New fund seeks applications as it prepares to distribute $100,000 to local Black farmers

A coalition of area organizations called the Washtenaw County Black Farmers Fund (WCBFF) is gearing up to disburse funds raised in 2021 to support local Black farmers, particularly in the Ypsilanti area.

Originally setting a goal of $50,000, the fund's crowdfunding campaign raised more than $100,000. Coalition leader Keesa Johnson, who is also the racial equity chair for the Washtenaw Food Policy Council, says that means the fund can not only support projects for four or five local farmers, but the extra funds will support "capacity building for the next round and into the future."

Besides Johnson, the coalition is made up of local farmers, nonprofit leaders, and community members: Growing Hope Executive Director Cynthia VanRenterghem and Program Director Julius Buzzard, Willow Run Acres founder TC Collins, Argus Farm Stop owner Kathy Sample, We the People Opportunity Farm founder Melvin Parson, 2Marines co-founder Josh McAllister, Old City Acres founder Alexander Ball, Fair Food Network Investor Relations Officer Lolita Nunn, Michigan State University Extension Washtenaw County Food Systems Coordinator Jae Gerhart, and designer Larrea Young.

The fund is modeled on similar efforts around the country, including the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund. However, Johnson says many of those other programs are tightly focused on helping farmers buy land, while WCBFF funds can be used for infrastructure or operating costs as well.

Johnson says the coalition circulated forms before the formal application process to see what sort of questions interested applicants would have. That interest form generated about eight applications, Johnson says.

She notes that the coalition doesn't necessarily need applicants to have a business fully up and running, but coalition members are looking for "a maturity of vision."

"We're looking for people with an established vision," Johnson says. "For Black and brown farmers, it's not easy for us, because of systemic racism, to apply for a loan or to know someone you can lease land from. We're working through the coalition to remove barriers."

Johnson says COVID-19 has exposed how shaky the national food supply chain is, and projects like the WCBFF are a chance to design a new reality.

"This is our opportunity to shape the community we want and the food system we want," Johnson says. 

Interested Black farmers from around Washtenaw County can attend a virtual informational session at 8 a.m. or 6 p.m. on Jan. 28. The deadline for applications is midnight Feb. 18. Details, including a link to the virtual information session and the application form, are available here.

For more on WCBFF's founders and mission, read our story about the fund's origins from last year.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.
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