Fresh produce service provides boost to Black farmers during pandemic

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- By now, most people know about the industry built around subscriptions to prepackaged meals, delivered in boxes to the homes of busy consumers. But now there's a new service, Tall Grass Food Box, with deep roots in local soil.

A trio of local entrepreneurs, Gabrielle E. W. Carter, Derrick Beasley and Gerald C. Harris, came up with the concept that's providing a lifeline for Black farmers.

"We're creating a platform for them to become more visible," said Carter, "and for people to reach out to them on their own outside of Tall Grass Food Box."
She and her partners saw the need, with traditional Black farms already hurting before the pandemic forced major changes on the food buying routines of many households. So they went online at and signed up 200 subscribers, who pay $48 for boxes loaded with local produce and a dozen fresh eggs that the trio provides biweekly.

"We've got okra, we've got eggplant, we have corn, tomatoes, beautiful heirloom tomatoes," among the produce they pack in subscriber boxes, Carter said. "And what we've been doing is sourcing them from different farmers, so that's a fun opportunity to kind of mix up the variety."

Now, four months after starting Tall Grass, Carter says the service has paid Black farmers about $27,000.

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"This is a way for them to spread the love, throughout Black farmers, all over North Carolina. And it's kind of exciting, watching our subscriber open their boxes and post to Instagram what was in the box this week! This is really an opportunity for us to get excited about produce, food that;s grown locally and why it's important to get your food locally."

This community-supported agriculture concept has a multi-generational, personal link for Carter.

"We all have different connections to our CSA, but one that aligns for all of us is our familial and ancestral connection to land stewardship," she said. "If it weren't for my grandfather Mayfield Woodard and his brothers, Andrew and Herbert, I wouldn't be doing this work. They helped me see the value of growing food and how that's embedded in who we are. Witnessing people pull up to our house to pick turnip salad, get a bushel of okra or their holiday collards is what made this work valuable for me, and our hope is that this CSA honor those traditions and strengthens their sustainability."

Now the trio's preparing for a future affected by coronavirus concerns.

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"And sharing some of our farmers; personal stories that are like, familial stories, generational farming stories. Reminding folks of those older traditions like shelling peas and drying them, to preserve them. We want to make sure that our produce and our goods represent that. So preserving those goods for a later date, that's how we see ourselves having an abundant box."

Subscribers get that and more, when they pick up their boxes of produce. Tall Grass has two locations for that, one in Durham, and one in partnership with Ashley Christensen, owner of Poole's Diner and other popular dining destinations.

"Her restaurant group was gracious enough to let us use their facility in Raleigh," Carter said, and there are plans to begin some deliveries of the boxed produce as well.

And because it's a year-round service. Carter says they're also planning something special for December subscribers: "Dried black-eyed peas and field peas in your winter box, so that you have them for the new year. Celebrate New Year's Day, having collard greens," while keeping Black farms in business during challenging economic times.
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