'Good soil': From Washington to Warren County, restoring the legacy of Black farmers

Joel Brown Image
Thursday, March 9, 2023
Working to bring back the Black-owned farm in North Carolina
In Norlina, one man is on a mission to rejuvenate a once proud American tradition -- the Black-owned farm.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- There's a long legacy of Black farmers in North Carolina, but like the rest of the country the number of Black farmers is dwindling. Racial injustices are a big reason why.

Now, there's a renewed effort in Washington and here in North Carolina to reverse the trend: The Justice for Black Farmers Act was recently introduced in Congress and a local farmer is working to inspire a new generation.

In the fields of Warren County, 51 miles from downtown Raleigh, Demetrius Hunter wants to restart the engine of Black farming.

"This soil right here is good soil. There's no sprays, no pesticides or anything," Hunter said in the middle of acres of Norlina that have been in his wife, LaTonya's, family for four generations. The couple calls it Soul City Farm.

In decades past, the land was crowded with cows and hogs. The family grew tobacco and watermelon. But like so many Black farmers, the harvests ended.

In 1930, 37 million acres of land was owned by Black farmers. Now, it's just 4.7 million, a half percent of farmland nationwide.

In North Carolina, there's more than 46,000 farms, and Black farmers run about 1,500 of them.

Hunter symbolizes a new generation who want to bring the farmers back.

"That's why we do what we're doing because we want to make sure that we're the example, the symbol of you can go out there and do it," he said.

"The need for federal support for Black farmers cannot be overstated," Congresswoman Alma Adams said in a congressional hearing.

Rep. Adams is leading a new charge to restore what was lost. For the third time, she and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker have introduced the Justice for Black Farmers Act. It includes land grants to create a new generation of Black farmers, like Hunter. Also an overhaul of the USDA, ending discriminatory policies at the agency.

Adams says during the 20th century, Black farmers lost over $300 billion worth of farmland and acreage--only worsening the wealth gap for Black Americans.

"We've been talking about the USDA's discrimination against Black farmers and other farmers of color for decades now," she said.

"My great great grandmother's land was taken away back in the 30's," Hunter said. "With all the things that have taken place throughout the years, it's time for equity now."

Hunter is trying to restore what was lost -- as he puts it: from the soil to the pan. He and his wife opened the Black Farmers Hub in southeast Raleigh in 2020 -- selling their harvests alongside fresh produce and products from other Black makers from around the region.

They want to recreate what they did in southeast Raleigh in downtown Norlina. Just last week, the Hunters signed the lease for a storefront on Hyco Street. It's going to have fresh produce in a community that needs it. They hope to have it open by the end of the month.

"There's only two grocery stores in the entire county, so the demand is out there," Hunter said.

And he's counting on the Justice for Black Farmers Act to help meet the demand and empower a new generation.