AUSTIN, Texas - Black farmer, Tiffany Washington, is making plea to help restore Black farming heritage in Austin.
In the early 1900s, one in seven farmers were Black, according to a report from Data for Progress.
In Central Texas, Black farmers were a large part of the history with freedman colonies and homesteads.
In fact, some current area farms acknowledge slaves tended to the land.
If you look around today, a lot of Black farmers in Austin are gone. Tiffany Washington of the Dobbin-Kauv Garden Farm says she’s the only one left.
“So I’ve been farming for about 3 years now, it's been going on about 3 years," Washington says on a hot August morning in her East Austin farm.
"We're just kind of mulching the outskirts of our beds at the farm, which has been kind of rough because it's hot and dry,” Washington says.
She’s scooping up wood chips that have a smoky smell under the hot Texas sun.
"We use mulch as an outside protective layer up against our fence line," Washington explains. “I think it's just a passion in me, it's something I do that helps me with my PTSD and the outdoor activity and engagement is good for me."
Straight out of high school in Austin, Washington enlisted in the United States Navy. Now, she’s back home, literally getting back to her roots.
“Farming is my lifestyle and I don’t see farming as this job, and it’s important to me that I see people in my community be able to find opportunities within our agricultural system, within our food system,” Washington says.
She says even in farming, there’s racial injustice.
“I want to be able to feed my community, I want to be able to make sure my community has access to fresh foods, fresh fruits and fresh vegetables, juices and not just take my produce and sell it to high end restaurants,” Washington says.
She delivers some pointed words, but she says she has a pointed message.
“[There’s] a socially unacceptable disadvantage to communities of color here in Austin because they don’t talk about agriculture, there’s no agricultural equities that communities of color have in agriculture here in Austin, Texas,” Washington says. “And there is none because there are no Black farmers here’s the only one and that should not be that way.”
It wasn’t always that way, according to the Austin History Center’s, Black Farmer Files,
“The Prairie View A&M land grant college was established in 1890 for the “colored” youth of the state and the work of all Negro Extension agencies was conducted through Prairie View. As part of the Cooperative Extension Program, the Travis County Negro Extension Service served as the communication link between Prairie View A&M and Travis County black residents. The office building for the Travis County Negro Extension Service stood at 1154 Lydia St. in East Austin.”
But Austin keeps changing.
“You will notice that that food system does not look like it supports people like me,” Washington says. “So with it being a food town, why doesn’t food flow into marginalized communities? It doesn’t because there’s just that social injustice, like food apartheid,”
Now, Washington is on a mission to re sow the seeds in her fight against injustice.
“I really don’t have a choice, I grew up in Austin like I said, I come from a family of service men and leaders here in the community,”
“We’re a local organization who deals with issues we feel affect the masses of blacks in this city ….” Dorothy Turner, Washington’s grandmother said in a 1980’s video address as part of her role in the Austin Black Citizens Task Force. The video is part of the Austin History Center’s collection on YouTube.
Washington says, like her grandmother, she’s having the tough conversations about racial discrimination. It’s conversations that have been ongoing for generations.
“I don’t know, I just think it’s a relief to finally tell people how important it is for communities of color to have a stake in in the local food system because we are starving we are scared,” Washington says, fighting back emotion and tears.
They’re realities she’s afraid some people aren’t willing to come to terms with.
“It’s the worst conversation ever, like who wants to have to be that person to bring up the conversation and who wants to be that person who wants to keep talking about it because then you start to seem like it’s something you’re so focused on that, but if that’s what I see everyday and that’s what I’m approached with everyday, then [what do they expect]” Washington says.
“I want to grow farmers, I want to see more farmers of color who are learning how to be entrepreneurial,” Washington says. “Who doesn’t want the opportunity to see a beautified space revitalized with flowers and just just a happy space within their communities? I don’t think that that should just be within one area of the city that is been known to be like urban organic area,” Washington says.
As she continues her work in the garden farm, she washes her hands for a short water break.
“Right now I’m just prepping, getting ready for the fall,” Washington said.
The City of Austin Sustainability Office responded by saying:
“Our office is committed to building relationships with community organizations that have traditionally been left out of City planning processes. As part of our commitment to become better allies, we are actively looking to broaden our reach and learn from organizations led by people of color working within the food system. Most recently, in collaboration with the City of Austin’s Equity Office, we put out a sponsorship call for a Black-led organization working to address food access, food sovereignty or food justice in the Austin-area. The $1,000 sponsorship was awarded to the Rooted in Melanin (RIM) Initiative, which is a sustainability and food justice-focused organization.
We recognize that a one-time sponsorship is far from the complete effort needed to address disparities in our community. However, this was intended to create new relationships between the municipal government and the local community, and perhaps lead to even greater transformation in the coming years.
Additionally, our office is working on the 2020 Austin Climate Equity Plan. In the plan, we identify the need to support Black farmers and farmers of color as part of our goal to protect 500,000 acres of farmland in the 5-county region by 2030. Our strategies call for prioritizing farmers of color through workforce development, financial assistance, access to land and more.”
Washington is raising money to help keep her farm up and running.