Training for Sustainable Community Development: Phase II

Final Report for CS06-046

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2006: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Robert Zabawa
Tuskegee University
Dr. Tasha Hargrove
Tuskegee University
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Project Information


The project was centered on sustainable development activities for a set of Southern Black agricultural communities that were created during the Great Depression, initially under the direction of the Resettlement Administration and subsequently under the Farm Security Administration. These and related agencies provided an opportunity for landless sharecroppers and tenants to own land. This opportunity allowed the "settlers" to become small independent farmers (a Jeffersonian ideal) and form independent agricultural communities (a Booker T. Washington ideal). Thirteen such all-Black communities were established, about half of which remain as viable communities--although they are "at risk." The others have faded, although both archival records and original residents remain to tell their story.

Using nine of these communities (Sabine Farms, TX; Prairie Farms, AL; Gee's Bend, AL; Mileston, MS; Mound Farms, LA, Flint River Farms, GA; Allendale Farms, SC; Tillery, NC and Aberdeen Gardens, VA) a sustainable economic development strategy and training meeting was convened. Community participation ensured that this training lead to site-specific community development plans and activities.

Results of the training were based on the activities initiated by the participating communities. Planned activities included submission of grant applications, community meetings, organizing and community-based activities. In addition, results will be presented at professional meetings and symposia and published in local media and professional journals, and further Resettlement Community meetings planned.

The principal cooperators were selected representatives of the participating communities and the George Washington Carver Agricultural Experiment Station at Tuskegee University. The proposed project took approximately one year.


The purpose of this project is to provide community directed, participatory training and technical assistance to increase the potential for sustainable economic development in selected African American agricultural communities. This was accomplished through an intensive two-day workshop that focused on critical hands-on community development issues and strategies such as: grantsmanship, tourism (community/historical and agricultural), natural resource development and small business development.

Twice since Emancipation, the U.S. Government devised programs to strengthen the land-owning capacities of Black farming communities–once during Reconstruction, and again during the Depression. Although the efforts are viewed as deficient, there are significant remnants of these programs that influence these communities today.

Of particular research interest are a set of communities proposed and established during the Depression by the Resettlement Administration and its successor agencies. The USDA's Resettlement Administration (RA) provided an opportunity for landless sharecroppers and tenants to own farm land. Thus, these landless sharecroppers and farm tenants could become independent farmers (a Jeffersonian ideal). Further, they could form independent agricultural communities, with a strong infrastructure (a Booker T. Washington ideal). Reaching beyond "40 acres and a mule," the members of these communities would have not only land, but also schools, health centers, churches, cooperatives, gin and grist mills, and farm supervision and management training (Oubre 1978). In the end, the RA purchased approximately 1.9 million acres used for 140 to 150 agricultural resettlement projects (Holley, 1971; Salamon 1979 and also see Alexander 1936, Cannon 1992, 1996, Cobb and Namorato 1984, Conklin 1976).

These Resettlement communities were established throughout the United States. In the South, 13 rural resettlement projects were designated for Black farmers alone. These communities encompassed 1,150 families on 92,000 acres. An additional 1,117 Black families were resident in 19 scattered projects on 70,000 to 80,000 acres of land (Salamon 1979). The 13 all-Black communities were important because they were to provide an opportunity to own land and gain economic independence; individual action would be reinforced by community development. The fact that these communities exist or are remembered today emphasizes the small but important effort of the Resettlement Administration and its successor agencies.

Initial reports concerning these projects were positive, both in terms of farm productivity and community development. Gradually, support and guidance from USDA agencies declined. Eventually, Congress called into question many New Deal programs and sponsoring agencies, including the RA. In 1937, the Resettlement Administration was reorganized into the more limited Farm Security Administration (FSA), itself then subsumed into the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) in 1946. As the nation's attention turned increasingly toward war, prejudicial and discriminatory practices began to permeate the very agency that had been empowered to provide agricultural support to the new black communities and to newly established Black farm landowners (see Baldwin 1968).

Some communities established by the RA are today still visible–although they may be considered 'at risk'. These extant communities provide a field setting within which to investigate seven decades of community cohesion maintained against a variety of institutional and economic threats. Other black community development projects undertaken by the USDA/RA have faded from view, having succumbed to land concentration, urbanization and suburbanization, economic failure, and a variety of other pressures.

