Project will benefit Black farmers in North Florida, South Alabama and South Georgia.
The Florida A&M University Brooksville Agricultural and Environmental Research Station (FAMU BAERS) received a $1.15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide conservation training to African American farmers in North Florida, South Alabama and South Georgia.
The overall objective of the “Conservation Collaboration for Selected States Project: Florida, South Georgia and South Alabama (CCSSP-FGA)” is to contract with former and retired USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) employees and others, who are trained conservationists, who will work with African American farmers in 18 counties in the Big Bend, South Georgia and South Alabama.
The project will be led by BAERS Executive Director Fred Gainous, Ph.D., and Oghenekome U. Onokpise, Ph.D., professor emeritus and Research Plant scientist at BAERS. The project is crucial because too few African Americans and other people of color are participating in natural resources conservation programs.
“Everybody ought to participate in the conservation of natural resources,” said Gainous, who cited watershed, wetlands and wildlife habitat management as some of the conservation skills to be passed on to farmers. The project has a goal to recruit five farmers from each of the 18 targeted counties, but the initiative would be a sign of progress even if fewer farmers signed on.
“We would like to have at least 60 farmers in Florida, Georgia and Alabama who have joined with us for conservation best management practices on their property and who are equipped with the skills,” Gainous said.
As part of the proposed project, recruited conservation specialists will provide the underserved farmers and ranchers with community assistance, transfer of technology, develop natural resources tools and information to address concerns in soil, water, air, animals and plants in six Big Bend counties -Franklin, Gadsden, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon and Madison; six South Georgia counties and six South Alabama counties.
Historically, wealthy white farmers are the biggest beneficiaries of the Natural Resources Conservation Service projects. The grant is designed to alter the landscape by training more Black farmers to be conservationists.
“It’s one reason why FAMU was given this grant,” Onokpise said.
A 165-acre portion of the more than 3800-acre Brooksville location will be used for long leaf pine and wildlife habitat restoration,. The plan also calls for bringing farmers to the Hernando County facility for hands-on learning and experience.
Another goal is to increase the number of people in South Alabama, South Georgia and North Florida who can successfully coach others through USDA-NRCS applications and increase participation through a well-developed USDA-NRCS Strategic Plan with a plan of action for program delivery.
“It’s a matter of conservation for all. You can’t leave anyone out of the conservation equation,” Gainous said. “You must consider everyone a potential conservationist, because they are. It’s not like you can separate clean air from dirty air.”
The project started on February 23, and retired conservationists have been recruited to launch the initiative. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
North Florida: Franklin, Gadsden Jackson, Jefferson, Leon and Madison
South Alabama: Dallas, Green, Lowndes, Marengo, Sumter and Wilcox
South Georgia: Brooks, Early, Grady, Lowndes, Mitchell, and Thomas