WASHTENAW COUNTY, Mich. (WXYZ) — Food sovereignty, land justice, equal access. Talk to almost any Black farmer, and you’ll find those words resonate quite deeply.
Historically, Black farmers have faced challenges - in large part, due to discriminatory agricultural practices and the ramifications are still being felt today.
To most people, this is just another Michigan farm but to Alex Ball, who built it from the soil up, it feels more like a growing treasure.
“Nappa cabbages, we’ve got beets, we’ve got arugula,” said Alex Ball of Old City Acres.
Dozens of bountiful crops today but a success that wasn’t always promised. Unlike most farmers, who inherit good land and soil, ball, a first-generation black farmer, started old city acres from scratch.
“This is the only piece of land I could find in my price range that was under $20,000,” said Ball.
But cheap land meant more challenges- Ball spending the first two years at a net loss while working to build a water drainage system.
At one point, he was forced to choose: good roots in the ground or a good roof over his head.
“Had no money but I had land, so popped a tent there and got back to work,” said Ball.
“You’re kidding me? You lived in a tent here?” asked WXYZ’s Ameera David.
“Sure did. I had a dream and that was all based on putting all the money I had into this one thing, and at that point, I had exhausted all my credit. I had no money left,” said Ball.
A financial hardship that is common amongst black farmers across the board.
“Generationally, we don’t have that passed down to be able to say here’s this for you son, or here’s this for you daughter,” said Melvin Parson of We the People Opportunity Farm.
Black farmers have faced greater challenges than their white counterparts in accessing the capital needed to start new farms or expand operations.
“It’s not a secret or hidden thing that USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) funding has not favored black farmers throughout history," said Julius Buzzard from Growing Hope.
There was a time when black farms prospered. But over the last century, racial discrimination in agriculture, along with underrepresentation in federal relief programs reduced the number of black farmers in America from nearly one million in 1920 to fewer than 50,000 today.
In Washtenaw County alone, of the more than 2,000 farmers operating, just eighteen identify as black.
“When you try to break into an industry that’s dominated by white men it’s kind of intimidating,” said Ball.
That reality, the driving force behind the newly launched- Washtenaw County Black Farmers Fund, a coalition of non-profits and farmers looking to invest in a new generation.
A fundraiser now underway to raise capital that will go directly to supporting five to ten black farmers purchase property, develop infrastructure, and reduce debt -- with the hope of ripening the field for a new crop of entrepreneurs to their plant roots.
“It's easier for a little black girl or little black boy to see themselves being in this space that's on so many levels empowering healing you name it if that person that they are looking looks like them,” Parson.
This fundraising run goes until October 8th.
The group has already raised more than $50,000 for current and aspiring black farmers.
For more information and how you can donate: The Black Farmers Fund