Projects where communities share their successes and challenges are particularly timely. Communities surrounded by limited-resource and small-scale family farmers nationwide have rapidly vanished from the landscape ideal still deeply ingrained in American culture (see Berry, 1977; Vogeler, 1981). The South's Black farm land owners and operators have disappeared at a rate significantly greater than their white counterparts (Wood and Gilbert, 1998; Zabawa, 1991).

Recently analyzed Census data, however, show that, contrary to expectations, certain southern states have experienced a slight rise in both Black farm land and black farm operators (USDA, 1997; Zabawa 1999). Such increases may result from USDA-funded collaborative programs directed toward Black farmers (such as the 2501 Small Farm Outreach Training and Technical Assistance programs based at the 1890 and 1994 institutions, and at community-based organizations such as the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation). These projects have provided the technical assistance necessary for Black farmers to gain access to programs previously denied them. In this regard, they may be interpreted as a return to the proactive development programs of the original Resettlement Administration.

Because of the success of the 2501 and other technical assistance programs, we suggest that additional collaborative and TA programs can be designed to maintain the momentum of the last decade. It will augment, at community, university, and agency levels, our understanding of the factors or "ingredients" that ensure a rural agricultural community's growth and maturation. The primary value of the proposed project is regional, in particular among the southern Black Belt states. Other regions experienced similar community development projects in the 1930s, and there is considerable overlap with ongoing and future research across the U.S.

Project Objectives:

Communities at risk benefit enormously from establishing a coherent sense of their own history and planning and implementing their own development strategies using local resources. Thus the products of the proposed project benefit a wider community than simply using the resources of an agency or university. The communities involved, such as Tillery, NC, Aberdeen Gardens, Prairie Farms and Flint River Farms have already initiated research into their past; others have responded enthusiastically to preliminary investigations (Hargrove and Zabawa 2004, Warren and Zabawa 1998, Zabawa and Warren 1998, Zabawa 1999, pers. comm.). The opportunity for these communities to gather together and share their experiences and strategies towards a common goal of sustainable development is unique.

In December 2004, the 62nd Annual Professional Agricultural Workers Conference at Tuskegee University hosted a meeting of Southern Resettlement communities. The theme of this meeting was “Pioneering Communities: Revisiting New Deal Resettlement.” The goal of this meeting was for leaders in these communities to share their common and unique experiences with each other.

The focus on this subsequent meeting was to address specific issues relevant to the sustainable development of the participating communities. Through on-going discussion with community leaders an initial set of workshop activities was developed to address community and agricultural development. Examples include:

Grantsmanship—this topic is critical for local citizens to be able to access funding opportunities from the local to the national level that deal with individual home repairs to creating community parks and recreation facilities. Participants will be given a list of potential grant donors, and then they will receive skills training on how to write to submit applications for funding.

Tourism—the creation of these specific communities through New Deal programs is a historical fact that is being lost to subsequent generations. Opportunities to highlight this history through tours, museum displays, WebPages, and popular publications are critical to passing this knowledge on.

Small Business Development—individual participants have opportunities to develop activities from small farm production and marketing to cottage industries such as quilting and bed and breakfast enterprises.

In August 2006, the program “Pioneering Communities: Celebrating New Deal Resettlement II” convened in Macon County, Georgia and hosted by the the Flint River Farms Resettlement Community. This program was supported by USDA SARE/SRDC grant # CS05-039. The objectives of this project outline the focus and purpose of this workshop. The objectives of the proposed project were as follows:

Objective One—each community participant will attend a series of workshop sessions that target specific sustainable community development strategies, including: grantsmanship, tourism (community/historical and agricultural), natural resource development and small business development.

Objective Two—each community will engage in an extensive assessment process to: (a) identify local resources or endowments (social/cultural, economic, natural); (b) identify resources available at the local, regional and national levels that support local agricultural and community development. An inventory of these resources will be developed.

Objective Three—upon identification of resources, participants will work with experts to develop a plan of action for accessing these resources. The plan of action will be individualized and catered to the needs of each community.

Based on evaluations form previous workshops, the objectives for the 2007 workshop were as follows:

Objective One—each community participant will attend a series of workshop sessions that target specific sustainable community development strategies, including: land retention, website development and other forms of communication, grantsmanship, and natural resource development as it applies to conservation, taxation and education.

Objective Two—each community will engage in an extensive assessment process to: (a) identify local resources or endowments (social/cultural, economic, natural); (b) identify resources available at the local, regional and national levels that support local agricultural and community development. An inventory of these resources will be developed.

