Photography by Gene Dominique
Midsummer found Farms to Grow, Inc. launching its 8th season of the Freedom Farmers’ Market at a new venue in Oakland’s Temescal district. The unique market comes with a mission: “To bring traditional legacy foods from Black farmers and other sustainable farmers into Oakland as we engage a community vibe of self-reliance, cooperative community development, and healthy sustainable environments for all.”
Among the farmers selling on July 17 were brothers Stephen and Paul Gaskin. Both describe falling in love with the land when they were kids climbing trees and shooting rabbits in the orchards during family vacations around Guinda, California. That land called them back, and both took up farming. On the market’s opening day, Stephen was selling almond butter crushed from nuts harvested at his LeMule Ranch while his elder brother, Paul, offered brilliant-yellow-fleshed watermelons at his separate Blue Ridge Ranch booth.
Lloyd and Andrea Franklin took up farming in Calaveras County after retiring from city-type careers in Oakland. Andrea says her husband had dreamed of farming ever since age nine when he won a ribbon at the Alameda County Fair for growing the biggest zucchini. Don’t miss Andrea’s customer-winning stone fruit and berry preserves!
Last summer, Yolanda Burrell converted her Pollinate Farm & Garden retail store into an internet-only shop and set her sights toward cultivating the promise of her Oakland urban farm. She was pleased as market customers quickly snapped up her gorgeous greens, herbs, garlic, squash, and plums on opening day.
Farmer Will Scott Jr. worked for 40 years with the telephone company in Oakland before deciding it was time to reconnect with his family roots in farming. His great-grandparents left South Carolina after the Emancipation Proclamation and migrated to Texas, then Oklahoma, and eventually to California, where they farmed as sharecroppers on other people’s land. Scott now owns his own land near Fresno where he cultivates 45 acres with crops like crowder peas (aka black-eyed peas), purple hull peas, watermelons, tomatoes, and okra with the help of his brother Melvin.
The two currently bring their Scott Family Farms produce to sell each week at the market in Oakland, but their mainstay is a steady stream of clients who come to the farm from as far away as Los Angeles and Las Vegas, primarily for the peas and okra, which are staples in the family of cuisines from the American South.
As president of the African American Farmers of California, Will Scott Jr. is also an advocate for agriculture. When asked why he thinks it’s important for African Americans (or anyone who has the passion) to consider farming, he says, “I think the future [of farming] is wide open. We just have to get young people to embrace it.”
Learn more about the Freedom Farmers’ Market at farmstogrow.com.
Gene Dominique uses art and photography to heal the psychic scars of a 30-year law practice. His passion project, Still Here: African American Farmers in the 21st Century, is an intimate look at African American farmers around the country. Learn more at genedominiquephotography.com.