Mid-Atlantic Small Black Farmers Food Distribution Project

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2009: $21,395.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Berran Rogers
Maryland Cooperative Extension Program
Gladys McMichael
Help Ourselves Project, Inc.

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Fruits: melons
  • Nuts: pecans
  • Vegetables: sweet potatoes, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, cucurbits, eggplant, greens (leafy), onions, peas (culinary), peppers, tomatoes, turnips


  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: workshop, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, e-commerce, farm-to-institution, agritourism
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, urban/rural integration, analysis of personal/family life, community services, employment opportunities, social psychological indicators, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Small and low-resource Black farmers are struggling to maintain their farms or continue farming as a full-time occupation. The Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association and Federation of Southern Cooperative indicate that Black farmers have lost 14 million acres and now own less than 3 million acres of land, most of which is in the Southeast region of the USA. However, as low-resource Black farmers are leaving or being forced away from agriculture as an occupation, Black and minority residents of nearby urban communities are disproportionately suffering from poor nutritional habits, food insecurity and limited access to quality supermarkets, fruits and vegetables. To add to this challenging situation, much of the food consumed in urban areas travels extremely long distances from its point of harvest, requiring excessive processing, chemical additives and preservatives, as well as increased use of fuel and energy consumption for transport. Our goal is to curb this problem through introducing fresh vegetables, produce and value-added commodities into these target communities from black farmers in the mid-Atlantic and south-eastern region.

    The Philadelphia region has an estimated 475,000 people suffering from hunger and malnutrition, with 13.6% of households deemed food insecure. Philadelphia has the second lowest number of supermarkets in the United States, with 228,000 residents believing the quality of groceries available to them is fair or poor. 33% of poor adults versus 17.8% of non-poor adults in the city report fair or poor quality food, with significant concentrations in the Upper North, Southwest and Lower North Philadelphia areas, whose residents are predominantly Black. In fact, those most likely to characterize the quality of groceries in their neighborhoods as fair or poor is highest among Black adults (31%), compared to Latinos (24%), Asian (15%) and White (11%) adults. Accordingly, these conditions correlate to the health concerns, such that approximately 25% of adults in Philadelphia in fair/poor health have a difficult time getting fresh fruits and vegetables in their neighborhoods, versus only 9% of those adults in good/excellent health. (Philadelphia Health Management Corporation)

    Research, direct discussions and planning meetings with low-resource Black farmers and Cooperative Extension Service providers (DSU, UMES and VSU) reveal an urgent need for effective marketing and distribution strategies if they are to achieve the goals of a more sustainable agriculture now shared by both rural and urban geographic regions. Specifically, these dialogues have revealed several specific challenges low-resource urban communities and Black farmers face and seek assistance overcoming if they are to develop a community food system that mutually benefits the farmers and urban consumers:

    • Systematic urban market penetration and entry points into low-income urban communities that generate sufficient demand volume
    • Technology and technical assistance that facilitates more efficient inventory, pricing and payment processing systems, as well as access to both farm and urban business development expertise
    • Targeted promotional and marketing campaigns that increase the diminished “cooking culture” and decrease the “fast food culture” of urban communities
    • Coordination and clarity between farm harvest schedules and products and the demand needs of the consumers such that year round food needs are met
    • Cooperation and collaboration among independent minded farmers in order to meet increased demand and consistent delivery needs
    • Limited access to sufficient transportation of produce from point of harvest to destination.

    The above highlighted challenges serve as the focus of this SARE Sustainable Community Grant proposal. The initial target communities for this initiative include the city of Philadelphia and its surrounding counties (Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware and Chester counties) and low-resource Black farmers in the Delaware and Maryland areas because they have been the most receptive to our organizing efforts thus far.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The Mid-Atlantic Small Black Farmers Food Distribution Project is a collaborative effort (spearheaded by the Help Ourselves Project) that seeks to create effective and efficient economic, social & networking systems between Black farmers and potential market outlets in urban communities as a means to overcome the economic marginalization plaguing both. Through this collaborative effort, we are seeking to develop a distribution infrastructure in the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area to serve as a viable market outlet for quality Black farm produce and other goods to individuals, organizations and institutions within our communities.

    Area Black Farmers

    Distribution Intermediaries
    (DSU and UMES Cooperative Extension Services)

    Help Ourselves

    Super Markets, Variety Stores and Restaurants Farmers Markets and Vendors Stands Food Coops, Buying Clubs and Individuals Religious Organizations and Churches Shelters, Nursing Homes and Social Service Agencies

    Through this concept, H.O.P. is enabling low-resource Black farmers to gain access to the inner-city populations and the greater urban markets. Through fair pricing and increased access to quality products, this partnership will close a serious gap by uniting the black farmers and the urban poor, promoting healthy living for the program’s food recipients, and providing increased revenue and business expansion for Black farmers. To date, we have engaged in various pilot, planning and development activities as follows:

    • Malcolm X Park Black Farmers Expo and Education Fair, sponsored in conjunction with Philadelphia Department of Health (July 15th, 2005)
    • The Help Ourselves Food Buying Club – A membership driven project that collects food and produce orders from individuals, organizations and businesses and contracts with designated Black farmers to deliver products (occasionally; October 2006 – present)
    • Black Farmers and the Inner City Consumer Market – Initial planning discussion between H.O.P., Northeast Region HBCU Cooperative Extension Service Representative and area Black farmers ( March 30th, 2006)
    • Black Farmers and the Inner City Consumer Market – Planning meeting to develop Memorandum of Agreements between small Black farmers to process, distribute and market produce and other farm products (September 29th, 2008)
    • Attendees and Presenters at the 4th and 5th Annual Small Farm Conferences (University of Maryland Eastern Shore; Fall 2007 and 2008)

    Specifically, The Mid-Atlantic Small Black Farmers Food Distribution Project seeks funding support from the Northeast SARE Sustainable Community Grant to meet the following objectives:

    1. Efficiently connect urban consumers with low-resource Black farmers to produce and distribute food for individuals, groups and institutions having challenges accessing quality, fair-priced and healthy produce/vegetables
    2. Develop target marketing and promotional campaigns that assist farmers to attain sufficient market penetration and entry points in urban communities for harvested products based on community demand (i.e. overcoming “fast food culture” of urban nutritional habits)
    3. Access and utilize technology to develop more efficient inventory, pricing, marketing, distribution and payment processing systems
    4. Identify and access both farm and urban business development expertise to enhance future growth potential of market development model

    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.