Diversity - The Continuing Face of Sustainable Agriculture

Final Report for LNC08-307

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $100,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Barbara Norman
Michigan Food and Farming Systems
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Project Information


This project has provided outreach to minority farmers in seven of the twelve states in the North Central SARE region. This project has carried the SARE Sustainable Agriculture story to well over 2,000 small scale, limited-resource producers and families. The Continuing Face of Sustainable Agriculture (CFSA) project has exposed them to SARE bulletins, pamphlets, books, and grants. The project included visits to the farms of Michigan NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant awardees, and a Farmers Forum at the Annual Michigan Family Farms (MIFFS) Conference (2010 attendance was 460). Our primary work areas included Kansas, Nebraska, Illinois and Michigan, where we received assistance from farmers and organizers to complete our scope of work.


There is a vast amount of diversity in the targeted geographic communities reached by this project ranging from:

• Michigan - Detroit Urban Farmers, Urban farmers growing sustainable food in raised bed gardens on vacant lots in Detroit, Michigan (eleventh largest US city - population was 951,270 according to the 2000 Census.) Covert, MI served as the adjunct base of operations and Barbara Norman was the primary communicator with all participants.

• Illinois - Small-Scale African American Farmers. Hidden among the corn fields in Kankakee County, Hopkins Park Village and Pembroke Township, Illinois (population 2,400 per the 2000 Census; 56 sq. miles, all of it farm land) is home to a historically rich group of African American farmers servicing the Chicago, IL markets.

• Kansas – Historic Community of African American farmers. Nicodemus, Kansas (population 52 per the 2000 Census; 2007 Census population: 24; town has a total area of 32.32 square miles, population per square mile 1.61), is a registered National Historic site and home to original descendants from the great migration of free men of color seeking land after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Project Objectives:

CFSA's project objective was to assist North Central Region SARE to reach out to and work with limited-resource and minority farmers in underserved communities.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Morse Brown
  • Elaine Brown


Materials and methods:
Understanding Barriers

Despite the diversities in the targeted communities, their barriers have several similarities:
1. People - one too many and one too few.
2. Lack of resources and technical assistance.
3. Lack of knowledge of and participation in USDA/SARE, and United States Department of Agriculture programs in their entirety.
4. Not enough access to a healthy, fresh and sustainable food system.

These thriving communities have some contrasting barriers also;
1. Shortage of land per population density
2. Not easily accessed - communities hidden from mainstream America
3. Inadequate natural water supply during growing season

Because the barriers that limited resource and underserved populations have so many similarities, this project by the way of outreach and personal mentoring, is far reaching beyond its targeted geographic areas. We have clearly demonstrated a no-boundaries relationship-building project. The sustainable working partnerships and collaborations that have evolved lead to an on-going mentoring program with overall regional success.

Research results and discussion:

Team Leader: Casemmie ‘Johari’ Cole, IYABO FARMS
2495 S. 14490 E. Rd, Pembroke, IL 60958, 815-944-5891 [email protected]

This project area is led by Casemmie ‘Johari’ Cole of IYABO Farms. IYABO Farms, a certified Organic farm, has been used as a demonstration area and learning center for farmers, interns and urban youth for over 12 years. Johari Cole and her husband, Sharadi Kweli, are members of the Pembroke Farming Family Association (PFF), which provides networking, support, and training to over 20 African American farmers in the Pembroke, IL community. Sharadi Kweli is PFF President. Pembroke Township is a historic African American community, founded by Free Men of Color back in the 1850’s. It has a strong agricultural past and the work of Johari and the PFF organization is to preserve, maintain, and further this rich legacy.

As a participant in this SARE project, Johari Cole has been able to continue the PFF effort by establishing extended networks and links to technical assistance, training, workshops, and conferences; as well as playing a key role in national and IL state food systems work. Developing and hosting the Youth Sustainable Workshops at the MIFFS Conference was also a highlight.

