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USDA Show & Tell for Minority Producers

USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Minority Landowner Magazine recently hosted a Minority Farmer and Landowner Workshop in Waco, Texas. The two-day public event included indoor and outdoor learning opportunities at the Bellmead Civic Center and Kay Bell’s Farm.

“I hope that while you are here you can learn more about the resources available to you and how we can all work to help educate the public about the heritage and traditions of minority farmers and ranchers,” said Todnechia Mitchell, NRCS District Conservationist, addressing the audience of over 65 attendees. “I also hope that we can share ideas and learn new ways to reach existing and potential clients with information and opportunities.”

Minority producers make up a significant share of USDA customers as Texas leads the nation in the number of black farmers and ranchers. They manage more farms and acres of land than any other state in the nation. Black farmers in Texas annually sell nearly $130 million in products from their farm, with about 65 percent of those sales are cattle and 35 percent are crops.

USDA staff shared information related to the importance of conservation planning and financial assistance programs, pollinators; soil health; farm loan programs, agricultural marketing; cattle and hay operations; high tunnels (similar to hoop houses and green houses as they both are used to extend growing season); organics, Veterans programs and more.

The workshop had many “show and tell” aspects with producer experience testimonies and an outdoor Soil Health Demonstration that included a rainfall simulator, a very visual presentation showcasing how various land management systems (conventional tilled bare ground, conventional tilled ground with 30% residue, no-till 80-90% residue, pasture) are affected by rainfall events.

Kay Bell, president of the local chapter of National Women in Agriculture and owner of Passion Farms, visited with the audience about how she got away from farm life when she moved away from home, but in recent years it has called her back and now she is very involved in urban farming and farmers markets in the Waco area.

In 2001, Kay Bell was diagnosed with cancer. During chemotherapy, she began researching natural herbs and plants such as peppermint and discovered the incredible health benefits. This also lead her to want to grow her own vegetables, rich in natural nutrients. Throughout the year, Kay and her husband Virgil stay busy growing radishes, beets, onions, red potatoes, herbs flowers, turnip greens, mustards, kale, peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, melons, peas, cabbage, and collard greens. Kay is also well-known for her herbal teas and lotions.

Wade Ross, state director of the Texas Small Farmers and Ranchers Community Based Organization, encouraged the audience to visit their local USDA Service Center and get acquainted with staff to learn about programs and other opportunities opportunities.

“Invite them out to your farm,” he encouraged them. “Walking around your land with an NRCS person is a real eye-opening experience. You will learn so much about your land just by visiting and asking them questions.”

Doris Sauls, owner of Land of Milk and Honey Vegetable Farm LLC in Navasota, shared her experiences working with the NRCS.

Doris and her husband, W.J., a new organic method two acre farm that provides an ideal setting for people of all ages and abilities to learn how to garden or improve garden skills. Doris has 28 years of experience in organic gardening along with a Master's Degree in Holistic Nutrition.

The entire second day of the workshop was spent on Kay Bell’s farm constructing a 20x24’ high tunnel according to NRCS specifications outlined in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Friends, family, neighbors, NRCS Friends of Conservation and NRCS staff were on hand to assist with the building of the tunnel from the ground up. The day served as a demonstration workshop for local farmers interested in extending their planting season into the cold winter months.

High tunnels protect plants from severe weather and allow farmers to extend their growing seasons – growing earlier into the spring, later into the fall, and sometimes, year-round. And because high tunnels prevent direct rainfall from reaching plants, farmers can use precise tools like drip irrigation to efficiently deliver water and nutrients to plants. Unlike many greenhouses, plants are grown directly in the soil in a high tunnel system.

Bell plans to use the tunnel to grow peppers, tomatoes and some herbs during off season and offer them at her outlets including farmers markets and health food stores.

“This is just such an incredible blessing,” the Bells told the group. “This is going to make such a difference in our operation to be able to grow so many more crops during the cold winter months.”

USDA Show & Tell for Minority Producers, Dee Ann Littlefield, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist (2018, October)