Last spring, Fresh Future Farm (FFF) hosted the inaugural, one-day South Carolina Black Farmers Conference at the North Charleston urban farm. The gathering featured a mix of educators, food justice advocates, and black farmers with a simple goal: “I hope that what comes out of this conference is that we can connect and look at some of the innovative work that other farmers in other places are doing,” said Germaine Jenkins, FFF’s “Chief Farm Officer.”
After a successful first year, the conference is back for a two-day event on March 29-30, at the Penn Center located on St. Helena Island. The 2020 goal is to continue the conversation from the first year, with food activist experts from around the country sharing best practices with both emerging and established S.C. growers. This year’s overarching theme is “farm family reunion.”
According to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture Highlights, “Only 1.3 percent of U.S. farm producers are black. That’s only 45,508 out of almost 4 million total producers. To make matters worse, Southern states have, on average, older producers with the average age of farm producers in the U.S. being 57.5.” The conference’s goal is to celebrate “and reinvigorate” the rich tradition of black farming, so future generations can change those percentages.
The keynote speaker this year will be S.C. native Howard Conyers. Conyers, a NASA engineer and renowned pit master, grew up on the same land labored by his enslaved and sharecropper ancestors. “Small rural farmers (Black and white) have to be some of the best engineers and scientists in the U.S. Given they may not have a budget as large corporations or government entities, they have to be very creative,” says Conyers. “Everyday, I am more appreciative of the knowledge and hands-on knowledge acquired by being the son of a Black Farmer.”
In addition to Conyers, other speakers include Erika Allen, co-founder and CEO of Chicago-based Urban Growers Collective; Margaret Gifford, founder and CEO of Watervine, a consulting firm dealing with clients representing food, agriculture, health, and technology; and Frances Perez-Rodriguez of NYC-based urban farmer cooperative La Finca Del Sur. Find a full list of speakers and sponsors here.
Registration for the two-day conference is $100 for regular admission, $50 for scholarship entries, and $25 for virtual viewing. The conference offers partial scholarships for lodging and registration on a first-come-first-served basis — “priority is given to students, first-time attendees, as well as folks from marginalized communities who are directly impacted by food apartheid issues.” The deadline for scholarship applications is Sat. Feb. 15.