In August 2009, Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law HB3990 (proposed by the IL Organic Food and Farms Task Force) establishing the IL Local Food Farms and Jobs Council, to research and develop a viable local foods system for the health and prosperity of all Illinois residents and farms. Johari Cole, supported by the MIFFS-SARE project, was instrumental in this quest and has been reappointed by the Governor to sit on the newly formed Council. She was recently elected Vice President and continues to represent the small family farms and African American farm communities.

Extended Partners and Service Providers are:
Pembroke Farming Family
13647 E. Central
Pembroke, IL 60958

Organic Farming Research Foundation
Santa Cruz, CA

IL Local Food and Farms and Jobs Council
Springfield, IL

University of IL Extension
Bradley, IL

Michigan Food and Farming Systems -MIFFS
Morse Brown, Barbara Norman
Paw Paw Street (Suite 201)
Paw Paw, Michigan 49079


Team Leaders: Cornelius Williams/Leslie Huffman, Vandalia Garden
4819 Ashland Detroit, Michigan, 48215, (616)302-0319, [email protected]

Two years ago Cornelius Williams, owner/operator of large cash crop farm in Southwestern Michigan, through a joint collaboration with the Healing Network, began the City to Farm project. Joined by partner Leslie Huffman, they sought to bring urban dwellers a farming experience by providing them an opportunity to learn to produce their own sustainable fresh foods, as well as return to the land as part of a healing of body, mind and spirit. Vandalia Gardens brought the country life to inner-city Detroit, and farming became a reality in the city. One observer said; “I used to have to go a long ways to see a farm like this, now I don’t”. They work with and teach a Master Gardener’s program, and Leslie is also leader of Vandalia Gardens’ 4-H club in inner-city Detroit.

The partners have encouraged the development of sustainability through the production of food in 4x8 foot raised beds through their In–Your-Own-Back-Yard project in which over 25 families participated. In addition, they have conducted numerous workshops and hands-on training sessions for their urban audience. The partners also have an inner-city farming operation generating revenue at city farmer markets.

Extended Partners and Service Providers are:

Michigan Food and Farming Systems -MIFFS
Morse Brown, Barbara Norman
Paw Paw Street (Suite 201)
Paw Paw, Michigan 49079

Michigan State University
Student Organic Gardens
Dr. John Beirnbaum
East Lansing, Michigan

Southern Michigan Agricultural Research Team (SMART)
Barbara Norman, President
P.O. Box # 210
Covert, Michigan 49043

USDA/ Natural Resource Conservation Service
3001 Coolidge Rd
East Lansing, Michigan 48823

Michigan Food and Farming Systems –MIFFS
Elaine Brown, Executive Director
416 Ag Hall
East, Lansing, Michigan 48824


Team Leader: Kansas Black Farmers Association (KBFA), Edgar Hicks,
3919 South 147th Street Suite 120, Omaha, Nebraska 68144

This project helped the KBFA increase their effectiveness in serving under-represented and minority farmers. This project kicked off in December 18, 2008 in Nicodemus, KS. One of the first missions by the Project Coordinator, partners and resource persons was to develop a strategic plan for the farmers of the Nicodemus community.

Edgar Hicks also works with City Sprouts Omaha, a local, grassroots community gardening project located in inner-city Omaha, whose mission is to sustain communities through gardening. Since its inception, City Sprouts Omaha has helped Omaha neighborhoods, civic groups, schools, youth groups, and residents develop lasting, productive green spaces. They work with inner-city residents and volunteers from around Omaha to grow vegetables, flowers, and herbs using environmentally responsible and sustainable gardening techniques. Their larger vision is to work with Omaha residents to build local food systems, improve community health, empower neighborhoods, and strengthen economic viability and sustainability. Although City Sprouts has been a recipient of one or more SARE grants, SARE’S visibility should be far greater considering the population in a large, diverse city such as Omaha. Edgar Hicks, through participation in this program, made this possible.

