By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
On August 1 to 3, a modern form of Sharecropping will be on display in Franklin with the dedication of “Izzie’s Field – The Farm to Foodbank Project” at a swath of farmland on Armory Drive.
At that time, the initial harvesting of over 150,000 ears of sweet corn will take place, thanks to the project’s partnership of Franklin’s New Life Global Church; a local Black farmer; the Hubbard Peanut Company; Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia of the Eastern Shore; and Kroger Grocery.
Sharecropping has a long and mixed history.
From ancient times in Africa, Europe, and the southern region of North America, Sharecropping was an arrangement when a landowner allowed a tenant farmer to use the land in return for a share of income from the crops produced on it.
When applied equitably, the partnership created benefits for the landlord, farmer, and community in the form of food.
However, there could be abuses, as in the case of its application during American Reconstruction after Emancipation.
Black farmers toiled in the field to raise crops for white landowners but were unable to secure a share of financial benefits.
Black farmers owing the landlord money for seed and food bought on credit to feed their families often consumed much of the profits they would have received.
They were indebted to the white landowner and were obligated to work another growing season to pay off the debt or be forced off the land.
According to Christopher Tan, the CEO of the Foodbank, “Izzie’s Field – The Farm to Field Project” is a one-of-a-kind, pilot program with several goals.
Tan said that the primary one is supporting local Black and other farmers.
The Foodbank leased a 20-acre slice of a 59.5-acre patch of land owned by the New Life Global Church which is pastored by Rev. Dr. Eric Majette.
Half of the 20 acres the agency leased is devoted to producing two crops cultivated by Elijah Barnes, a local African-American farmer who runs Pop-Son Farms.
He is growing peanuts on five acres in a partnership with the Peanut company. The other five acres are devoted to the corn crop.
The harvesting of the Peanuts will take place in late September. All of the revenue from the peanut harvest will be reaped by Barnes.
He, in turn, will reinvest in the farming operation.
The Foodbank chipped in with the land and some farming equipment.
Kroger paid for all of the seeds, farming supplies, and access to water and other resources needed to plant the Peanut and Sweet Corn crops.
Tan deems Barnes his agricultural expert, for he has been in charge of cultivating these two crops since they were planted earlier this year.
The 150,000 ears of sweet corn soon-to-be harvested in August will be sent to Foodbank outlets and shared with 107 distribution partners from Hampton Roads as far as Emporia.
It will be provided free to individuals and families experiencing food insecurity.
Tan said the cost of operation including seed, equipment irrigation, and labor to help plant, sustain and harvest crops is expensive for small farm operations.
It cuts into a small farmer’s profit “margins” which are used to reinvest in their operation and provide incomes for their families.
Further, securing reliable and affordable labor to help cultivate a crop for the market is costly. So, Tan said, the Foodbank is acquiring resources to provide volunteer labor to harvest the crops, thus reducing the operational costs.
Barnes will be able to invest in planting in late Summer, Fall crops of broccoli, cabbage, and collard greens. They are usually harvested just in time for the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holiday seasons.
Tan said next Spring, seeds will be planted for crops for produce for another Summer Produce.
Izzie’s Field, according to Tan, is named in honor of the late Izzie Brown, who was a Grant and Data Manager for his agency.
“This is the best form of Sharecropping I know of,” said Tan. “This is the first harvest of a pilot program we hope to expand and work with Black and other farmers in this region,” said Tan. “We hope to use more of the 20 acres we secured from the church for our project.”
Land to cultivate farm produce is expensive and valuable.
Over the years many farmers, especially African-Americans have lost large tracts of it, due to the inability to secure credit to buy the resources to run a profitable farm operation.
Rev. Majette, the Senior Pastor of the New Life Global Church, is also the President of the Virginia Beach NAACP and runs a real estate and passenger Bus company.
He said that in 2001, the church under the leadership of late Bishop William Saunders, bought the 59.5 acres of land where the Izzie Farm is located despite some resistance from the seller.
“Bishop was going to use the land to build a new church and education center,” said Majette. “But unfortunately, he died in an automobile accident.”
Majette said that he ventured out of the area for a time to pursue his career as a marketing executive for a Fortune 500 Company. He returned 30 years later.
“This farming project is a historic project,” said Majette. “We are the only church I know of involved in such a program. It will not only benefit the church and the community especially those in need of fresh vegetables, but the farmers who do the hard work of cultivating and harvesting them and the Foodbank that supplies food to families and individuals who may live in food deserts and experience food insecurity.”