“Gardening is my sanctuary. It allows me to think and reconnect. It grounds me,” says Andrea James, a farmer who co-owns and operates The Old Schoolhouse in a rural hamlet in Fayette County, Kentucky with her husband Rodney.
The Old Schoolhouse was the first recipient of a grant for a high tunnel (a greenhouse-like structure that allows farmers to extend their growing season) thanks to a new partnership between Farm Credit Mid-America and Black Soil KY.
“I see so much opportunity with our high tunnel. Black Soil has provided the connections and resources needed and it has helped to make the process feel a lot less intimidating,” Andrea explains.
By fostering the needs of those finding their path in agriculture, new and innovative partnerships like the one with Black Soil KY are supporting the next generation of agriculture and helping Farm Credit Mid-America bring its purpose to life.
Andrea’s passion for agriculture is rooted in her past. Her grandfather raised turkeys and would give them to those in need in town each year at Thanksgiving. Her father also nurtured a garden for the family, so Andrea did not realize until later in life that food for many families does not come from “farm to table” – but from the grocery store to the table.
While serving on the City Council in Lexington, Kentucky, she noticed a push for urban agriculture in inner city areas and less in Fayette County’s rural areas and hamlets. This ignited a desire to reconnect people with land and growing food, which led her to work with Black Soil KY.
Black Soil KY works with 20 Black-owned farms across the state and uses agritourism and a robust event plan to educate consumers and introduce them with local farmers. The variety of programs offered connect Kentuckians to where their food comes from and emphasizes the value of buying local.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there has been a significant drop over the last century in African Americans participating in production agriculture.* As part of its commitment to support more diversity in the industry, Farm Credit Mid-America saw an opportunity to partner with Black Soil KY and elevate the reach and impact of its mission.
“Diversity is needed not only socially, but it is critical to the application of agriculture,” says Ashley C. Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Black Soil KY. “We’re thrilled to be able to partner with Farm Credit Mid-America to advance our cause in fostering a greater market share for Black farmers and producers across the Commonwealth.”
This partnership will support the construction of up to 48 high tunnels across Kentucky to extend the growing season and help combat residential food insecurity. High tunnel recipients also have the opportunity to participate in Growing Forward, Farm Credit Mid-America’s program for young, beginning and small farmers.
“At the core of everything we do, we want to drive consumers to land-based education and outreach, getting them onto the small family farms that really sustain communities and allow them to build a respect and admiration for the work that goes into raising the food that they’re enjoying at their kitchen table,” Ashley explains. “Once we connect the farmer to the consumer and other markets, we want to continue bringing new people into the industry through education and outreach. That’s why our partnership with Farm Credit Mid-America here in the state, and hopefully moving throughout the region and continued service area, will enable us to introduce more and more producers to opportunities to get back into the ground.”
- * McKinsey & Company. (2021, November 10). Black farmers in the US: The opportunity for addressing racial disparities in farming. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
- United States Department of Agriculture Statistics Service, Black Producers: Census of Agriculture, 2017