MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. —
Even though farming adds billions of dollars to the US economy, the number of farmers is declining.
However, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, the number of Black farmers is growing, nearly 30 years after Black farmers almost became extinct.
Georgia is one state leading the trend with one of the largest numbers of Black Farmers in the country. One of those farmers is Jon Jackson, the owner of Comfort Farms in Baldwin County.
“I wanted to do something that was with my passion which was food,” Jackson said.
After being honorably discharged from the army, the ranger partnered with a Milledgeville non-profit. From there, Comfort Farms sprouted.
“When I came out here, it was like 20 acres. It was like they gave me a small country,” Jackson said. “I didn't know what to do with all this land.”
Five years later, he says they’ve profited over $300,000.
Jackson is one of more than 2,800 Black Georgia farmers, and many of those farmers live in Central Georgia. However, they still make up just 4% of the total number of farmers.
Compare that to the 1920s when the USDA says Black farmers made up nearly 80% of farmers in the state. However, decades of terror and discrimination followed, leaving only around 1100 Black Georgian farmers by the early 1990s.
Now, that number is on the rise again, but there’s a new issue plaguing rural Black Southern farmers: age.
Many Black farmers in the state are over the age of 60 which is why growing younger farmers, like Jackson, are so important.
“It's in our DNA to be farmers,” Jackson said. “It’s in our DNA to eat healthy and be connected to the land.”
His connection to his ancestors is the soil that feeds his farm.
“I find it ironic that I'm getting seeds from African countries that was comfort food, and I'm growing it here on Comfort Farms,” Jackson said.
Jackson focuses on seasonal and historical heirloom seeds. He says they are varieties that have cultural significance to him. He says having a niche is helpful, but to be successful, farmers need to take it a step further.
“If you're growing, and you're not adding that agritourism into your overall plan, you're losing out,” Jackson said.
He holds a farmers market at his farm, which has even moved virtual during the pandemic.
But he says outside of having a handle on social media and new technology to make farming more efficient, people need to start with changing old mindsets about the profession.
“It's not what you were beaten to do, it's what you were born to do,” Jackson said.
Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock is trying to help sustain Black farmers in his home state and across the country. Earlier in February, he introduced the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act.
If passed, it would give $5 billion to Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and other farmers of color. Most of that money would be sent in direct payments to help farmers pay off any USDA loan debt and COVID-19 pandemic relief.