In June, the US Farmer Inclusion Team welcomed Patrick Brown as our new Director of Farmer Inclusion. As a fourth-generation farmer, farm manager of his family’s farm, and active advocate for sustainable and profitable farming among Black farmers, Patrick is a jack of all trades and excited to continue his work through Nature For Justice. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Patrick on his family’s farm, where we took a farm tour and discussed farm operations and plans. We debated building resiliency on and off the farm through knowledge-sharing and community building. After wrapping up on his family’s farm, we took a short drive to visit the plantation his family was enslaved on and now owns.
Building a Legacy
For Patrick, called Rick by his friends, adding generational wealth to his and other Black farms, and implementing more plants resistant to climate change involves growing hemp. This specialty crop is rising in popularity, but not with USDA subsidies. However, by utilizing programs that perform crop experimentations, like NC State University’s College of Textiles, Patrick and other hemp farmers are given a blueprint for successful growth. He then takes this knowledge and the literal tools and shares it with other farmers tapping into the hemp markets. This is just one way Patrick has devoted his farming and activist career to expanding self-reliance among Black farmers. In addition to fostering ties with producers who share the same interest in growing hemp and sharing equipment, Rick also continues generations of friendship and community in Warren County. In 1865, the Brown Family Farm was established as a timber and livestock farm by their first generational farmer, Byron Brown. By the third generation with Rick’s father Arthur, their farm has expanded to include specialty crops. Since 2018, through a partnership with Biophil Natural Fibers in Lumberton NC, Patrick has grown the size of their hemp operation to 300 acres and has inspired two other Black farmers to grow hemp. Patrick advocates for the relevance and importance of using hemp as an alternative to plastic packaging and furniture, a more sustainable crop than tobacco. The USDA offers $15 per acre on insurance coverage on hemp which covers natural disasters. However, despite the lack of incentive, Patrick continues to practice conservation methods by demonstrating the success of various tillage methods; from using low till vertical tillage, growing cereal rye cover crops at the end of the hemp harvest, and reducing it down to no-till at the start of the next season. Rick knows that crop resilience to climate change does not start and end with hemp, but begins with a desire to steward and advocate for healthy land. As a hemp grower and steward of historical land, the Brown family legacy has exemplified boundless opportunities for community engagement and sustainable stewardship.
Acknowledging the Past
While Rick is not the only Black multi-generational farmer working to continue a legacy, he is among the few. He is one of even fewer who has reclaimed the land their ancestors were enslaved on to breathe new life into it. Additionally to building community and self-reliance in Black farmers, The Browns value the worth of knowing their history and the sacrifices their ancestors endured to now benefit from their expansive land. Today, their generational wealth, like our farm tour, doesn’t stop at what’s growing on the farm. It continues to the plantation that holds the start of the Brown Family. As we entered through the gate of the Oakley Grove Plantation, Rick was able to point out the purpose of many of the still-standing structures, including the medical office where his great-great-great-great-grandfather Dr. Lafayette Falcon-Browne used to practice medicine on those who were enslaved on his property at Oakley Grove and other slaves from other nearby plantations. The main house is in the center of the property and is surrounded by smaller structures and trees. Behind the main house is a field where cotton is still being grown by a neighboring farmer.
Looking around, I found it entrancing to put myself in the mid-18th century and imagine the individuals who cared for the land, the friendships and family they nurtured throughout the joint experience of being enslaved. I wondered what sense of identity they grappled with. I wondered who walked through the halls and into sheltered rooms and who lived in sheds outside the house. I wondered if Patrick felt how powerful the land was and the soulful energy it held. When asked if he could feel the spiritual significance, he admitted that while it was present but not strong, other family members reported feeling it. The resonation that struck him came from pride in knowing how far his family had come since then, and his work to promote social and climate resilience among Black farmers with the hopeful vision of where they still have room to grow.
Celebrating the Future
Patrick’s vision for this property is to turn the historical landscape into a place to celebrate community and family and recognize his family’s history. He hopes to tell the story of his ancestors through a museum-like experience by showcasing pictures and literature and hosting tours led by history storytellers. Touring the inside of the house, it was easy to envision both locals and visitors taking in and enjoying the captivating evolution of being enslaved to becoming land stewards and embracing the sense of Sankofa I felt. Leaving the property, I felt excited to be another witness to the progression that’s still to come and see the legacy of another Black family farm continue.