Objective Three—upon identification of resources, participants will work with experts to develop a plan of action for accessing these resources. The plan of action will be individualized and catered to the needs of each community.


Materials and methods:

The project convened a meeting of leaders from the selected Resettlement Communities in the summer of 2007. The Resettlement Community of Aberdeen Gardens, in Hampton, VA, hosted the workshop. This contribution was significant because Aberdeen Gardens is a leader in developing its community infrastructure, including a museum, through partnerships with local and state government agencies and the results have been recognized with state and national community of the year awards. At the same time, a member of Aberdeen Gardens reported that as Virginia was preparing for its historic Jamestown Celebration (1607 – 2007), the classes provided by the SARE-project workshop in Georgia “…on tourism, business planning and grant writing were most helpful in helping us to get prepared for visitors visiting our museum. The museum is a major tourist attraction in Hampton, Virginia” (Aberdeen Gardens Correspondence, 2006).
The potential for success was based on the meeting being community-specific and participatory. A further value of this project is that it was participatory at the community level. The value of this approach was illustrated in a previous workshop where the participants found strength in convening with like-minded communities. One participant remarked: “The least I will come away with is to be excited about getting moving again, to show off what legacy what we have, to be proud of what we have.” They were then followed by: “We need to get back to the way we used to be. We worked together. If one didn’t have, we all didn’t have. If one had, we all had. I’m proud to be amongst us to do this. We need to get back to ‘us’ in a bad way….the pride of being ‘us.’ You have to have pride in yourself to keep going.”

Research results and discussion:

Each community was asked to present on the activities, those accomplished and those on-going, from the previous year.

Aberdeen Gardens

Purchasing house adjoining Museum for administrative offices.
Planning fund raising activities: annual gala and
golf tournament.
Planning for Heritage Day.
Planning Live to Learn/Learn to Live Health Fair.
Book release for History of Aberdeen Gardens set for November 12, 2007.
Hiring a student intern from Hampton University to work in Museum.
Received grant funds.
Looking for grant opportunities.

Allendale Farms

Collecting photographs for a pictorial representation of the community.
Working on a current survey map of the community.
Starting application for historical marker for community.
Initiating possible purchase of original school property for community activities similar to Flint River Farms.

Flint River Farms

Going to local schools to discuss history of Flint River Farms.
Creating “Taste of Flint River Farms” recipe book.
Developing park:Installing electricity,building restrooms,adding concrete slabs to pavilions, Purchasing two storage buildings.
Planning for community gardens and tree museum.
Established a 25-acre nature walking trail.
Cleared and additional eight acres.
Obtained a $15,000 grant.
Emphasized working with youth.
Had Community Awareness Days.

Mound Farms

Creating community roundtable.
Start community conversation and oral history.
Develop Indian Mounds as a tourist attraction.
Development/renovation of original school—local school reunion is strong.
Working on application for historical marker.


Produced video on local history.
Just received historical marker.
Held annual senior “prom.”
Held summer youth empowerment camp—planted a garden.
Prints quarterly newsletter.
Developing museum—“History House.”
Collaborator in telemedicine project.
Continues to work on landloss issues.

Sabine Farms

Started work on site clean-up, including remnants of school—obtained donations of heavy equipment for job.
Started application for 501 c-3 status with help from Rio Grande Legal Aid.

The communities were then divided into groups to focus on major topics for future activities based on the accomplishments of the previous year as reported earlier.

Farmers Markets

Local production and seasonal products.
Funding to create and maintain Market.
Link Resettlement Communities to highlight specialty crops/products.

History and Youth

Expand historical background while bringing in youth participation.
Heritage trails, link with websites, maps, literature.


Website Development:history section, photo gallery,compare and contrast, before and after,highlight old skills,quilting,canning, gardening,connect with youth.
Newsletter (see above.

After reporting on initial group discussion, the groups met again and discussed issues further.


Farmers Markets.
Vendors at State and Local Fairs.
Roadside Produce Stands.
Traditional and Heirloom Plants.
Hiking, Camping, Hunting, Fishing.

Tourism and the Farm Plan

Personal Assessment.
Business Goals and Objectives.
External Resources.
Internal Resource Assessment.
Business Plan.

