Sowing Seeds Abroad: Exploring the Lived Experiences of African Immigrant Farmers in the United States

Final report for GS23-277

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2023: $8,074.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2025
Grant Recipient: University of Florida
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. Matthew Benge
University of Florida
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Project Information


The study explores the lived experiences of African immigrant farmers in the U.S. The number of African immigrants in the U.S. has increased over the years. Although U.S. stakeholders have intensified the integration of African immigrants into U.S. society, African immigrants face food insecurity attributed to a lack of culturally appropriate foods. Accordingly, African immigrant farmers are mushrooming across the U.S. to satisfy the growing demand for culturally appropriate foods.  

However, like other black farmers in the U.S., African immigrant farmers encounter the existential challenges of race and discrimination inherent within U.S. agriculture which limits their access to vital agricultural inputs, markets, and extension services.

Nonetheless, the participation of African immigrant farmers in U.S. agriculture could broaden access to healthy and culturally appropriate foods while concurrently bolstering the number of rapidly declining black farmers. Besides, farming could provide a social learning space for infusing different farming practices necessary to revitalize sustainable agriculture. However, limited research has explored the lived experiences of African immigrant farmers despite their intersectional challenges of being black, immigrants, and sometimes women or Muslims.

Therefore, this study adopts phenomenology to understand the lived experiences of African immigrant farmers. Between eight and ten African immigrant farmers from across the nation will participate in the study. The study will increase awareness of the existence of African immigrant farmers, including their needs, barriers, and opportunities. The study will also stimulate the recalibration of policies and programs in designing, implementing, and evaluating extension systems through a culturally responsive lens.


Project Objectives:

The specific objectives of this study are:

  1. To understand what motivates African immigrants to become farmers in the United States.
  2. To explore what the process of becoming a farmer in the U.S. is like for African immigrant farmers.
  3. To understand the challenges African immigrant farmers experience and identity how they address such challenges.


Materials and methods:

This phenomenological research seeks to understand the lived experiences of African immigrant farmers in the United States. Phenomenology is defined as the study of the essence of a lived experience or a lifeworld (Moustakas, 1994). To understand human lived experience, individuals who have lived that experience should be engaged to understand their meaning-making process (Moustakas, 1994). Understanding people’s lived experiences goes beyond taking merely what is given, it involves going deeper to understand the meaning of the experience. Consequently, African immigrants’ participation in agriculture is a phenomenon with different angles and nuances. This research seeks to explore what those experiences mean to African immigrant farmers.

Understanding people’s lived experiences involves engaging with them directly and hearing their stories to make meaning of the experience. People tell their stories best through personal engagements. It is against this backdrop that we choose to incorporate qualitative methods-interviews and field observation. By using both methods, we hope to triangulate and enrich our data beyond what a singular method could have done. Interviews and participant observation are appropriate in this study as they give the participants the chance to tell their stories in their own voices and without any pressure. Furthermore, collecting data or interviewing farmers in their farmers is important to ensure the contexts of farming can be observed in detail. By observing and asking questions, we can extrapolate how the farmer is engaging in sustainable agriculture.

Accordingly, this research will recruit between eight and ten research participants. Participants will be drawn from different states including Florida, Georgia, Texas, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. The choice of the state depends on the accessibility of the gatekeepers and research participants.

Although this research covers other states outside the jurisdiction of the Southern SARE chapter, we are cognizant of the mutuality of SARE goals-creating sustainable agricultural practices nationally. Whereas the population of African immigrant farmers in the Southern chapter might be low, this does not negate the need for understanding their lived experiences. Furthermore, immigration headwinds point to an increasing migration towards the rapidly growing Southern States-Texas, Florida, and Georgia, to mention a few. Thus, it is imperative to explore how these Southern states integrate immigrant farmers within their growing economies. Moreover, this research can foster cross-state or cross-city learning by comparing how States outside the Southern region are integrating immigrant farmers within their boundaries.

As the movie Fields of Dreams corroborates, “If we build it, they will come”. As the Southern agriculture landscape expands and is increasingly inviting to diverse farmers, African immigrant farmers will surely come. Therefore, this study will serve as a great learning curve to better design inviting sustainable agricultural environments, both conventional and urban agriculture which will attract immigrants. Importantly, the study will reinforce the need for putting culture at the center of decision-making when designing, implementing, monitoring, or evaluating extension education projects.

