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Why some Black women are trying to defy the odds of farm ownership

North Carolina farmer Clarenda Stanley says farming can feel restorative. That's why she wants more Black women to join her in owning and cultivating rural land.

Clarenda Stanley put in countless hours climbing the career ladder in the world of fundraising. So when she decided to ditch her keyboard for a shovel and some seed on her very own farm, her family wasn’t fully on board at first. 

“They thought I'd lost my mind initially, a few of them thought that it was going to be just something cute like a little side hustle or hobby,” Stanley said. 

Even though she came from a long line of farmers and grew up on a farm herself, she said her family always viewed her white collar job as a much better option than the pastoral life. 

But Stanley wanted a change.

Clarenda Stanley.
Clarenda Stanley.Courtesy Clarenda Stanley

That’s when she had the idea for Green Heffa Farms, now a successful tea and herbal-blend business, named in honor of her quick witted grandmother Charity Mae. Stanley has been growing flowers, herbs, teas and other medicinal plants all with the goal of healing, on her own farm in Liberty, North Carolina, since 2018.

“Because of the trauma that’s been inflicted on the Black community, Indigenous community, when it comes to land, a lot of us have lost that connection, and we don’t look to the land for some of the reinforcements that we need for our well-being,” Stanley said. 

“I really want it to ... look at farming as being reparative, in the sense that it’s reconnecting us to the land and doing it through medicinal plants, which before there were all these pharmaceuticals that’s what we’d use, that’s what we’d turn to.”

Clarenda Stanley.
Clarenda Stanley.NBC News

Turning her vision into a reality wasn’t easy. In building her very own farm, she received a crash course in the many roadblocks that Black farmers face. Banks denied her loans, and she said her farming instructors doubted her success. 

It’s a recurring pattern for Black farmers in this country, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has paid billions over the past several years in discrimination settlements, admitting that Black farmers were stalled or stopped from entering the agriculture space without justification. 

One study also found that Black-owned farms were smaller, less profitable and received less government assistance when compared with other farms in the United States. 

“Agriculture in this country was designed to benefit white men who owned property, preferably of the Christian faith,” Stanley said. “I’m coming into an arena where it’s not equal.”

Stanley is part of the less than 1% of Black rural landowners in this country. These statistics have motivated her to bring other Black women into agriculture to find their own source of healing and freedom.

She’s created a social media platform using the name “FarmerCee” to educate others on how to secure land, write grants for funding and share insight on some of the challenges farmers face. 

Stanley also said she couldn't resist posting an occasional dancing challenge or participating in viral trends on TikTok, which provides just the right amount of embarrassment and pride for her kids. 

The consequences of America’s dark and complicated history with forced labor and agriculture can still be felt today, especially through the longstanding barriers to generational wealth.

Clarenda Stanley on Green Heffa Farms.
Clarenda Stanley on Green Heffa Farms.NBC News

Stanley said she believes her energy and focus is best spent on her quality of life and the well-being of her community. 

“I don’t anticipate America to get things right during my lifetime, and it’s not me being a pessimist. It’s just looking at where we are now,” Stanley said. 

“I also don’t even pretend to be able to offer a solution to a problem that the ones who are responsible for carrying forth the tradition of this problem aren’t addressing,” Stanley added, “For me, it’s more about how do we create as much Black joy as possible? That’s what I’m on. How do we have as many Black people as we can, who are living lives that are respectful of their value as human beings?”

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