Access to farmland is a significant barrier for many farmers, especially Black and Indigenous farmers and farmers of color, whether they are just starting out or have extensive experience growing food. Recently, King County partnered with the Black Farmers Collective to assist in expanding their farm operation, Small Axe Farm, on property in the Sammamish Valley, to grow more healthy and nutritious food.
The Black Farmers Collective is a Black-led mutual aid network of BIPOC farmers, organizers, and leaders creating a food system for healthier communities. Their three sites, Yes Farm in the Central District, Brown Egg Gardens in Columbia City, and Small Axe in Woodinville are part of their efforts for land acquisition, BIPOC farmer development, community building, and educational programs.
The Local Food team spoke with Ray Williams, managing director of Black Farmers Collective, and Masra Clamoungou, farm manager of Small Axe Farm, to hear more about the story of Black Farmers Collective, their goals for expanding Small Axe Farm, and their vision for providing local food to the community.
The story of Black Farmers Collective and where they are now
“Black Farmers Collective is now five years old, but we started as community members looking to expand our farm work with a focus on community gardening and agricultural education,” said Williams.
“I am a mixed-race farmer, born and raised in Seattle, who cares deeply about gardening and nutrition education,” said Williams. “I was looking for other community members who cared about farming and providing food to those facing health disparities in our community.”
Williams and his newly formed team found a 1.5-acre plot near the I-5 freeway in Seattle through the Seattle Housing Authority, which is now known as Yes Farm – a community garden space currently in its third season being used by nearby residents.
Yes Farm is “a jewel of the city,” as Williams calls it. This community space is a row crop urban garden where Black Farmers Collective members grow fresh produce for food pantries and community members. Most of the food they grow is donated, and Williams hopes to expand their markets to sell fresh produce to Black-owned restaurants and businesses.
“We want to provide food for hyperlocal, small-scale Black-owned businesses who care about nutrition, local farmers growing their produce, and the health of our community,” said Williams.
Black Farmers Collective goals and vision for expanding on land in Sammamish Valley
Black Farmers Collective owns another site called Small Axe Farm in Woodinville, which is a four-acre teaching farm where expansion efforts are currently underway. Expanding Small Axe Farm to land in the Sammamish Valley will allow Black Farmers Collective to increase both the number of farmers they work with and the market channels they serve.
King County is supporting this expansion by leasing the property to Black Farmers Collective so that more local food can be grown for more people, especially communities facing health disparities who are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Currently, we are in the planning stages for how we will expand Small Axe Farm,” said Clamoungou. “We are working on a crop plan formulated to distribute Community Supported Agriculture boxes this year to individuals, families, and community organizations.”
“Our vision is to produce healthy, local, and nutrient dense food for residents in Seattle and the Greater Duwamish region,” said Clamoungou. “One of our goals is to use Small Axe as an incubator farm for BIPOC farmers who are interested in training and learning about farming and creating sustainable farm businesses in the future.”
Masra Clamoungou is the first contracted employee at Black Farmers Collective who was previously working at 21 Acres Farm raising pigs. Clamoungou began his farming journey by studying sustainable agriculture at Seattle Central College and working in the Sammamish Valley on a farm.
He will be managing Small Axe Farm in the Sammamish Valley, which is serendipitous as he comes back to the place where he started his farming journey.
Clamoungou believes one of the best things you can do for yourself is grow your own food, which connects you with your mind, body, and community. Williams wholeheartedly agrees.
“We are all about growing food, connecting with people, and activating this new space in the Sammamish Valley,” said Williams. “We could not do this work without the support of community members, grant funders, and individual contributors who have put us in a position to grow food for families. We want to thank everyone supporting us with their time, money, expertise, and thoughts.”