(Courtesy photo)

PK Semler
Special to the AFRO

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Clagett Farm and iconic Baltimore arabbers sourcing fresh produce from Amish and Mennonite farms in Lancaster, Pennsylvania have for years been solving the number one cause of Baltimore’s food desert and insecurity: Infrastructure.

In fact, American small and midsize family farmers receive less than 10% of what consumers pay at the grocery store for their produce and have almost no access to the distribution infrastructure used by food conglomerates like Minneapolis-based Cargill or Houston, Texas-based prepared foods giant Sysco that reap the great lion share of US taxpayers’ farm subsidies.

One example of a successful farm utilizing Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a concept born out of the experience of Black farmers, is the 200-plus acre Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

The farm uses regenerative agriculture techniques where the soil is never overused and a community based approach where families pre-purchase the year’s harvest of vegetables and fresh grass-fed beef and lamb, Clagett Farms manager and retired University of Maryland professor Michael Heller said.

Heller said that families pay $600, a price that drops to $300 for those on assistance, for the right to receive their share of the farm’s harvest of vegetables and fresh beef. Clagett farms distributes 60% of their output through the pre-sale of their crop with the remaining 40% donated to the Capital Area
Food Bank.

Heller said Community Supported Agriculture has its roots in Black farming and allows Clagett farm to be self-sufficient because it posts an annual profit. Heller noted that the whole concept of Community Supported Agriculture and regenerative agriculture was conceived by land grant Historically black college and universities (HBCUs).

The one group already providing a real-life and sustainable solution to the Baltimore food desert and food insecurity crisis under the noses of the so-called “experts” are Baltimore’s arabbers, the farm-to-door produce salesmen with their horse driven carriages.

Third-generation arabber and president of the Arabbers Preservation Society, James Chase has already connected the largest source of healthy organic food goods in the United States – Amish and Mennonite farms – straight to the dining room tables of those in the food deserts of Baltimore.

Nothing brings the wonderful diversity of America as much as when James Chase travels along with neighborhood youths to New Holland in the heart of Amish and Mennonite Lancaster, PA to acquire horses, buy and repair the horse drawn carts and purchase fresh produce from the bearded Amish and Mennonites elders and their children with whom these East and West Baltimoreans break bread and celebrate universal joys of life.

Both the Baltimore arabbers and Amish and Mennonites were flabbergasted but keenly interested to know more about the USD 1m plus autonomous driven NHDrive tractor being developed by Turin, Italy-based global agriculture giant Case New Holland at the test track of company’s original factory in New Holland.

While the Amish and Mennonites are satisfied in farming using 18th century technology, the young arabbers of Baltimore left no doubt they want to see and learn as much as possible about the super high tech tractors that puts Tesla’s to shame.

Monica Lepenta – an Italian native of Naples who is teaching Italian cooking to Baltimore school children – says one solution is to extend the Trump initiated Farmers to Family Food Box program of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The USDA program, set up to tackle the emergency food insecurity problems caused by Covid-19 in America’s poorest communities, that expired on May 31, after providing 168,106,870 boxes of fresh produce, milk, dairy, cooked meats to America’s neediest families.

What better way for President Joe Biden to confirm his administration’s commitment to equity to have US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack extend and repurpose the Farm to Family to the farmers listed in Pastor Rev. Dr. Heber Brown III’s Black Farmers Directory.

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There is no greater modern David in the struggle against the Goliath of American industrialized agriculture than the black American family farm.

The uphill battle to keep black farmers farming their family’s land is not better seen by the Carter Farms in Unionville, Virginia located in the Piedmont region of Virginia just south of the endless suburban sprawl of Northern Virginia.

The 185 acres farm family farm headed by Michael Carter, Jr. specializes in Africulture produce ranging from Okra to ethnic Caribbean and West African crops.

Sadly, Carter Farm remains one of the few Black farms remaining in Virginia which have not been bought out by large commercial farmers or whose owners were not forced to sell for probate reasons.

Black farmers in Virginia represent less than 1% of all farmers , “Carter said, adding. “The hardest part if the lack of infrastructure available to black farmers and the difficulty of hiring farm workers.”

The Black Farmers directory – a listing of black owned farms across the nation – of The Black Church Food Security Network (BCFSN) launched by Baltimore Pastor Rev. Dr. Heber Brown III goal is to connect the resources of historic Black congregations in rural and urban communities to advance and preserve historic land sovereignty through farm to table delivery.

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