Health

Growing Number of Black Farmers in Western Washington Focus on Land Ownership and Sustainability

Author: Brit Moorer (KING5) Published: 8:12 PM PDT July 17, 2020

A Grays Harbor County woman is joining a growing group of Black farmers focused on owning their land. 

While national trends show the number of Black farmers is increasing, land ownership is declining.

Shellie-Ann Kerns comes from a family of farmers. 

“We were always subsistence farmers, so we had to eat what was growing in our backyard, all the time,” said Kerns. 

Kerns moved to Grays Harbor County from Jamaica seven years ago. 

“It’s sort of a food desert, so I want to be able to provide access to fresh high-quality food,” said Kerns. 

It’s food from soil she owns, a rarity among Black farmers. 

”Black land loss is a thing. Like historically, a lot of Black people had farms, but that number has been dwindling since the farms have become more like conglomerates,” said Kerns.

According to the Census of Agriculture, land ownership among Black farmers is declining. 

Black farmers lost 80% of their farmland from 1910 to 2007, often because they lacked access to land loans, according to a report by the Center for American Progress

It’s a statistic that isn’t lost on Kerns. 

“It’s a pretty huge deal to me. Especially because my dad was a migrant farm worker when I was younger. I have a brother who’s currently a migrant farm worker, and they’re basically working in subpar conditions on other people’s lands. So just the fact that I own the land, it makes me want to achieve a certain height of sustainability,” said Kerns. 

She has launched Bunkhouse Acres, a 20-acre farm in the Middle Satsop Valley. 

So far, Kerns has raised close to $9,500 towards purchasing equipment and labor to get the farm off the ground. She also plans on using the money to build a demonstration kitchen. 

Kerns says she will begin planting garlic soon, in preparation for her first harvest next year. 

King 5

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