Leveling the fields in western Washington: Black Farmers Collective receives USDA grant to lower barriers for underrepresented farmers

“We started out with this idea of looking at health disparities in communities, especially the Black community. We saw that one of the things people could do is go back to their roots and grow their own food. That was kind of the genesis of this idea.”

Black Farmers Collective farmers harvest greens at Yes Farm

Ray Williams, director of Black Farmers Collective (BFC), started community organizing with this idea 20 years ago. Five years ago, BFC came into being as an organization to seize the opportunity to lease land from the Washington State Department of Transportation to create Yes Farm, Seattle’s largest Black-led urban farm.

Yes Farm has grown and flourished throughout the past five years alongside BFC. Now, BFC manages both Yes Farm in Seattle and Small Axe Farm in Woodinville. And with a new grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), they are expecting another five years of growth.

The grant program, “Leveling the Fields in Western Washington,” is a five-year plan to level the metaphorical barriers to farming for underrepresented farmers. This grant is part of the USDA’s efforts to mitigate the impact of over a century of racial discrimination.

Flourishing crops at Yes Farm

A little over $780,000 was awarded to BFC to do this work. This money will be used to fund staff, educational programs for underrepresented farmers, and to begin forming a strong network of support for BIPOC producers in western Washington.

The goal of the grant project is to build the capacity of both farmers of color and organizations that support them by placing BFC at the center of this network. Farmers will be able to reach out to BFC for education, technical assistance, and support in attaining resources from larger organizations such as the USDA.

 “We’re trying to build this giant community around supporting each other and getting what we need to be more successful,” Williams said. “We want to contribute to farmers at the level they want, in the way that they want. There’s flexibility in this vision. It really is all about reducing the barriers, which [BFC] doesn’t know what they all are.”

Black Farmers Collective hopes to build as broad of a base as possible, working with organizations of all backgrounds to support underrepresented farmers. “This is an opportunity for Black leadership on the land. We want to be accepting of everyone, with Black leadership and ownership,” Williams explains.

The colorfully painted hoop house at Yes Farm

The grant will be spent over five years. Over these years BFC is planning to expand not only the grant program but put down farming roots of its own through institutionalizing and extending its leases of Yes and Small Axe farms. In addition, the organization is looking for a parcel of land to purchase and hold permanently as farmland for Black farmers.

Black Farmers Collective is becoming a major player in the local food system, and this USDA grant will allow BFC to further help farmers of color prosper in western Washington.

“It would be great in five years to see five years of growth at our farms and to be working on our own land,” Williams said. “I think we can do that if we continue to have support and continue to deliver on our dreams and promises.”

If you would like to support Black Farmers Collective, through donations or volunteering visit blackfarmerscollective.com.

If you are a farmer of color who would like to learn more about BFC’s new programs email connect@blackfarmerscollective.org.

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