In a Landscape Where Black Farmers are Scarce, This Family is Finding Huge Success

From Atlanta Black Star web site: Black-owned farms are few and far between, comprising just 1 percent of the industry. However, one family farm is working to become a leading produce supplier to some of America’s major food corporations.

In 2004, Robert Thompson, a former Fresh Del Monte Produce marketing executive, founded Thompson Family Farms, Black Enterprise reports. Thompson serves as the Washington-based company’s president and CEO, while the farm is run by his wife Clarissa, son Stewart, and daughters Arielle and Athena.

According to Black Enterprise, Thompson dug into the business after colleagues, who happen to be second-generation potato growers, convinced him that producing potatoes would be more profitable than growing lettuce, which was his original plan.

TFF’s primary clients also include agribusiness J.R. Simplot Co. and the Frito-Lay Company, located in Dallas.

But a farming business like Thompson’s would have been almost impossible back in the day, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture discriminated against African-American farmers by refusing to grant them farm loans. According to Black Star News, factors like “tax sales, inaccessibility to legal counsel, and legally exploitative land takings” also led to the sharp decline in African-American land ownership.

The news website also reports that today, African-Americans only own about 7 million acres of land.

“We are losing land and wealth that our parents, grandparents and great grandparents worked, fought and died to acquire for us,” said Gary Grant, National President of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalist Association. “We owe our ancestral warriors a debt. We must help ourselves by insuring that the next generation is ready to control the land.”

Grow Where You Are seeks to do just that. The Georgia-based farming collective has nine members who run a 3-acre farm and food forest in Atlanta as well as another 5-acre farm in Stone Mountain,Raw Story reports. Two-thirds of the group’s farmland is owned by churches, who provide members and food pantries with a portion of their produce. According to its website, Grow Where You Are has also “produced over 15,360 lbs of food, served over 8,260 people with healthy food options and facilitated over 144 service  groups. ”

Other Black-owned farming collectives include the Black Dirt Farm in Preston, Maryland; the Alabama-based Tuskegee United Leadership and Innovation Program (TULIP); and the Hattie Carthan Herban Farm in Brooklyn.

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Agritourism Is on the Rise

Are farms the next bed & breakfasts? Increasingly, farms are catering to the urbanites’ desire to spend quality time outdoors in a farm setting.  Agritourism is the latest in getaways.

Tourists can stay at a farm, help harvest fruits and vegetables, feed livestock, ride horses and enjoy the bucolic setting. More and more cash-strapped farms are looking to tourism as a new way to generate revenue. Agritourism companies are even emerging that help consumers compare prices, services and other essential factors in planning a farm vacation.

Is it all part of a trend similar to farms opening up gift shops, corn mazes and petting zoos? Or is this in line with the “back to basics” movement spurred on by the economy? Whatever it is, we like anything that helps farmers and consumers get up close and personal.

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‘Tis the Season for Spring Onions

With their fresh flavor and bright colors, spring onions represent all that’s best of the season. To many of us, our vision of spring onions is limited to thin green scallions. While there’s nothing better than scallions on a baked potato, it’s time to think bigger—there are many other wonders of the onion family that thrive this time of year.

Green onions are the ultimate spring onion. These are new, young bulbs that are harvested to make room for full-sized onions to grow and mature. Of course, scallions are the best known variety, but green Vidalia Sweets are the most flavorful. Green Vidalias start to appear in our markets in January and are very seasonal—enjoy them while you can! Continue reading

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Pass the Potatoes!

For years, the potato has been getting a bad rap as an evil “carb” to be avoided. However, most are surprised to learn that the potato is actually low in calories and a good source of fiber.

Need another reason to love the humble potato? A recent study found that they can actually help you lose weight thanks to a resistant starch found in the potato. “The Skinny Carbs Diet” is inspired by a University of Colorado study that found that resistant forms of starch are only minimally digested. This helps you feel fuller for longer periods (also making you less likely to snack). Other sources of resistant starch include whole grain pasta, beans, sweet potatoes, quinoa and artichokes.

