The Color of Food: Building Autonomy as African American Farmers

This is the first in a series of four excerpt from The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience, and Farming. Read more about the book and the author, Natasha Bowens, here.

Renard “Azibo” Turner is a compact bundle of energy as he swiftly moves from one part of his 94-acre farm to the other. He is a machine, a methodical man who starts each day with just five hours of sleep and a cup of coffee and doesn’t stop working until supper. 

In the early morning mist, we work together pushing bean seeds down into the clay soil in the garden patch, just beyond the fence that divides the crops from the goat pasture. Renard grows everything from radishes and beans to kale and lettuce. Chickens peck their way around pasture while heirloom hens lay chocolate-brown eggs in the coop. But Vanguard Ranch is well known in Virginia for its goat meat, sold to restaurants and in kabobs and burgers at festivals, and the farm’s main attraction is its herd of about 50 Myotonic “fainting” goats that grazes more than 50 picturesque acres.

Renard and his wife Chinette first had their dream of farming while living in Washington, D.C. in the ’70s. They were part of an Afro-centric circle of back-to-the-landers, but the circle seemed to be all talk, and Renard and Chinette ended up alone on land in rural Virginia that they had hoped would be a Black community for sustainability. They had to learn everything because neither of them came from an agricultural background. Renard grew up in California as the only Black kid in his school’s Future Farmers of America program, but FFA’s conventional teachings didn’t prepare him for this kind of agrarian life. 

Read the full article, "The Color of Food: Building Autonomy as African American Farmers" on CivilEats.

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