On the Right Track
story by Beverly Moseley
The train whistle blew right on schedule. The speaker just smiled and leaned closer to the microphone so he could be heard.
“That’s part of our history,” said Wade Ross, over the rumble of the passing train as he explained that in the past, railroad tracks were often located in the Black communities, close to their schools.
Ross, state director of the Texas Small Farmers and Ranchers Community Based Organization (TSFR CBO), spoke recently during an unprecedented visit by James Gore, assistant chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), at the CBO’s state headquarters office.
It was at a national meeting in December 2012, that Gore first forged a friendship with the CBO. Gore was immediately impressed with the group’s passionate pursuit of business education for minority landowners.
In the right place, at the right time
In 1998, Ross saw a lack of knowledge and communication among ag producers. From this awareness, the CBO was founded. His tireless public service journey to change the mindset of the Black American agriculture producer community toward government and to affect public policy change had taken root. Ross knew the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) had minority producer programs available that could improve their farming and ranching operations. With a renewed commitment to unify this community of producers and guide them into the future through education and outreach, he began his grassroots efforts asking rural communities and producers: “What are your needs?”
And these communities and producers have answered in unprecedented numbers. Today, the CBO impacts 64 contiguous Texas counties and has 400 members, up from 60 members in 2003. Countless outreach and educational meetings and workshops encouraging rural producers to partner with organizations and federal agencies, such as NRCS, have been held across Central and East Texas.
The CBO has a dynamic, progressive board and core members, who are helping lead the group into the future. The group’s quest for knowledge and partnership building led 41 members to travel cross-country together in a bus to the 5th National Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative conference in Orlando, Fla., this past December.
It was there that Gore struck up a casual conversation with one of the members. Intrigued by what he heard, the next morning Gore met informally in a conference hallway with the entire CBO contingency. An invitation to visit the CBO’s new state headquarters in Texas was extended to the assistant chief.
“He did recognize that we were unique within ourselves at that conference,” Ross said.
Power is presence. Presence is power.
Gore quickly honored the invitation. In January, he traveled from Washington, DC to spend the day at the CBO’s first-ever state headquarters housed in Navasota’s old George Washington Carver High School, which closed years ago.
He was there to learn the CBO’s vision, future goals, and grassroots journey in assisting limited resource agricultural producers. He wanted to be face-to-face when he asked the long ago question posed by Ross: “What are your needs?”
When Gore rose to speak, as if on cue, a train roared by the building.
“The train is perfect for you,” he said with a smile. “It’s your metaphor.”
Gore told the crowd that moving forward with momentum can be the hardest thing to create.
“You’ve created that momentum,” he added.
He shared with the group about possible financial opportunities and networks of individuals that might prove beneficial in moving the CBO forward into the 21st Century. He noted with passion how inspired he was by their sincere efforts and commitment to historically underserved populations.
Pointing to a sign on the wall which read – Power is presence! Presence is power! Let’s show our government we are here! – Gore said: “This is the reason I’m here.”
“The Texas Small Farmers and Ranchers CBO is just an inspired group that’s getting things done that’s building it from the grassroots up,” Gore said. “And that’s really showing us what we need to do and instead of us leading it, it’s the landowners leading it and that’s the way it should be.”
During a tour of the facility, he saw first-hand and listened to the needs of the technology and training center, which is currently under various stages of renovation. Ross explained that their dream is for the headquarters facilities to provide a location to learn hands-on sustainable farming techniques, offer training labs to assist individuals with conservation planning and practices, while also working with individuals to enhance and rebuild sustainable rural community infrastructures.
“We want to be that mechanism in the state and beyond,” Ross said.
A model farm
There was a time when Henry Day, of Millican, used to leave his house every morning and go to work in Houston. Not today. Day is a protégé of the TSFR CBO. With mentoring from Ross and the technical and financial assistance available through NRCS, Day now ranches on his own 157 acres which has been in the family since the mid-1800s. His ranch stands as an example of what can be accomplished through working cooperatively.
He credits Ross, the CBO and NRCS, with guiding and educating him about best-management conservation practices that have helped restore the ranch’s soils and forages, while also helping him become the rancher that he is today.
Day’s efforts were recognized when he received Texas’ Region IV Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) 2012 Resident Conservation Rancher award.
“That information from NRCS was the best information that any farmer or rancher can get anywhere in the state of Texas. I know, because this is a very good program and all you have to do is follow the directions that they give you, and it pays off. It works,” Day said.
During his visit, Gore was able to take an afternoon tour of Day’s ranch and see the benefits he has reaped from NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which includes conservation practices such as grass planting, cross fencing and pond establishment.
A tractor-pulled flat bed trailer was the mode of transportation for getting a ground up perspective of the ranch. At each stop, Day stood and spoke with conviction about the conservation practices on his ranch and the challenges he had overcome.
As the sun on the horizon waned, Gore reflected on the day and provided some parting comments.
“Today was an inspiring day for me. The NRCS does an amazing job of helping people help the land and being throughout the countryside doing excellent work. But, one of the things that we’re trying really to do better is to reach out to historically underserved populations and minority populations in areas and help them help the land in a way we’ve never done before,” Gore said. “Today we were with the Texas Small Farmers and Ranchers CBO. They are a vibrant group that is working hard, has an active membership and is grassroots based and committed, not only to their program in the now, but committed to trying to pass it on to the next generation.”