Interviewed By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
mgreen@afro.com

Herbert A. Brown, Sr. is the owner and operator of Browntown Farm, 255 Browntown Road, in Warfield, Virginia.  

AFRO: What is your exact title, what are your responsibilities and duties and how do you execute your position? 

Brown: I am the owner and operator of Browntown Farms in Warfield, Virginia. The farm is 109 acres, with approximately six acres and three hoop houses available for produce production. My main crops are strawberries, collard greens, various kales, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and various peppers. I also grow okra for seeds for a seed company. I plant other items such as white potatoes, squash, green beans, etc. for family consumption. I am a hands-on farmer who works alongside the two to five employees I hire on a part-time basis. Their primary function is planting, caring for, and harvesting crops. Mid-April to early June is my busiest time of year due to strawberry picking. Fall is also busy due to getting up sweet potatoes and filling orders for collard greens.

Herbert Brown is the owner and operator of Browntown Farm in Warfield, Virginia. (Courtesy Photo)

AFRO: Has your business or job been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?  

Brown: The greatest impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the closure of famer’s markets. This is the time of year that farmer’s markets typically open and they allow farmers, such as me, to be able to sell a larger quantity and variety of produce to crowds of people. I have been able to survive the pandemic due to having a local customer base who have continually bought various greens such as kales, Swiss chard, and others from me throughout the year. Also, strawberries are my major crop and this is the season for them. Individuals and organizations have requested and bought large quantities of strawberries.

AFRO: How are you managing to stay afloat during the pandemic and what advice would you give to others in the similar situation?  

Brown:  I have a variety of crops. Strawberries are always a major seller and having a crop such as that allows me to stay afloat. Strawberries are a product that sell. I would advise other farmers to always test the market for your locality and determine the demand for various items. As with any other business, it is important to have supply consistent with demand for the product. It is also important to offer a variety of produce. Often times, customers will come to the farm to buy a specific item, but will buy others when they see it. Having value added products, such as strawberry jams, has also allowed me to stay afloat. People often buy large quantities of jams in gift packaging. There is a local dairy creamery that uses and sells the strawberry jams at their business.

Herbert Brown is the owner and operator of Browntown Farm in Warfield, Virginia. (Courtesy Photo)

AFRO: Do you encourage other African Americans to learn about the benefits of farming, and growing some of their own products particularly during this time?

Brown: I have always encouraged African Americans, and others, to learn the benefits of farming and growing some of their own products. First, when you grow your produce you have control over the pesticides and other chemicals that the produce has on it. When we buy items from the store, we are not aware of this, or even the process of gassing items such as tomatoes to ripen them. Second, planting our own products allows us to have the items we want without depending on stores or others to provide it for us. With the pandemic, for example, we have already witnessed the shortage of some items in stores. Growing our own crops is a way to combat the shortage of produce. Third, locally grown products, what we grow, is always fresher and has a better taste. A farm grown tomato or strawberry’s taste far exceeds that of one bought in the store.

AFRO: Is there anything else that you would like to add, that I didn’t ask?

During this pandemic, my slogan of ‘Know your Farmer, Know your Food’ is extremely relevant. It is important to know the process from beginning to end, from the field to the table, of our food. I also would like to say that farming is hard work that often begins at sunrise and ends at sunset, but it is also extremely rewarding.

 

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor