At Sankofa Farm in Orange County, North Carolina, Founder Kamal Bell and his team are working to encourage an interest in agriculture among Black youth.Bell, who started the farm in 2016 believes Sankofa can not only help residents of Durham and Orange County access fresh produce; it can also be used as a tool for self-empowerment.
As a former middle school teacher, Bell witnessed the benefits of connecting students with food production. He explains that the training and science-based education equips them with skills and knowledge that allow them envision new paths for their futures. “We can work with our hands, we can be businessmen, we can have a profitable job in a profitable trade. That’s empowering to a young Black male,” Bell tells Food Tank.
Through the farm’s Agricultural Academy, Bell is working to build a new model for agricultural education that is tailored to the needs of young Black boys. “We could talk about 4-H and FFA. We can talk about all these programs all we want. They don’t have the metrics for Black students.” And, he continues, efforts to increase diversity among these programs fail to get at the root of the problem. “They often lean on people who haven’t built systems to serve Black kids.” This is “baffling” to Bell.
“At Sankofa, we make sure we’re addressing the needs in the Black community or [relating it] to our history as Black people,” Bell tells Food Tank. That’s why beekeeping has become an important piece of the farm’s operations and the Academy’s students.
Tracing the history of honey back to Africa and its transportation to the Caribbean and South America via the transatlantic slave trade, Bell recognized “this intersection of our existence and beekeeping.” The realization encouraged Bell to become a certified beekeeper.
He now offers the same training to his students in an effort to encourage more Black beekeepers. “For us, it was something that was relatable to our history,” Bell tells Food Tank, “It’s also helping the environment and it’s really engaging to the people to work with bees.”
Listen to the full conversation with Kamal Bell on “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” to hear more about how Bell’s journey as he launched Sankofa Farms, the barriers facing young and beginning Black farmers, and the potential and limitations of food policy.
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Photo courtesy of Tanvi Sharma, Unsplash