As I’ve traveled from farm to farm this year all over the country, I’ve come to the conclusion that urgent action is needed if churches are going to get serious about supporting Black farmers and transforming the food environments of their communities. While churches have a long history of serving their communities with food pantries, soup kitchens and other forms of charity, the time is now to evolve our ministry operations to make a more lasting difference. Simply put – food charity isn’t doing enough fast enough in order to keep farmers farming and Black people healthy in a holistic way. The point was underscored this past weekend, as I heard from Vern Switzer, 76-year-old farmer in Rural Hall, North Carolina. He gave an impassioned plea to the group that joined us for this past Saturday’s Black Farm Tour in Greensboro, North Carolina. With his voice full of tearful emotion he said, “All [Black farmers] need for you to do is to get it from us instead of going to the grocery store.” He, along with his 85-year-old farming friend and partner, Dr. English Bradshaw, gave us a message that intensified my fire for food justice even more while reminding me that we do not have a lot of time to get this right.
After listening to them and seeing the condition of Black farmers and African American communities across the United States, I’m compelled to issue this call to action. I’m urging ALL churches to put Black farmers on your annual church budget!
$500 for the year, $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 – whatever the amount – just get Black farmers on your budget! And be specific. Put the actual farm (or farms) on the budget so there’s no room for misunderstanding. I’m not just asking for you to buy from Black farmers, but I’m also asking that you “adopt” them – embrace them and their farms as part of your congregation and an extension of your church’s ministry. Listen to farmers talk about their systems and infrastructure needs and see how your church can partner with them. I hear farmers all the time talking about their need for refrigerated vans, cold storage units, social media needs, and administrative systems. As I listen to them, I can’t help to think about how churches can help them satisfy these needs.
Beyond the material things, farmers need the spiritual support that our churches can offer. Have you heard about suicide rates amongst farmers and their increasing struggles with mental health? Farmers need prayer. They need to know they’re supported. They need a community of care dedicated to their spiritual and emotional well-being as well of that of their families. They need to be reminded that God is on their side as they commit themselves to the same work that God told Adam to do in the biblical book of Genesis.
If you do not know or cannot find Black farmers, reach out to us and we’ll help introduce you. We have a Black Farmer Directory that you’re free to use to find Black farmers near you. If you don’t see a farmer on our map in your community or have difficulty reaching the listed farmers, reach out to us. We know more farming groups that have information on farmers as well.
Finally, consider putting the “Black Church Food Security Network” on your church budget for next year and every year after. As a pastor, I know that what our organization is doing can fit as a line item as part of your outreach ministry, your evangelism ministry, your kitchen ministry, your health ministry, your youth and young adult ministry or other areas of your church’s mission. You may not have the administrative capacity to sustain a food justice ministry at your church, but working together we can get it done. Our organization can be an extension of your ministry. God has placed The Black Church Food Security Network on the growing edge of where churches are having to evolve and pivot in a post-pandemic world. We’re not just some nonprofit. The Black Church Food Security Network is engaged in ministry beyond the walls. Your church already cares about food…let’s take things to the next level next year!
Working together, your church and our organization can make a profound impact on the lives of your members and community.
Let’s get Black farmers on your annual church budget!
Rev. Dr. Heber Brown, III