A pebble-covered trail leads into a driveway of a wood cabin that seems to have stood for generations. A tarp covers the roof damaged by past hurricanes. Leafless trees surround the structure. At the back of the cabin, red, yellow and white chickens and roosters mill around.
O’Harold Black, a 65-year-old farmer of Quincy, Fla., greeted a visitor with a chest hug instead of a handshake. Pig’s blood covered his dark brown, wrinkled hands. He headed to the back where one of his two sons, Keith Black, 31, and cousin, George Black, 45, slaughtered pigs.
“It’s a way of life; I don’t produce product for profit. I produce products to survive,” said Black, as the two younger men continued to slice pork.
Black’s farm stands as one of the few operating African-American owned farms in the Big Bend area of Gadsden and Leon counties. According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, there are about 1,300 black-owned farm in Florida.
Black raises goats, chickens, ducks, pigs, and rabbits and grows vegetables, including fire red tomatoes and collard greens.
“Farming is all I know,” said Black, whose wife of 41 years, Essie, is a Florida A&M parking services employee.
Black said his family has owned farmland for almost seven generations dating back to slavery. His mother, Patricia, managed a farm.
“The family would always go to for her direction. She taught me the way,” said Black, who has owned his farm for 15 years. “I eat to live, and in order to do that I need healthy food to eat. I grow all my food naturally; I won’t eat food from anywhere that isn’t this farm.”
Black’s farm produce also feeds five other families, including the Watsons.
“It’s God’s gift,” Black said of his farm. “I have the ability to help my people and it’s something my family has done because this is God’s gift to us.”
Cynthia Watson, a part-time secretary and mother of four, is appreciative.
“He insisted, and we really needed the extra help,” Watson said.
Sharing the fruit of his land instead of trying to sell for profit reduces some of the hassle of being an African-American farmer.
“Farming is still prosperous; it’s just a lot of black farmers who are self-owned, like me, are have a hard time selling their products,” Black said. “White farmers are going corporate and doing business with factories in order to produce more, African-Americans can’t compete.”
Farming for Black is so much more than a way of life.
“We did so to survive. We would give food to the community because as black people we only had each other. To me nothing has changed,” said Black. “It is the black man’s way, preserving and protecting food, when I was growing up my family didn’t cultivate animals and vegetation for profit.”
Black, his son Keith, and his cousin, George usually work 10-hour days. Starting before dawn, they milk the goats and then make their spicy sausage.
“Waking up at 4 o’clock no matter if it’s cold or hot. All the moving and the cleaning, I think that could be the most stressful part of this job,” said Keith, who has worked on the farm all of his life.
“I’ve been working since birth,” he said, as he tossed an 80-pound bag of chicken feed in the shed.
George has been helping his cousin maintain the farm for the past 10 years.
“It’s one of my passions,” said George. “A long and healthy life is what I strive for.”
George lamented the plight of the black farmer. As he prepared to fry fresh ground turkey for sandwiches, he spoke about how hard it was for black farmers to find large commercial buyers for their produce.
While George made the turkey sandwiches, Black took a visitor to a secluded barn, roped off by a wire fence. Inside the pasture roamed a lean, black, 4-foot-tall billy goat named Spike. The goat kicked its feet as its owner approached. Black also owns four dairy goats. He credits his healthy heart and full head of hair to all the goat milk and meat he consumes.
“It’s the source of life to me,” said Black. “It’s a part of eating right and taking care of your body.”