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BIPOC farmers in Conn. may be small in number, but they have plenty of stories to tell

Bryan Holder of the Mashantucket Pequots breaks to wipe his brow while clearing weeds off land where fall crops will be planted at the Tribal Nation’s Meechoook farm.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
Bryan Holder of the Mashantucket Pequots breaks to wipe his brow while clearing weeds off land where fall crops will be planted at the Tribal Nation’s Meechoook farm.

One-third of Connecticut’s residents identify as people of color, but statistically, more than 98% of Connecticut’s farmers are white. It’s a disparity rooted in generations of racism, unequal access to land and credit, and systemic discrimination. But while their numbers are small, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) farmers do exist in Connecticut. All summer long, we will bring you their stories through audio interviews and photographs, which will be posted here. Listen to these farmers in their own words.

Gary Carter, Cassius Spears Sr., Jeremy Whipple

“Giving thanks was knowing that we were the weaker ones and not the ones that were dominant over all life.”

On hundreds of acres of abundant tribal land, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and its recently formed Department of Agriculture are farming in forests, fields, and hydroponic greenhouses. Three farmers discussed food, harvests, and giving thanks throughout the year.

The conversation began with strawberries. (Originally aired 8/8/2022)

James Faison, 87

"I do what I can today. What I can’t do, I let it go. If I wake up tomorrow morning, I’ll start all over again."

At a small plot of land in a New Haven neighborhood, a farmer known as "Bo Beep" says farming keeps him alive in body and in spirit. (Originally aired: 7/18/22)

Lauren Little, 33

"Many of them have come to me and been like, ‘You’re the only Black teacher that I’ve had before.’ Or, ‘I didn’t know there were Black farmers.’ That hurt me."

The founder of Lauren Little Edutainment says farming fosters connection. As she filled up a bucket of water near a busy street, Lauren Little showed that her lessons often begin by pulling food out of the ground and taking a bite. (Originally aired: 7/11/22)

Sarah Rose Kareem, 29, & Azeem Zakir Kareem, 29

She was like, ‘Why is no one coming? This is so strange. Why is no one here?’ I'm like, 'cuz you got a Black dude here.’ This isn't a place where you just find Black people walking around.”

Speaking on a windy day outside their Windsor Locks farm, the married co-founders of Samad Gardens Initiative celebrate the freedom they’ve found farming, but they say customers at farmers markets treat them differently depending on who’s behind the stand. (Originally aired: 6/27/22)

Xóchitl Garcia, 26

“Growing up, my family made agriculture a taboo subject because it was a method of survival.”

A woman explores how farming intersects with her Mexican identity while working at a community garden in New Haven. (Originally aired: 6/13/22)

Liz Guerra, 37 & Héctor Gerardo, 38

“We are not a traditional ‘ag’ family … We came here with a dream and a compost box.”

The co-owners of Seamarron Farmstead in Danbury want you to know that “Black farmers do exist and BIPOC farmers – in Connecticut.” They describe a farming journey that started on a New York City fire escape and led to their farm, where they grow everything from garlic to hemp in the backyard of their Connecticut homestead. (Originally aired: 6/6/22)

Updated: August 8, 2022 at 8:09 AM EDT
This story has been updated.
Patrick Skahill is a reporter at Connecticut Public. He covers science and the environment. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.
Mark Mirko is Deputy Director of Visuals at Connecticut Public and his photography has been a fixture of Connecticut’s photojournalism landscape for the past two decades. Mark led the photography department at Prognosis, an English language newspaper in Prague, Czech Republic, and was a staff-photographer at two internationally-awarded newspaper photography departments, The Palm Beach Post and The Hartford Courant. Mark holds a Masters degree in Visual Communication from Ohio University, where he served as a Knight Fellow, and he has taught at Trinity College and Southern Connecticut State University. A California native, Mark now resides in Connecticut’s quiet-corner with his family, three dogs and a not-so-quiet flock of chickens. His email address is mmirko@ctpublic.org.
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