Black and Green: Hemp Farming in the Black Community
Introducing: Farmer Cee! Cee is an inspiring hemp farmer of color, and the face of our 2019 Hemp History Week campaign! Learn about the history of African American farmers, and how Cee and her husband are working hard to support diversity and inclusion in the hemp farming community.
A short history of African American farming
The hemp industry is slated to be a multi-billion dollar market by 2020, with estimates ranging from $2B to $20B. Historically underserved farmers across the U.S. have been struggling to enter the industry which has higher barriers to entry than more traditional agricultural crops. The history of black Americans in farming is a long and complicated one that has been fraught with turmoil. Inarguably, Black farmers played a significant role in this country’s history of agriculture. During the 19th and early 20th century, most blacks made a living in agriculture; contributing greatly to the national economic infrastructure. In 1920, blacks made up 14 percent of all the farmers in the nation and worked an astounding 16 million acres of land. Today, less than 2% of farmers in this country are black, approximately 44,000 farmers. Longstanding bias in legislation, inequitable distribution of farm aid, and unfair loan practices are just a few of the obstacles faced by farmers of color. Additionally, many multi-generational farms are finding challenges in passing the torch. Many from younger generations view farming as less than noble because it is inextricably tied with historical oppression and slavery. Renard “Azibo” Turner who serves on the USDA’s Minority Farmers Advisory Committee – calls this “anti-agricultural blacklash.”
With the recent renaissance of the hemp farming industry in our country, farming is experiencing renewed interest. Many who would not have ever considered farming as a livelihood are now viewing hemp farming with an entrepreneurial lens. This is also occurring in the black community. Although still dismally low at most events I have attended, the number of traditional black farmers and younger aspiring farmers is on the rise. Hemp just may be the crop that resurrects cross-generational interest in black farming. Hemp has greater acceptance among younger farming family members and is viewed as a more entrepreneurial enterprise than traditionally grown agricultural crops.
A journey back to the farm
I recognize that I am an American anomaly as a black, female hemp farmer. In 2018, I co-founded Green Heffa Farms with my husband, Malcolm, a disabled veteran, to help fill a void in the hemp industry for black and other farmers of color. As the first social equity, black-owned hemp farm in North Carolina, we work to build capacity with existing and aspiring Black farmers who seek to enter the hemp industry.
Farming is not easy; it is one of the hardest life paths one can choose. Yet, it is also the most rewarding. My own fondness for the land was planted in me as a small child who was sent to my maternal grandparents’ farm in rural Alabama each summer. However, by the time I graduated from high school, I was determined to leave the farm and never return. I found the work too hard, the hours long, and the pay lacking. The call of the “big city” and the corporate world beckoned me and like many young folks, I answered.
It would be twenty-five years before I returned to my farming roots. However, I returned with a mission and an entrepreneurial approach. Being the only or one of few persons of color in the room is not uncommon to me. Being the only black woman in the room is also not alien. As a high net worth fundraiser, I have built a career working with some the world’s wealthiest, and mostly white, philanthropists. Currently, I work at arguably the most impactful environmental organization The Nature Conservancy; the conservation movement has also come under scrutiny in recent years for its lack of diversity and inclusion.
Supporting Diversity and Inclusion
My husband and I were admittedly naïve when we started farming and made a lot of mistakes. We experienced disaster when we lost our entire crop to Hurricane Florence. Yet, we found value in all of these experiences which provided incomparable learning opportunities. It was through both our wins and our misses in our first year that we have been able to help current and aspiring black hemp farmers. We are currently working on turning our farm into an outdoor classroom and training location. We are particularly interested in working with multi-generational farms; highlighting the merging of traditional farming and entrepreneurial thinking.
In January 2019, we launched our first Leveling the Planting Field workshop which experienced standing room only attendance. In this workshop we shared what we have learned thus far in hopes that others can learn from our experiences. Some of these lessons include learning that bigger is not always better. It is important to start small. We also learned to read everything especially when it comes to any type of contracts. Having a trustworthy lawyer knowledgeable in the hemp industry is invaluable.
Our commitment to social responsibility is built into the very fibers of our business. This is accomplished through our farm’s guiding principles which we refer to as the 4Es:
• ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT. We will provide best practices to enable farmers of color to streamline farm operations and prioritize growing high-quality hemp for maximum profit.
• EQUITY. We will help to maintain current black landownership and increase equity and inclusion in the budding hemp industry.
• EDUCATION. We will provide specialized educational offerings to increase cultivation and entrepreneurial knowledge base.
• ENVIRONMENT. We will teach farmers sustainable practices, resulting in higher quality products and positive environmental outcomes. We inform about the positive environmental impacts of hemp which can require 50 percent less water and land to grow and produce compared to cotton and can remove 1.63 tons of CO2 per ton of hemp.
2019 will be a pivotal year in our growth as we plan to expand our outputs, implement our clones purchasing program for farmers of color as well as continue to expand our genetics. We are in conversations with a local municipality to create a workforce development initiative to support diversity and inclusion in the areas of farming, processing and extraction.
In celebrating the Return of the Plant, we hope to also celebrate the return of black farming in 2019 through this budding industry. On a broader scale, we hope to encourage more farming businesses to be bold about social causes that matter the most to them.
Clarenda Stanley-Anderson, known as Cee by family and friends, co-founded Green Heffa Farms, Inc., in Liberty, NC, with her husband Malcolm Anderson, Sr. in 2018. Green Heffa Farms is the first social equity hemp farm in North Carolina and one of a handful of Black-owned hemp farms nationwide. Cee is the 2019 Featured Farmer for National Hemp History Week. She is also a global principals gifts officer with The Nature Conservancy, World Office and works on behalf of The Nature Conservancy throughout the US and world. Green Heffa Farms' mission is to sustainably produce and supply superior-quality hemp varieties that are the finest on the world market. We seek to expand working with our local and global community to expand market opportunities for underserved and underrepresented farmers.