Extended Partners and Service Providers are:

Andrew Jameton
City Sprouts Omaha
40th and Franklin
Omaha, Nebraska

Nicodemus Community:
Angela Bates, Florence Howard, Bertha Carter, Yvonne Sayers, Alvena Alexander, Tom Wellington, Gil Alexander, Veryl, Harold and Teresa Switzer, Leatrice Napue, Ms. Clark and sister, JohnElla Holmes, and Sharyn Dowdell and Gary Alexander.

Events and Highlights

CFSA's project objective was to assist North Central Region SARE to reach out to and work with limited-resource and minority farmers in underserved communities. Here are some events that were conducted in order to reach that objective:


• Jan. 2010. Farmer Forum sponsored by SARE at the Annual Michigan Family Farms Conference, 450 attended from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio with 80% being minority farmers/ranchers. SARE was highlighted with literature in bags. Participants had a chance to attend SARE Farmers Forum and network with NRC-SARE grant recipients. This year's Youth Track hosted SARE Youth Grant awardee presentations by three grant recipients. Also, the youth had a presentation from the first non-rural African American National President of Future Farmers of America, Corey Flournoy, 1994-95. Johari Kweli-Cole and the Pembroke Future Farmers, led this hands-on youth track session.

• April, 2010. NCR-SARE sponsored a "Leaders’ Networking and Planning Session," Nicodemus, Kansas. Project Coordinator, Team Leaders, and other farmers met with farmers and organizers of Nicodemus, Kansas to offer technical support, compost training, and networking possibilities over a two-day working session and reporting forum. Farmers were introduced to the Farmer Rancher Grant Program and other SARE programs.

Michigan Events:

1) Oct. 2008. Vandalia Gardens, Detroit MI, "Fall Harvest - Putting Your Gardens to Bed." Two-day event where SARE handouts were provided and more about the farmer/rancher grant program. We taught SARE sustainable practices to beginning urban farmers.

2) Oct. 2008. NRC-SARE sponsored the "Farmer/Rancher Grant Writing Workshop," in Belleville, MI. Writing sessions were presented by Barbara James Norman and Morse Brown, MIFFS Multi-Cultural Project Manager. Farmers actually started on their NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant proposals. This workshop focused on assisting participants in writing a SARE grant. 26 adults attended.

3) Nov. 2008. "Farm Bill Up-Dates Michigan State University Extension," Belleville, MI. Informative meeting on recent updates on the Farm Bill. Representatives of the USDA presented information about the services they provide. This was an NCR-SARE sponsored event. SARE handouts were given. 41 adults attended

4) November 12, 2008. NCR-SARE sponsored the "Fall Festival 4-H," Community Center, Detroit, MI. This event brought the participants, friends, family, and community together to celebrate the end of the harvest with a dinner, food demonstrations, games for youth, and a soil workshop. SARE programs were presented and hand-outs were passed. 60 Youths attended; 30 Adults attended.

5) February 24, 2009. NCR-SARE sponsored planning meetings with staff and resource persons. Identified and created partnerships from fall 2008 SARE Outreach sessions.

6) April, 2009. NCR-SARE sponsored the "Building a Sustainable Business Workshop," with one-on-one follow-up and continuing. Barbara James Norman shared "Building A Sustainable Business" spiral bound workbook published by SARE.

7) August/September, 2009. Rural Nicodemus meets Urban Detroit/Rural Covert farmers. Sponsored by NCR-SARE. KBFA member Thomas Wellington visits Covert/Detroit Farmers.

8) September, 2009. NCR-SARE sponsored a two-day training for limited resource farmers. SARE handouts given, and SARE book "Building Soils for Better Crops" was sold by Dr. J. Biernbaum (MSU). Sustainable agriculture organic hands-on field training for Vandalia Garden leaders’ staff in planting, harvesting, packaging, and marketing. Training provided by Lee and Laurie Arboreal of Eater’s Guild Organic Farm, Bangor, MI. 17 attended.

