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When he was a grad student at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro a few years ago, Kamal Bell researched food deserts. And his work led him to vow that, after graduating from the school, which he also attended as an undergraduate, he’d try to do something about these low-income urban areas where residents can’t buy fresh, high-quality food—a problem, he realized, that was deeply rooted and systemic. “Instead of complaining about the issue, I wanted to give back, to help people alleviate the problem,” he says.
Bell moved back to Durhamin 2015 and became a teacher, while also working on a plan. He’d start a farm, a real working establishment, but the goal would be to accept a group of middle and high school age male black students, whom he would teach all about growing their own fresh, healthy produce. “We’d teach kids heavily affected by the system of food deserts, giving them the power to learn how to produce healthy food for themselves,” says Bell. He told Marcus Miller, a college friend who was in Atlanta, about it, and Miller agreed to team up.
So in 2016 they started Sankofa Farms, a 2-acre farm in Cedar Grove, NC., that grows a variety of produce and also cultivates chicken, quail and duck eggs. And they developed a curriculum to teach students about everything from team work to the problem of food deserts, plus beekeeping, chicken coop mending, operating tractors, tilling the land and building animal pens, to name a few duties.
Miller, who works as financial analyst at GE, takes care of business matters and makes quarterly visits to help with day-to-day operations and programming.
The farm was just awarded a $2,900 grant to increase their honey bee production and buy equipment with which they can grow produce year-round.
While Sankofa’s approach to food deserts is unusual, it isn’t the only enterprise trying to address the problem. For example, in West Oakland, Calif., entrepreneur Brahm Ahmadi has engaged in a multi-year effort to form Community Foods Market, a full-service grocery store.
The Sankofa program takes six 11-to-16-year old students, who work at the farm year-round—specifically every other weekend while the kids are in school, plus breaks. During summer vacation, they’re there weekdays. Most, though not all, of the students are from low-income families.
Ultimately, Bell doesn’t expect the kids to become farmers; he wants to give them the tools to do what they want with their lives and also bypass the food desert trap, becoming self-sufficient. “They’re doing this because they love the work and they want to see changes in their community,” says Bell.
This year, for the first time, according to Bell, the farm has yielded enough crops for students not only to take the food home, but also to sell it. Miller is using the opportunity to teach the kids basic lessons in financial literacy. (Ultimately, Bell wants to start a school with an agricultural focus). In addition, word about the program has started getting around, and Bell and Miller have had to turn applicants away. A good problem to have.
May 27, 2019 at 09:40AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs