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African American Farmers of California (AAFC)

“We need to make sure African-American farmers are visible because, for a long time, we’ve been invisible. We, as a people, have played a tremendous part in agriculture throughout the U.S.”  – William Scott Jr., AAFC President

According to the 2018-2019 California Agricultural Statistics Review through the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), California is home to over sixty nine thousand farms. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2017 Agriculture Census noted that, of those farms, only 429 were run by African American producers–operating over seventy five thousand acres. That is barely over a half percent of farms in the state–and less than two percent nationally, due to historically discriminatory practices within the USDA causing black farmers to lose 80 percent of their farmland from 1910 to 2007, from lack of access to loans or insurance needed to sustain their businesses.

A non-profit in California’s Central Valley hopes to combat that historical discrimination by empowering African-American growers to provide their communities with fresh, wholesome food.

“We take care of the land, the land will take care of us. Then we’ll take care of the community.” – William Scott Jr., AAFC President

Tractor tilling soil at the AAFC demonstration farm.

Tucked behind Kearney Park on the outskirts of Fresno, California, at the intersection of California and Fair, a sixteen acre farming demonstration site serves as the homebase for African American Farmers of California (AAFC.) Established in 1997, founders William Scott Jr. and Ken Grimes started by doing door-to-door outreach for members in the nearby west Fresno neighborhoods. In the past twenty years, they’ve built a community of over twenty farmers to support current growers through agro-tourism, farmers markets, and educational awareness, while training future farmers in operating equipment and basic farming skills. To further this cause, they have begun the process of becoming a healthy soils demonstration project in collaboration with the Fresno State UC Extension, which will qualify them for additional equipment to manage the land, train their members, and more efficiently grow their crops under the program’s grant funding.

“If we can get the message across about supporting a variety of farmers, and get more people interested and taking quality food to where it should be, then I’ve done my job. This is what I was born to do.” – William Scott Jr., AAFC President

Line of crops at the AAFC demonstration farm.

Scott and Grimes have been pivotal in reintroducing Southern specialty crops, which have long been a part of the traditional African-American diet, into the central valley. These crops grow seasonally, with summers bringing black-eyed, crowder, and purple hull peas, okra, turnips, and tomatoes, while winters serve up mustard, turnip, and collard greens, spinach, broccoli and carrots. The AAFC hopes to provide their growers with an outlet to distribute these crops via the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program, next year.

If you are interested in attending their monthly meetings‒starting at 5:30pm every second Tuesday‒you can reach out to their Vice President, LaKeishia Martin, at africanamericanfarmersofca@gmail.com. Follow them on Facebook to stay tuned for their field day showcase next year.

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Explore – Review: Evening Events in the Valley

We are nearing the end of the summer season. The days are still long, and the nights will soon begin to cool, which means it’s a great time to take advantage of some of the evening events happening around the Central Valley. Here are three that I think are worth checking out.

Gazebo Gardens Beer Garden

3204 N. Van Ness Blvd, Fresno CA
Thurs-Sat year round
5:30 pm – 9:00 pm

If you’re looking for an evening of food and music in a beautiful locale, then Gazebo Gardens is your destination. They turn this nursery into a Beer Garden with food trucks and live music every Thursday through Saturday evening year round. You can grab a bottle of beer or select one of the 5-8 beers on tap at one of the two stands. Then, wander through the roses, statues, and shrubs to find seating nestled between the plants. Kids love to run through the gardens, playing tag around the trees and under the gazebo, and watching for the trains that pass by throughout the evening. There is even a raised pond to explore. 

When you’re feeling peckish, stroll through an assortment of food trucks. There are generally 8-12 trucks to choose from, and they rotate regularly so you can find your favorites and try new ones. We have sampled sliders from Meltdown Bistro, chicken tikka masala from Ganesha Masala, falafel and gyros from Holy Shish, vegan burritos from El Jaca, and both creamy and boozy shaved ice from Sno Cafe. All are delicious and are made better by the friendly and relaxed environment. And did I mention the dogs? Gazebo Gardens is dog friendly and usually abounds with furry friends. 

There is always a live band performing on their small stage near one of the beer garden taps. There are picnic-style tables in front, and a few more rows off to the side. Some even have inset fire pits for cooler evenings. While there are tables and chairs scattered throughout the gardens, seating can be hard to come by on more popular nights. I suggest sending a scout while you wait for your beer or dinner. Luckily, people are generally friendly and wander around when not eating, so seating eventually becomes available. And even if you can’t get a spot near the band, the music carries throughout the gardens, making it a lovely evening anywhere you go.

Lindsay Friday Night Market

Honolulu St/Sweet Brier Plaza, Lindsay, CA
Fridays year round
5:30 pm – 10:00 pm

If you love a good swap meet, but hate the mornings, check out the Lindsay Friday Night Market. The small town of Lindsay is home to many Hispanic and Latino families, and their cultures shine at this event. The town square is a lively hub for the market, and is often filled with people dancing to live music or a DJ. There are rows and rows of vendors selling both original and discounted goods. You can even shop for birds and farm animals. There are, in fact, so many vendors and rows that I almost got lost during my first visit. Luckily, I had a regular patron with me to keep me oriented. 

In addition to traditional goods, art, and animals, you can find an assortment of delectable food. There are the market staples of kettle corn, pizza, and hot dogs, but the real treats are the cultural options. We endured an epic line for delicious pupusas made by hand right in front of us. My boyfriend indulged in his favorite, elote (corn). I grew up eating corn on the cob, but elote comes with a buffet of possible toppings, including mayonnaise, Tajin (seasoning powder), lime, salt, and hot sauce.  

The atmosphere was friendly and lively, but not for the agoraphobic. We attended on a sweltering summer night, and the place was still packed. People were generally friendly and eager to chat, but there were long lines and crowded walkways. However, if you’re not daunted by a crowd and enjoy a festive environment, add the Lindsay Night Market to your Friday night plans.

Clovis Farmers Market

Pollasky between 5th & Bullard, Old Town Clovis, CA
Fridays during summer
5:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Saturdays year round
9:00 am – 11:30 am

If you’re looking for a laid back farmers market with plenty to explore, check out the Clovis Farmers Market. You can explore local produce, handmade items, and food year round every Saturday, but during the summer months you can also visit the market on Friday evenings. It is a nice way to wrap up the week and get some yummy produce for your weekend. 

I enjoyed wandering the three blocks lined with beautiful, local produce and flowers the most, but my 5 year old enjoyed the live performances and mini train ride more. There was a band set up in the center intersection, and when they were on break a local group of cloggers called the California Ground Pounders stepped in to perform. I wasn’t familiar with the genre, but it was fun to watch. If you haven’t witnessed it, envision people in modified tap shoes doing a cross between square and line dancing. And it was clear this group enjoyed what they were doing, despite the heat. 

The Clovis Farmers Market does a good job interspersing crafters, produce vendors, local companies, and food options throughout the market. There is, however, a cluster of food stations near the main intersection along with some picnic tables which were, unfortunately, in direct sunlight. We visited our friends at Fine Print Plus, bought some organic local berries, and checked out a few handmade items. We wrapped up our evening by enjoying a second band at the far end of the market, right before embarking on a windy little off-track train ride. My son was sad to go, but declared the evening a success, and I agreed.