To access participants, we will use different approaches including African immigrant churches, social organizations, associations, ethnic groups, and immigrant-serving organizations such as the Village, Sharing Our Roots, and Kilimo. A combination of purposive and snowballing selection methods will be used to identify and recruit research participants. The major selection criteria are: (1) anyone who identifies as an African immigrant; (2) black; and (3) grows crops or keeps livestock in the United States. Once the research participants are selected, an interview questionnaire will be used to collect demographic information and other related information as well as seek the participants’ consent to participate in the study.

Interviews will be conducted at the farm level or at a point of interest to the farmer. However, interviews will occur only after visiting the farm to conduct field observations. Visiting farmers will be essential to identify the farming styles, size of farms, organizations, and challenges as observed by the researcher. Field interviews will range from 45-120 minutes as informed by prevailing circumstances. Interviews will be conducted in English except in other circumstances whereby research participants cannot speak in English. In such circumstances, a translator from the community will be sought.

The researcher will transcribe data using software. Thereafter, data will be cleaned by listening to the audio recordings several times to ensure the transcripts reflect the exact information from the participants. Data analysis will follow a strictly interpretive phenomenological data analysis procedure by Moustakas (1994). Data will be presented to the University of Florida Dissertation Committee, with several publications after the University presentation.

Research results and discussion:

The first research question sought to understand motivations and benefits of becoming a SSAI farmer in the U.S. It aimed at exploring how SSAI decide to become farmers and the benefits derived from being a farmer in the U.S. Data analysis revealed four themes which included: passion for farming, filing in the gap, Feeling at Home, and the perceived benefits of farming as discussed below. The second research question sought to understand how African immigrants become farmers in the U.S. The themes identified for the second research question were: figuring it out alone, self-directed learning, pursuing formal education, developing, and utilizing social networks, and mentorship. Research question three examined challenges African immigrants face in their farming encounters, yielding five themes: environmental adjustments, being out of the system, difficulty to break-even, paperwork, and We have our own stigma.

Participation Summary
8 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Outcomes from this research finalized. One presentation was made from this project to faculty and graduate students in the student's academic department.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

This study contributed a deeper understanding of the experiences of African immigrant farmers in the U.S., underscoring the role of culture in becoming and remaining a farmer. This study advances understanding of the vital role culture plays in immigrant farming and why it should form the locus of delivering services to immigrant farmers. Parental and environmental influence work in tandem to cement cultural belief of farming as a lifestyle. African Immigrants’ social networks are intricately linked to their decisions of becoming and remaining a farmer as they unlock information and other critical resources indispensable to becoming a better farmer. These findings will be consequential to extension practitioners, researchers, and policymakers in designing culturally responsive support systems. The study clarified the farming identities immigrants bring with them from their countries of origin. It is imperative that organizations serving immigrants understand their contexts in terms of their knowledge, aspirations, and barriers to serve them better . Deep understanding of SSAI contexts, both past and present, could foster opportunities for stakeholders serving immigrants to harness their indigenous knowledge in any attempts to integrate them into the host communities or country.

Organizations serving immigrant communities should foreground understanding their socio-cultural, economic, and geographic backgrounds. SSAI are diverse in terms of tribal or ethnic affiliations as well as cultural ontologies. Thus, knowing the potential tribal or ethnic burdens and histories is critical to promote collective actions and build power with other communities. Understanding the pre-existing power structures among the immigrant communities (Foucault, 1985) is fundamental to avoid any cultural or ethnic backlash which might slow down immigrant integration in the host communities or country. For agricultural institutions such as Land Grant Universities and Cooperative Extension, this study reveals the underlying needs of emerging new farmers. It also suggests ways to invite the diverse immigrant communities through community-centric policies, processes, programs and places . First, the findings reiterate why conducting needs assessment among the immigrant communities is pivotal to better help them . It also enhances understanding where SSAI farmers are in their farming journeys to better design scaffolded learning system anchored on the prior farming knowledge of SSAI . A better understanding of African immigrant needs is cardinal in leveraging their indigenous and prior knowledge while designing responsive integration services.

