The Role of Black Farmer Organizers in Promoting Healthy and Sustainable Local Community Food Access

Progress report for GS22-270

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $15,258.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2024
Grant Recipient: Virginia Tech
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. Kim Niewolny
Virginia Tech
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Project Information


Black farmers play an integral role in cultivating sustainable agricultural systems and promoting viable economic development. That notwithstanding, the number of Black farmers in the U.S. is steadily declining; which poses a risk to sustainable agricultural development and socially just food access in the U.S (Jennings, 2020). Black farmers are also actively serving as leaders in rural and urban communities, addressing historically complex food system needs from food production to food access (White, 2018). For such an important contribution, little is still known regarding how the collective leadership of Black farmers shapes the creation and trajectory of sustainable food systems in local communities. This project aims to fill that gap through a community-based case study approach with Black farmer organizers in the Commonwealth of Virginia, who are actively farming and providing local leadership to address the core goals of sustainable food system development (i.e., soil health, food access, social justice, and economic wealth) in their communities. Furthermore, this study aligns the findings through a collective agency lens for analyzing the synergies embedded in the Black farmer networks and how they are building sustainable local food access pathways. Finally, the study aims to identify recommendations for sustainable community development through agriculture led by Black farmers as illustrations of self-determination and community resiliency. These findings are of significant benefit to community stakeholders, local food movement actors, sustainable agriculture service providers, extension professionals, and rural/urban farmers. Although the study is specific to Virginia, the research may have broader implications for similar geographical regions.


Project Objectives:
  1. To understand how Black farmer organizers and their networks and synergies are building sustainable local food access pathways.
  2. To identify recommendations for sustainable community development through Black farmer-led initiatives as illustrations of self-determination and community resiliency.
  3. To determine the contemporary patterns leading to the decline of Black farmers.


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  • Michael Carter, Jr (Educator)


Materials and methods:


This study will employ a community-based case study (Yin,2003; Baskarada, 2012) of Black farmers who are at the forefront of sustainable agricultural development in Virginia. The study also seeks answers to the critical question: How are contemporary Black farmer organizers and their networks actively creating sustainable food systems pathways?



Data Collection:

Virginia Tech’s IRB Protocols for working with human subjects (recruitment of participants, interview questions, and the various determinants to the potential impacts of the research) will be submitted for approval. The main qualification to participate in the study includes being a Black farmer, however, other prerequisites include: being an organizer, an educator, a grassroots leader, and identifying as an underserved farmer. Three key informants who are Black farmers and have experience working with other farmers will be contacted. A list of potential participants will be developed with the assistance of the key informants.

A preliminary content analysis will be conducted. This will be in the form of website searches, social media content, and publicly available data found on the participants’ websites.

Semi-structured in-person interviews will be conducted to collect individual perspectives and experiences of the farmer participants. These interviews will be audio recorded. The key informants and the potential participants (n=16) will be offered remuneration as time compensation per VT’s IRB policy. The interviews will be coded to determine emergent trends. There will be an additional focus group interview/discussion conducted, where the data collected during the first round of individual interviews will be presented to the group for their perspectives. The focus group interviews/discussions will be audio recorded.

Data Analysis:

The audio recordings of the interviews will be transcribed and textually coded for a priori and emergent trends using Nvivo or other qualitative data analysis software.


Presentation of Findings:

The findings from this SARE-funded research will be shared at departmental seminars, graduate research seminars, and local conferences, such as the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference (VABF). The findings will also be presented at regional and national conferences, with a manuscript on the role of Black farmers organizers in promoting healthy and sustainable local community food access will be submitted for publication in appropriate journals, such as the Journal of Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society.

Participation Summary
25 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Tours
3 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

25 Farmers participated
30 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Preliminary findings from this SARE-funded research were shared at the 2023 Southern Rural Sociological Association’s conference in Oklahoma City, the Virginia Tech Graduate Students’ Research Symposium, the ALCE Symposium, and the Ujima Jams with Black farmers from the Mid-Atlantic regions. Abstracts have also been accepted for the upcoming Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society conference, where the findings will also be presented.

Project Outcomes

Knowledge Gained:

I gained insights into the working relationships and the strategies employed by Black farmer organizers in mitigating food access issues. In addition, I was able to build networks with multiple Black farmers who are utilizing various sustainable agricultural practices and are also using their farms as spaces to create affinity groups. 

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.