Cooking potatoes and then serving them cooled increases the beneficial starch. Of course, as with all things, potatoes are best in moderation.

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Potatoes on the Chopping Block?

School children may be seeing fewer potatoes in their lunches if the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has its way. According to new guidelines for school meals published January 13 in the Federal Register, children would see more fruits and vegetables, with one exception: “starchy vegetables (e.g., white potatoes, corn, lima beans, and green peas) would be limited to one cup per week to encourage students to try new vegetables in place of the familiar starchy ones.”

The National Potato Council in Washington D.C. claims the USDA’s recommendation to reduce vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas could have adverse effects on children’s health. That’s because potatoes provide two of the four nutrients of concern for children—potassium and fiber. And, the Potato Council says, it’s a vegetable that children actually want to eat.

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Food and politics have always been closely intertwined in the developing countries of South Asia, but when national taste buds are at stake, the relationship can become especially volatile.
A shortage of onions in India, a dearth of coconuts in Sri Lanka and the soaring price of cooking oil in Bangladesh are currently posing serious challenges to the governments of all three countries. The issue is more cultural than nutritional.
Nobody’s going to starve in India because of an onion shortage, but their food is either going to taste different or it’s going to cost them more to keep it tasting the same, and that makes a lot of people unhappy.
Onions are considered an indispensable ingredient of most Indian cooking, providing, together with garlic and ginger, the pungent foundation for a thousand different curries and other dishes. Similarly, the coconut, with both its flesh and milk, is what gives Sri Lankan cuisine its unique flavor, tempering spices and enriching sauces.

The current “onion crisis” in India has seen prices triple to nearly 80 rupees a kilogram (88 cents a pound), triggering allegations of hoarding, official incompetence and price-ramping by traders.

In India, only time will tell if the elusive onion will continue to become more of a luxury then a staple.

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The Year of the Potato

Despite being delicious fried, baked or boiled, this starchy vegetable rarely gets the praise it deserves. The environmentally-friendly food crop has played a huge role in our development, but rarely do we give our tasty friend a second thought.

A new initiative from the UN Food and Agriculture organization aims to change all that. Ladies and gentlemen, we are officially living in the International Year of the Potato. The initiative highlights the importance of the potato and promotes potato research and development.

Below are seven fun facts why the almighty spud should finally get the respect it deserves:

  1. They’re Eco-Friendly
    Potatoes are environmentally friendly. They’re cheap and easy to grow and don’t require massive amounts of fertilizer and chemical additives to thrive. They’re also super cheap and good for you (provided you’re not eating them in fried form all the time). This makes them an ideal crop for farmers in the developing world who can easily grow a nutritious food in adverse conditions.
  2. They’ve Been Grown in Space
    In 1995, potato plants were taken into space with the Space Shuttle Columbia. This marked the first time any food was ever grown in space.
  3. Potatoes Can Be Gigantic
    The world’s largest potato weighed in at 18 pounds, 4 ounces according to the Guinness Book of World Records. That’s enough for 73 portions of medium fries at McDonald’s.
  4. The Irish Weren’t the First to Eat Them
    While potatoes may be synonymous with the Irish, they were grown in the Andes Mountains centuries before Europeans ever set foot in the New World. The Incan people of Peru were growing them as far back as 200 B.C. They were first introduced to Britain and Ireland in the late 1500s. They weren’t an immediate hit either; many people blamed them for diseases and railed against them because they weren’t mentioned in the Bible.
  5. “French Fries” Are Old
    The French fry was reportedly served in the U.S. for the first time by Thomas Jefferson at a presidential dinner in 1802—one of the earliest references to fried potato strips being referred to as “French.”
  6. They Were Royally Fashionable
    Potato blossoms used to be the hottest royal fashion accessory. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were both known to wear potato blossoms to spiff up their outfits.
  7. It’s an Important Crop
    The potato is the most important non-cereal crop in the world, and the fourth most important crop overall. Only corn, wheat and rice are more important. In the U.S., potato products are the second most consumed food, trailing only dairy products.
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