Tours for Enhanced Direct Marketing

Pick-Your-Own Fruits and Vegetables.
Sell Local Produce—Jellies, Honey, Relishes.
Herbal/Organic Products—Candles, Salves, Wool, Cotton.
Handicrafts—Quilts, Sweaters, Throws.

Youth and Adult Education

Organized Tours—schools, Seniors, Churches.
Ag-Education Programs—Feed Cows, Grow Tomatoes, Quilting.
Nature Education—Wildlife, Trees.
Demonstrations—Honey, Wine, Cheese.



Risk and Legal Issues

Risk Assessment and Management.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Each community has developed a poster that highlights the history of their community.

There have also been partnerships developed between the communities and local universities, including:
Aberdeen Gardens and Hampton University; Flint River Farms and Fort Valley State University; Mound Farms and Southern University, Prairie Farms and Tuskegee University, etc.

The communities have also participated in local community events, history days, and have made presentations at local schools.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

At the end of the workshop sessions participants were asked to fill out an evaluation. Summary results are as follows:

September 20 – 22, 2007
Host Community: Aberdeen Gardens, Virginia

Evaluation Results

Please use the following scale to rank the different parts of the community development workshop:

1 = poor; 2 = fair; 3 = good; 4 = very good;
5 = excellent

Please circle the appropriate number to evaluate the following:


1.Session 1: Project Updates/Status Reports Total=71; Mean=4.73
Learning about the new things other Resettlement Communities are doing to present their stories – PowerPoint presentations, newsletters, DVDs, etc. – and raising funds has given us more ideas about what we can also do.

2.Session 2: Grant Opportunities in SARE Total=71; Mean=4.73

3.Session 3: Agri-Tourism Total=67; Mean=4.47

4.Session 4: Involving Youth Total=71; Mean=4.73

5.1. Asset Building and Estate Planning Total=69; Mean=4.6

5.2. Board of Directors Training Total=69; Mean=4.6
Too detailed, all not needed.

Facilities and Fieldtrips:

5.How would you rank the hotel facilities? Total=60; Mean=4.62
Rooms were clean, spacious and full of amenities.
Must have coffee and drinks at break.

6.How would you rank the fieldtrip to Hampton University? Total=60; Mean=4.62

7.How would you rank the fieldtrip to Aberdeen Gardens? Total=46; Mean=4.6

Current and Future Activities:

8.What is your overall evaluation of the workshop Total=72; Mean=4.8
As a speaker I enjoyed the workshop for the first time attending.
Overall, the opportunity to meet with counterparts in the other Resettlement Communities, to learn about the potential for promoting tourism, youth development and sources of possible grants has been invaluable. I continue to be encouraged and motivated to move forward focusing initially on our short term goals.

9.hould another workshop on the New Deal
Resettlement Communities be convened yes: 12 (80%) no: 3 (20%)

a.If yes, should the workshop be hosted by (please circle choice)

i.Another Resettlement Community 11(92%)

ii.Tuskegee University 1(8%)

iii.Other: ____________________________________

10.Any final comments:

Very good program and workshop.

At each meeting I come away more inspired. I picked up a lot of new ideas which we must explore.

The 4 teams didn’t work very well, our focus wasn’t clear, the team concept seemed forced and not productive.

This was an outstanding program. And it took a lot of hard work and planning to put on such a program and thanks to all and may God continue to bless us all!


Potential Contributions

At least three areas were emphasized in individual community and groups sessions.

First, community gardening, farmers markets, and local seasonal and specialty crops and products.

Second, youth involvement, including merging history and youth.

Third, communication via web pages and newsletters.

These areas could be addressed not only as individual topics but as related activities as well. For example, web pages can be used to display old photographs, traditional crafts and methods, or advertise produce, or be used in the school systems to highlight community history. They are also a good way for the various Resettlement Communities to keep up to date on what their partner communities are doing.

Future Recommendations

All of the participants were asked for suggested topics for further discussion at a future meeting. These topics included:

Changes since last meeting, updates.

Grant/loan opportunities.

Section dealing with government – how to get your local politicians involved to support your community, or what has worked for various communities.

Basic agri-tourism.

Estate planning.

Follow-up on projects stated 9/21/07.

How we can save the homes.

Foods grown and eaten in comparison to regions.

Whatever areas would be helpful to us in leadership roles in our groups.

Similar or same topics as discussed on 9/20/07.

The community at Mound, Louisiana has volunteered to host the next meeting.

It was further suggested that funds be sought to support this meeting.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.