Illinois Events:

1) Sept. 2008. NCR-SARE sponsored the "IYABO Farms Network Tour and Training," Vandalia Gardens of Detroit, MI. Attendees traveled to Hopkins Park, IL to attend two-day training workshop (organic and composting, featuring new project on decomposing of foods). Iyabo Farms has continuously centered on community building and developing networks with local farmers, state wide and national partnerships, as well as youth groups from various communities. The remaining Illinois events and meetings here reflect this effort. A massive SARE Outreach campaign was launched in this area. SARE materials were given out. The NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant program was promoted.

2) February 19, 2009. NCR-SARE sponored event at Pembroke Community Center, Hopkins Park, IL, "Student Farmer Leadership Research & Training," with Johari Cole-Kweli, host. 7 attendees representing SARE grant recipients. Students researched agricultural methods and black farmers across the US. Students also learned presentation skills to prepare for the Museum of Science and Industry event. SARE was literature was handed out.

3) March 9, 2009. NCR-SARE sponsored event at Iyabo Farms, Hopkins Park, IL, 11-6pm, "Spring Break Farming Workshop," with Johari Cole-Kweli, host. SARE programs presented, hand-outs given. 10 attendees representing SARE grant recipients, Iyabo Farms, Sacred Heart Church, and Benedictine University. Students from Benedictine University spent their Spring Break learning about sustainable farming, black farmers, and the history of Pembroke’s Ag community. They also assisted with greenhouse work in preparation for the upcoming growing season.

4) March 21, 2009. NCR-SARE sponsored event at Pembroke Community Center, Hopkins Park, IL, "Farmer’s Market Workshop," with Johari Cole-Kweli, Jim Slama, Alex Panozzo, Freddie Jones, Irene Seals, and Reggie Stewart. SARE programs presented, and SARE hand-outs were passed out. 43 attendees representing SARE grant recipients and Pembroke Farming Family. Workshop aimed at training farmers about the farmer’s markets and providing resources and networks for the upcoming market season. Johari lectured on branding and farm identification.

Kansas Events:

1) December, 2008. NCR-SARE sponored the "Teff Grain Project Crop Diversity Meeting," in Bogue/Nicodemus, KS. This was a two day event plus four days of farm/fields site visits, one-on-one mentoring. An NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant program session was conducted.

2) March, 2009. NCR-SARE sponsored event the "Teff Grain Product Marking Meeting," Minneapolis, MN. Met with Ethiopian spice company, purchaser of the Nicodemus Teff product. SARE programs and literature discussed.

3) July 22-27, 2009. SARE Outreach sponsored the "Teff Grain Project Production/Marketing Sessions," Nicodemus, KS.

4) NCR-SARE sponsored a Strategic Planning Session, Nicodemus, KS (See Attachment 1).

Research conclusions:

Project outcomes have provided NCR-SARE with a live continuing outreach tool which will result in further outreach, networking, and a greater understanding of how SARE products and tools can be used to address their needs.

This project has assisted with breaking the barriers that had previously existed between SARE and the limited resource and underserved communities due to lack of awareness.

The SARE Diversity Grant has been very beneficial, introducing these underserved producers to SARE educational tools, workshops, networking and support.

Because the barriers that limited resource and underserved populations
have so mammy similarities, this project by the way of outreach and
personal mentoring is far reaching beyond it's targeted geographic
areas. We have clearly demonstrated a definite no-boundaries
relationship building project. The sustainable working partnerships
and collaborations that have evolved leads to a continuing mentoring
program with an overall regional success, the rapidly changing face of
agriculture is demanding the end of the food dessert and access to a
sustainable food system for all.

Participation Summary

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

There is a need for more continuing outreach to socially disadvantaged, limited resource, and other underserved audiences to increase SARE awareness.

There is need for additional study of barriers - identification of, solutions to, and prevention of.

There is a need by all cultures and ethnic groups for basic multicultural awareness.

Mentors are needed to promote sustainable agriculture and to work with our targeted audiences in order to help them improve their agricultural and nutritional endeavors.

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.