DOUGHERTY COUNTY, Ga. — Clinton Vicks always had an idea of when to move. Growing up in Albany, his grandparents taught him to farm at an early age. Vicks also had a knack for performing and took his talents from Albany State University to New York and Washington, D.C. Then, Vicks moved back home.
In October 2020, he bought a home and surrounding property near where he grew up, and he has plans to renovate the area. He calls the home, located on land once tilled by slaves and later bought by his grandparents, the Vicks Estate.
"Me coming back here not only allows me to reconnect with what help developed me into who I am, but also to take the things I’ve learned and my experiences traveling around the world performing, learning and sharing and gaining knowledge – and reinvest that into the generation coming up," Vicks said.
Vicks said he ran into obstacles with trying to find financing, but he found help in the form of the New Communities Land Trust. The trust's co-founder, Shirley Sherrod, has been helping Black farmers in Georgia since the 1960's. She now serves on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Equity Commission.
“Our land holdings are not as large as big farmers, so our farmers have struggled through the years initially trying to compete and work,” Sherrod said. “Our farmers are struggling out there. There are so few of them left.”
According to USDA, Black farmers make up just six-percent of registered farmers in the South. While Georgia has the fifth highest number of Black farmers in the country, the state now has fewer than 3,000 of them.
Sherrod has built a network across 14 counties in the Southwestern part of the Peach State, teaching farming techniques and even educating Black farmers on voting rights. New Communities recently partnered with AirBNB to form the Southwest Georgia Agri-Tourism Trail, which highlights the experience of Black farmers by letting people book stays on their properties.
"With this trail, we want people to see the struggle, understand the struggle, to interact with our people and hear the stories of the past," Sherrod said. "It’s possible to go from a slave beginning to where we’re taking that property and training and healing.”
The Vicks Estate and Resora, the headquarters for New Communities, will offer experiences to tourists and revitalize the livelihoods of many black farmers. Resora was formerly a plantation near Albany, owned by one of the largest slaveholder estates in Georgia. And over the past century, Sherrod said Black farmers in America have lost more than 10-million acres of farmland because of historic discrimination and lost interest.
"A lot of us shied away from agriculture because we thought about sharecroppers and slavery, and the fact that we were getting our backs broken and not getting paid for it," Vicks said. "Now, I am able to contribute to the new face of farming for Black Americans."
According to AirBNB, guests booked 110% more stays in rural areas in 2021 compared to 2019. Nights booked at farm stays increased by 40-percent since 2019 per the company. Hosts in rural counties earned $3.5 billion in 2021, and the typical farm stay host in the U.S. earned an average of over $10,300 in 2021.
Vicks said he will start accommodating stays in July. He plans to continue the fight to keep farmland in the hands of his forefathers and pass on the farming tradition to younger people to keep the future bright and his history alive.
"This is kind of paying my ancestors back for what they invested in me, coming back home to where they raised me, not forgetting where I came from and having the genuine interest in seeing the welfare of my community," Vicks said.