Enhanced understanding of SSAIs can facilitate immigrant serving organizations to design a culturally responsive service delivery systems by first meeting immigrant farmers where they are and developing open, respectful, and inviting relationships. Relationships based on trust can open up opportunities to understand the aspirations and goals of immigrants, preferred learning styles, and work towards helping them achieve their goals . Moreover, open relationships foster nuanced and collaborative approaches in grooming community mentors who are culturally sensitive, knowledgeable, and willing to support immigrant farmers. Immigrants' access to culturally appropriate learning opportunities and resources are fundamental to tasting the waters as beginner farmers . This research can also help organizations serving immigrant to design and implement immigrant-centric communications channels and methods to improve adoption of disseminated technologies. Notably, stakeholders should understand the competing demands on SSAI farmers’ time including their off-farm jobs . As such, extension can better meet immigrant farmers at a time and place of their convenience. Equally, these revelations can facilitate designing capacity building and learning methods to meet immigrant needs. For instance, the research revelations might encourage stakeholders serving immigrants to follow up with immigrant farmers to know their progress and make any further recommendations for improvements.

Most importantly, this study invites extension systems to recalibrate their focus and move beyond classrooms to using video-mediating learning that leverages the unique positionality of immigrant farmers. Equally, it calls for organizations serving immigrant to maintain an active online presence in social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube, and to actively populate these sites with culturally appropriate extension systems that are palatable to new knowledge seekers and self-directed learners.

Additionally, the study provides the impetus for embedding participatory community development approaches in integrating immigrant communities. One feasible approach is to embed the Community Capitals Framework and asset-based frameworks to leverage immigrant assets . This also means that community development approaches should focus on empowering communities from their own cultural positionality. Understanding the unique positions of African immigrants is essential to cross the bridge and facilitate co-learning as opposed to top-down development approaches.

This study illuminated that immigrants’ social networks and relationships are fundamental in their decisions to become farmers and ultimately determine their experiences. As such, organizations serving immigrants can change their teaching and learning approaches to be more collaborative, experiential, and self-directed while concurrently acknowledging immigrants’ thirst for social networks. Enhanced understanding of the cultural and learning standpoints of African immigrants could foster adoption and integration of peer-learning toolkits like the farmer-to-farmer while addressing socially-oriented groups like the African immigrant farmers.

At the same time, there is a need for differentiated approaches when trying to understand the production capacities of women and men . While men have more time, and resources including the ability to attend meetings and talking to extension agents and researchers, most women are busy providing familial care . Women face unique challenges that require unique interventions when designing and implementing not only extension systems but also policies around farming . This will foster a better understanding of the intersectionality of culture, gender, and class of the immigrant communities so as to design farmer-centric extension systems that recognize the unique challenges of women and men farmers . A nuanced understanding of the context of women will facilitate planning for childcare and such stuff that goes into the triple burden of women: production; reproduction; and community or caring.

This study has revealed the motivations, challenges, and ways immigrants navigate becoming a farmer in the U.S. Consequently, stakeholders serving immigrants can better extrapolate the likelihood of more immigrants becoming farmers and what their needs would be. Such understanding would foster dialogue around policy needs, institutional reforms, and budgetary allocations to cater for the needs of the new American farmer. This study has exposed the underlying need of belongingness among African immigrant farmers. As such, policymakers can design responsive policies that create inclusive and inviting environments to immigrant farmers. Also, policymakers can better design policies that satisfies this underlying motivation for immigrants becoming farmers. This study reveals the need for expanding community gardens and other necessary infrastructure to provide immigrant apprenticeship through a streamlined process. This calls for policy adjustments around land zoning, budgetary allocations, credit requirements, farmers markets policies, or land access through a culturally appropriate lens. One suggestion is to expand community gardens in urban and peri-urban areas to unlock the potential of immigrants and other minority farmers.

Although program evaluation is fundamental to understanding level of program satisfaction, organizations serving immigrant farmers should adjust the metrics of evaluations to accommodate their unique needs. This means that organizations should factor things like number of social networks developed, and the feel of belongingness of immigrants as evaluation indicators. Finally, this study offers recommendations to government agencies and other non-governmental organizations like USAID implementing the farmer-to-farmer programs in Africa to leverage the expertise of SSAI farmers to disseminate knowledge. African immigrants’ farmers have a better understanding of the cultural context of other African countries and could be a resource in scaling up the impacts of peer-to-peer learning mechanisms like farmer-to-farmer.

