Dennis Hutson found ways to use less water in one of the drought-stricken areas of the US.
At his TAC Farm in San Joaquin Valley, CA, Hutson trains people of color to continue farming.
As of 2021, only 1.4% of US farmers are Black or mixed race.
Dennis Hutson has played many roles in his life: pastor, US Air Force chaplain, and devoted husband and father of three children – to name a few.
But it wasn’t until he bought 60 acres of land in Allensworth, California, that he felt he had fulfilled his ultimate destiny.
A Black-led agricultural revolution more than 100 years in the making
Allensworth is the first Black-founded and -governed town in California.
Allen Allensworth, an escaped slave, founded it in 1908. He traveled throughout the eastern and midwestern US promoting self-help programs that would give Blacks a chance at social and economic satisfaction. .
“Allensworth believed that black people were meant to help each other — to pull each other up to a higher station in life,” Hutson told Business Insider.
The way he sees it, Hutson’s destiny is to carry on Allensworth’s legacy through farming. She launched a mentoring program at TAC Farm, which she established with her sister and her husband on land they purchased.
Through the program, Hutson hopes to offer Black farmers, indigenous farmers, and other farmers of color experience with organic and sustainable practices.
“I thought, this is a way to find out the purpose for which this city was discovered,” Hutson said.
Closing the racial gap
Research has found that farming offers Black Americans a great economic opportunity to build net worth and generational wealth.
But the research also found that significant racial disparities in farmland ownership, in part due to the discriminatory practices of the USDA and lending organizations, disenfranchised farmers of color. access to loans, grants, and crop insurance needed to maintain or expand their operations.
In 2021, only 1.4% of US farmers will be Black or other — a significant drop from 14% about 100 years ago, according to McKinsey & Company.
A better way of doing things
Hutson moved to Allensworth in July of 2017 — after the 2012-2016 drought, one of the worst in California history.
The San Joaquin Valley, a stretch of eight counties in central and southern California and where Allensworth is located, was hit especially hard, so Hutson said he knew he had to rely on sustainable practices for TAC. Farm.
“If not, you will only add to the problem instead of helping to solve it,” he said.
To that end, the TAC farm has adopted more efficient drip irrigation methods, which help reduce manpower while also conserving water, Hutson said.
The field also covers crops, which are not necessary for harvesting, but rather protect and enrich the soil for future harvests. In addition, healthy soil can retain moisture longer, so it doesn’t need as much water.
A few years ago, Hutson began replacing alfalfa, which requires watering six to seven times per season, with cover crop oats.
“I plant oats and rely on rain for irrigation. With atmospheric rivers this year, I have an abundant harvest,” he said. It’s sustainable practices like these that help TAC Farm survive in the face of the uncertain future of US farming.
Over the next few decades, the California Department of Water Resources estimates that the state could lose up to 10% of its water supplies by 2040, and economists predict that the central San Joaquin Valley will which will take almost half a million hectares of farmland out of production. .
These are also sustainable practices that Hutson wants to pass on to other farmers of color.
Cultivating the next generation of Black regenerative farmers in Southern California
Hutson’s TAC Innovation and Teaching Farm program has recruited approximately six farmers of color from across the Central Valley and Southern California, he told BI.
To spread the word, TAC Farm partners with several other organizations in the state – including African American Farmers of California, Crop Swap LA, and the Compton Community Garden.
Participants get access to a small plot of land at TAC Farm for two and a half years, and then sell the crops they grow to local co-ops, Hutson said. The program also helps participants apply for loans.
Hutson said most people don’t realize how expensive agriculture is. For example, the Massey-Ferguson 4700 4-wheel drive tractor he purchased with the 2020 grant cost $46,000.
This program will equip students with a more realistic mindset about what it takes to start a successful farm from scratch.
“After the cost of land, the second biggest obstacle is finding a water source – especially in the Central Valley,” he said. “Increasingly, that means drilling a well.”
Before Hutson asked for a loan from the bank, he said: “The bank told me, ‘We can’t give you anything until you have a water source.’ So, I had to have a well drilled in 2009 – it was only 720 feet deep, and it cost over $120,000. It would probably cost twice as much now. stuff.”
Hutson hopes that the sustainable practices he has learned and designed over the past decade can lead to a new revolution in minority-owned and -led sustainable agriculture in California.
“They can say, ‘We did it with our hands.'”
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