Interviewed By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
Michael Carter Jr., is the Small Farm Resource Center coordinator for Virginia State University and executive director of Carter Farms.
AFRO: Tell us about Virginia State University’s Farm Outreach Program and Carter Farms.
MC: VSU Small Farm Outreach is an arm of cooperative extension in the Commonwealth of Virginia that offers cooperative extension services to small farmers (farmers making under $300,000 on farm).
Carter Farms thecarterfarms.com is a century farm in Orange County Virginia, purchased by my great-great grand parents Jefferson and Cathy Shirly for $722 in 1910. We presently have a small cattle and swine operation and are transitioning to be an AfriTourism (AgriTourism) farm and grow ethnic and cultural significant vegetables in an organic natural manner.
Michael Carter Jr. is the Small Farm Resource Center coordinator for Virginia State University and executive director of Carter Farms. (Courtesy Photo)
AFRO: What are your responsibilities and duties and how do you execute your position?
MC: I manage content creation, and development of the site and updating of resources for the site.
AFRO: Are there many African Americans working in the agricultural and farming industry and does your racial background have any positive or negative affects on your work and when you interact with others?
MC: There are African Americans working in agriculture fields, not as many as I would like in the direct farming and land ownership/stewardship capacity. The Black farmer is a dying breed, on the verge of extinction. In 1978 there were almost 4,000 Black farmers in the commonwealth of Virginia, presently there are about 1,700 (and most of these are landowners, not farmers). I’d say there are about 800-1200 actual Black farmers/landowners in the state.
Our perceptions of farmers have lead many Black farmers not to actively pursue this profession as they get to working age.
AFRO: Has your business or job been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? (Why/ Why Not and if so How?)
MC: My business was slowed down, as a farmer because I sell to African restaurants and grocery stores, and as their business was uncertain, so was mine. I have used this pandemic to strengthen my infrastructure and focus on late summer and fall production.
AFRO: Are people still able to support your agricultural efforts during this time? If so, how?
MC: Yes, my sons’ company, Carter Brothers (carterbrothers.net) sells seeds, and we will have more produce to sell the beginning of August throughout the rest of the year.
AFRO: Do you encourage other African Americans to learn about the benefits of farming, and growing some of their own products particularly during a time where many people are confined to their homes?
MC: Yes I strongly encourage African Americans to learn about the benefits of farming, and not just farming but land ownership and preservation. The land I work has been in my family for 110 years, and was where I met many of my family and built bonds of support and pride. During this pandemic it was never a doubt that we couldn’t sustain ourselves as a family, and could social distance with no problem. I was not constrained to my home, but rather liberated at my farm. Land ownership is part and parcel to liberty, freedom, the pursuit of happiness, strengthening family ties and establishing of generational legacies. I’m the fifth generation to have my hands in this soil, and I wouldn’t dare desire it any other way. And the sixth generation hands are already in the soil, learning to take the reigns once they are passed to them.
AFRO: Is there anything else you’d like to add that I didn’t ask?
MC: Farmers don’t need advocates, we need customers. We need individuals voting with their dollars to support Black farmers and to assist in being profitable so we can grow our businesses and show others that you can be successful with your hands in the soil. If you own some land, you aren’t dirt poor, you are dirt wealthy.