Knowledge Gained:

The Socio-Ecological Model (SEM) by Bronfenbrenner was able to explain the various components of SSAIs' strengths and weaknesses of farming in the U.S., and provided evidence that both personality, culture, and environment played a role in farming information and practices. We conceptualized a new framework to encapsulate new concepts and ideas. At the foundational level, cultural or indigenous knowledge and social networks still flow from immigrants’ countries of origin to support in their farming endeavors. Although immigrants expand their social networks outside the community, they often rely on ethnic or tribal connections first. Next, immigrants rely on social networks, community level organizations like agro-stores, farmers’ markets, and churches for information. At the same time, SSAI expand their social networks through participating at incubator programs, community gardens, or farmer markets. Collectively, such resources dictate the experiences of the African immigrant farmers. A shift related to the need of belongingness from the immigrants’ country of origin to the host country as they participate in agriculture. Lastly, cultural exchanges occur between immigrants as they engage with their social networks in the host countries. There is mutual learning and collaboration emanating from the close relationships between African immigrant farmers and the host community. These cultural exchanges and information facilitate the integration and experiences of African immigrant farmers within U.S. food systems.


This study extends the knowledge frontier concerning African immigrant farmers. This research acts as the eye-opener and conversation starter on the plights of this increasingly important but marginalized group within the U.S. food system. Therefore, it can foster a better understanding of who the African immigrant farmers are, and what their research needs are to facilitate better policies. Participatory research methods can be utilized by giving the research participants opportunities to set their own research agenda. Winch (2013) advocated for empowering research communities through giving them a voice to partake in setting the research agenda. Furthermore, Mertens (2009) advocated for transformative research processes. This would require researchers to engage more in demand-driven and people-centric research.

These findings add to body of knowledge around the motivations, expectations, and challenges of being an African immigrant farmer and sets the stage for future research. One glaring limitation of this study is that participants were mostly of Kenyan descent. Besides, even among the Kenyan population, this study excluded participants with language barriers who didn’t speak English. Thus, owing to the diversity of the African immigrants based on cultures, religions languages or literacy levels, future research should include a diverse population of African immigrant to explore their experiences becoming farmers in the U.S. Additionally, research could consider using ethnography for field immersion to explore what farming as an African immigrant entail.

Owing to the vital role of indigenous knowledge in immigrant farming practices, albeit with little understanding how such knowledge changes, further research should explore whether African immigrants rely on indigenous knowledge as they expand production. Moreover, research should investigate the role of indigenous knowledge in the adoption of new agricultural practices and should explore the effectiveness of indigenous knowledge gained through social media platforms. Social media and technology in general emerged as core tenets of immigrants’ self-directed learning toolkits. More research is necessary to evaluate whether culture plays any role in social media learning platforms. Do farmers really care whether the video was created by someone who looks like them or not? Do farmers consider cultural tangency when using social media tools like YouTube?

Research should investigate the role of gender in becoming a farmer in the U.S. Research should explore whether there are any SSAI women farmers out there and what their experiences are. Furthermore, additional research is necessary to understand the role of gender in the adoption of disseminated technologies. Closely linked, more research is necessary to explore the extent to which agriculture contributes to imported gender inequality and how SSAI navigate these nuances. As immigrants increasingly rely on their social networks for resources, further research is necessary to better understand its implications. First, research is needed to determine whether immigrants’ social economic status influence their affinity to use peer-to-peer learning or farmer-to-farmer extension. Secondly, more research is necessary to investigate whether such peer learning mechanisms enhance access to resources like land among immigrant farmers.

Most SSAI farmers noted their limited engagement with extension services, citing lack of time or their limited production. Accordingly, further research should also investigate the perceptions of SSAI farmers regarding access to extension services. Are they really pressed for time, do they prefer other ways of learning, or their past experiences contributed to their perceptions about utilizing extension services? This research was exploratory and conducted through more of a deficit approach. In other words, the researcher assumed that African immigrants encountered challenges becoming farmers. Although this holds true for any farmer, research should use the Community Capitals Framework (CCF) to evaluate the assets and resources SSAIs bring with them, and how such capitals influence their integration within U.S. food system.

The study focused primarily on understanding the lived experiences of SSAI farmers. However, the experience of SSAIs depends on the prevailing organizational cultures and how they work to influence the experiences of SSAIs. Thus, further research is necessary to explore the lived experiences of organizations serving immigrant farmers. Specifically, research should explore the experiences, and perceptions of managers or staff of organizations serving immigrant farmers. Such understanding would facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the experiences of SSAIs and the challenges organizations serving them encounter. Lastly, as food insecurity is a increasingly a global phenomenon, further research should investigate the interconnections between immigrant’s participation in farming in the U.S. and its impact on their native countries. Are there any connections or linkages to farming in their home country? How do immigrants contribute to agricultural development in their home countries.

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.