Volume 6, Number 10                                   February 12, 2003

The Farmer


"Good News" from the Black Land Loss Summit

by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Muímin Muhammad


The Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association (BFAA) held its Annual Meeting on February 8, 2003 at the Dudley Inn & Conference Center, Kernersville, North Carolina in conjunction with the National Black Land Loss Summit. The BFAA membership held elections where Tom Burrell and Gary R. Grant were nominated for Chairman/President.  Subsequently Gary R. Grant was re-elected as Chairman/President and Dr. Ridgely A. Muímin Muhammad was elected the Vice-Chairman . Seven other Board Members were elected from among the twelve states and the District of Columbia present for the meeting. (pictures)

Immediately following the membership meeting, President Grant called the BFAA Board to order and they unanimously agreed to seek Stephon Bowens and the Land Loss Prevention Project (LLPP) to become the legal counsel for BFAA. Attorney Bowens accepted this request. 

After the elections President Gary Grant sent a letter to the USDA informing them that more progress should have already been made with the proposed "Memorandum of Understanding" initiated in July of 2002. Mr. Grant continued by saying, "Significant issues such as administrative setoffs, acceleration, and foreclosures still plague the few remaining Black farmers. Given the great need of the Black farmers and your administrationís continued commitment to improved service delivery, much can be accomplished despite the lapse of time since our last meeting."

Before this national meeting of BFAA the USDA had feigned confusion over who was in control of BFAA. This allowed them to postpone promised relief measures for the Black farmers in the Pigford v. Glickman (now Veneman) class action lawsuit and other areas. BFAA has been in a pitted struggle with the USDA since 1998. However, members of BFAA have not let the USDA completely consume them in a one pronged attack.

BFAA in conjunction with the Land Loss Fund, Concerned Citizens of Tillery, Muhammad Farms and North Carolina A&T State Universityís School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences combined efforts to put on what Mr. John Raye, Regional Director for MATAH, as a "most eye opening display of information and problem solving." Unlike many conferences which get "experts" to talk at the problem. This conference put "experts" in contact with the people who had the problems and together they began to work up solutions and develop ongoing relationships to continue the process of "controlling our destiny from the land to the man", the theme of this yearís conference.

For instance, Attorney Rose Sanders brought information on land availability for Black farmers in South Africa. Min. Akbar Muhammad, International Representative of the Nation of Islam, demonstrated how oil played a key role in the destabilization of western and southern Africa. He also went into the details of the situation in Zimbabwe. At the end of the question and answer period, Min. Akbar caucused with Black farmer interested in going with him to Zimbabwe in the near future on a fact finding tour.

The workshop entitled "Direct Marketing Opportunities for Country and City Cousins" brought together and illustrious panel including, Vernon Switzer, vegetable farmer, Al Wellington, Co-Founder of MATAH, John Raye, master salesman and motivational speaker, Marcus Bernard, Marketing Agent for Glory Foods, and Bill Jackson, entrepreneur out of Chicago. They and the audience talked about the question of how to get produce from Black farmers into the hands of Black consumers. This feedback process introduced both sides of the problem, supply and demand, to each other within a framework of problem solving. At the end a plan of action of establishing produce markets in the major cities along with developing processed items for direct marketing channels was developed and an ongoing committee established. Dr. Ridgely Muhammad read a letter from a Black Wall Street investment firm pledging their financial support to projects developed by this group.

In the area of Black land loss Attorneys Stephon Bowens and Gil Livingston along with Gary Grant introduced a new non-profit corporation called the Black Family Land Trust. The Black Family Land Trust, Inc. will bring real dollars to the aid of Black families in jeopardy of losing their land. New an innovative methods of "conservation easements" will be used to get funds in the hands of landowners while still leaving them title and control over the land as long as it is used for agricultural related purposes.

Many people had heard about Cubaís offer to open her markets to Black farmers. However, this conference brought together Mr. Daniel Brow, President of Progressive International Trading Company, Marcus Bernard, Marketing Agent for Glory Foods, Dr. John OíSullivan, Extension Marketing Specialist, NCA&T and Savanah Williams, farmer from Virginia who analyzed this opportunity and developed strategies to make it happen. The audience got a rare glimpse of what it takes to make hopes into realities instead of complaints about fallen dreams.

Many farmers have found that operating large farms may not be as profitable as operating on smaller farms, but with an eye to location and esthetic demands of the consumers. Agri-tourism, heritage and eco-tourism were discussed as new and emerging alternatives to industrialized agriculture. James Frazier of Barefoot Farms on St. Helena Island, SC presented aspects of his tourist and educational oriented farm which he established right in the middle of a major tourist corridor. The keys to the success of this type of operation can be capsulated with three words: "location, location, location".

Stephon Bowens was the surprised recipient of the annual "The Man Called Mathew Award" given to the one person that best exemplified the spirit of Mr. Mathew Grant, an agricultural and community warrior from the New Deal Resettlement Community of Tillery, Halifax County, NC. Dr. Ridgely A. Muímin Muhammad received a special award for "Keeping Us Organized In True American Radicalism And The Revival Of The Spirit" from the Land Loss Fund. I guess this award is given to the most "radical" one (smile).

The weekend was capped off by an outpouring of unity and spiritual rejuvenation by a Christian Minister, Dr. Marcus Tillery, and a Muslim Minister, Min. Willie Muhammad. The Black farm movement for justice has been fought through trials, tribulations and betrayals. However, Min. Tillery warned "Pharaoh", President Bush, that the army of Gideon was on its way back to the "Big House" with a message of liberation. "We have wrestled with the angel as did Paul. And as Paul would not be satisfied with just getting to Damascus but had to go all the way to Rome, the 30 pieces of silver had delayed us but will not prevent us from arriving in the modern Rome, Washington, DC."

Min. Willie, who spoke on behalf of the Honorable Min. Louis Farrakhan, described those in the movement as one of three types, "believers, disbelievers and hypocrites." He warned that these three would always be among us, but not to fear the backbiting of the hypocrite, because after the pain one will find true brotherhood among the true believers. He ended by saying, "This is a new beginning. We must cast off the shoes of derisiveness, confusion and backbiting, for now we stand on Holy Ground."