced him to leave that farm.

Several generations later, Henderson, who received her doctorate in psychology from N.C. State University, knows how challenging it can be for a Black farmer through her family’s stories.

After many years of working at universities throughout North Carolina, Henderson is based in Durham now and has the ability to work from home. She also has tried her hand at growing things, but on a much smaller scale than a farm.

“We have tried growing cucumbers, tomatoes, basil and watermelon,” she said.

She thinks it’s important to give Black farmers her business. Growing produce could, for the farmers and their customers, mean more than being self-sustaining.

Family of four on four acres

Immanuel Jarvis, the co-founder of Jireh Family Farm, has pastures filled with chickens, pigs and cattle. He says his farming mission is to help diversify food sources locally and underscore the costs for small farmers to produce pasture-fed meats compared with mass farming.

“Even if you only have a backyard, and you only have grass to grow tomatoes,” he said, “you can do things with the overall supply of food in our country.”

When Jarvis lost his brother-in-law to colon cancer, he and his family changed their diet and focused more on where their food came from. They wanted to “take what’s good for their body,” said Jarvis.

The average size of North Carolina farms is about 180 acres, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Jireh Family Farm, which started six years ago when Jarvis and his family purchased a 60-year-old farm on four acres of land, started out modestly, raising chickens. Over time, they’ve added other animals.

Shows four people talking over a white board in a tent
Immnuel Jarvis (right, in red shirt) talked to market goers about pasture-fed meat from Jireh Family Farm. Photo credit: Chiung-Wei Huang

In addition to the meat and free-range eggs they sell at market, they also educate others through summer camps and classes about the importance of nutrition and understanding the connection between the food on their plates, nutrition and farming.

Attending the Black Farmers’ Market is one way that Jarvis and his family try to be a beacon for that message.

“By sitting as a real life demonstration in my house, a small family with only four people, little by little we can grow and support our loved ones,” Jarvis said.

Sweet business

Nasira Abdur-Razzaq, owner of Bull City Confectionaries based in Durham, also wants to share a similar message at the market.

She discovered her baking talent when she made cakes for her school-aged children to take to class with them. What started as a mother simply baking for her children’s classmates, turned into something much larger.

Now she creates a variety of cakes for catering services around Durham and Chapel Hill.

“It was interesting to me that something like that happens and from that one small thing,” she said.

Shows a bakery woman in her bright pink apron with boxes of sweets piled up on a table
Nasira Abdur-Razzaq, a Bull City baker, began her bakery service three years ago. Photo credit: Chiung-Wei Huang

Standing in her colorful booth, brightly decorated with pink and green, Abdur-Razzaq enthusiastically greets visitors walking by in the market. She has samples to lure shoppers to her table. Many times, they stop, take a taste and buy one of her sweets to take home.

“A lot of people have been turned off by cake because there’s an overwhelming amount of processing,” she said. “I learned the perfect balance between just enough to feel pleasant when people take that bite.”

Baking the treats is a side passion for Abdur-Razzaq. She also works a full-time job as an event planner for a local health corporation.

As a business owner, the Black Farmers’ Market creates an opportunity for her to connect to different people than she would encounter in her full-time job.

This is also true for Henderson, the shopper who enjoys the opportunity to meet farmer vendors through weekend markets.

“It’s great to see people doing the work and just being entrepreneurs,” said Henderson. “I believe that Black people can be whoever they want to be, because we can do whatever we want to do,” she added.

Catching a buzz

Henderson recalled meeting with a female beekeeper whose son came along to the market with her.

“The little seven-year-old boy brought me in talking about the elderberry-infused honey custard,” she said. “I was in awe when hearing these stories!”

North Carolina beekeepers make up about 12 percent of the total population of beekeepers across the country, according to Buncombe County Beekeepers Club in western N.C.

Samantha Foxx, owner of Mother’s Finest Family Farm, two and a half acres of growing space in Winston-Salem, enjoys being a Black female beekeeper.

“I saw a lack of representation inside of the world,” she said. “I’m happy to be part of it. It’s a driving force for me.”

Operating a local business in Winston-Salem, one and half hours away from Durham, has not stopped Foxx from making the drive.

Providing access to healthy food drives her, too.

“When I see people needing food, my color is eliminated from the situation,” she said. “This should be something that everybody has.”

“We really have to love this because that’s pretty much our whole weekend dedicated to serving other people,” she added.

Shows a variety of vegetables and honey syrup displayed in a tent. By the side of the table is a Black boy curiously looking at the products
A variety of vegetables and honey syrup are available at Mother’s Finest Family Farm tent. Photo credit: Chiung-Wei Huang

Appreciating the many benefits

Through farming and agriculture, these Black entrepreneurs aim to teach North Carolinians that no matter the professions, life can be self-sustained and self-contained.

“The quality of my life has completely changed. I feel full of purpose,” Foxx said. “I dance around with the beautiful things that I see every day and I think this is such a rewarding life.”

“It’s all what you put into it,” added the Bull City baker Abdur-Razzaq. “Bad days do not determine you. Just one good day, maybe something exciting happens, and it can completely change your life.”

“Everything takes a lot of work and patience, in order to be able to see the rewards,” Jarvis said.

Henderson described her moment of joy at the dinner table, when she pulled the knife through the chicken she bought from farmers, amazed by how lean they were compared to what the grocery stores offer.

“Oh, look!” she exhaled.

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