First black farmers conference packs out Maxie Parks Community Center

Conference aims to inspire more African Americans to get involved in ag industry

Fresno, Calif. - The first ever black farmers conference in Fresno took place Wednesday at Maxie Parks Community Center in West Fresno.

The conference aims to provide resources to current African American farmers and encourage more of the black community to get involved.

African Americans make up fewer than 2 percent of the nation's farmers according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, attendees of the event hope the conference will be a step in right direction to change that.

Chanowk Yisrael, founder of Yisrael Family Urban Farm, was one of several speakers at the event. He said in order to get more black people interested in growing food the historical narrative must change.

"When I go into high school classrooms or elementary classrooms and I say 'agriculture, farming, black people, land,' they think slavery and oppression. So with that kind of trauma still present, you have to find a way to over come that," said Yisrael.

Patrick Hamilton is a local farmer trying to change that narrative.

He runs a youth program in Southwest Fresno at the West Fresno Family Resource Center called the Sweet Potato Project.

"It's a two phase project," said Hamilton. "We do a recruitment of 35 kids, we go to the field and plant and harvest the food, but we also go to Fresno State and do a business component."

Hamilton teaches youth in troubled neighborhoods how to grow Sweet Potatoes.
They work in the field, spend six weeks at Fresno State and even sell muffins they make out of the Sweet Potatoes they grow.

"It's so important around here because of all the gang violence and drug abuse. In this program they have a chance to think outside the box and look forward to becoming someone great," said Hamilton.

Yisrael said programs and conferences like these are the keys to getting more black people involved in farming.

"It really comes down to empowerment. It's already there, the young people already want to be connected, we just have to find a way to get them into those connection points," said Yisrael.

The event was organized by the West Fresno Family Resource Center, they co-sponsored it with the USDA.

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