By Tyria McCray, Staff Writer
One word, Legacy. That alone encompasses Fourtee Acres family farm. Legacy is walking on soil that a grandfather and grandmother bought and worked on. Legacy is witnessing the hard work and diligence of Black farmers. It is simply carrying the strength of our forefathers to new generations.
Black agriculture is a vital component of American life. As of today, Black-owned farms make up less than 2 percent of all the nation’s farms today whereas in 1920, it was 14 percent.
That being said, we need to highlight our Black farmers that we still have and show the importance of farming.
Fourtee Acres, a 45-acre minority owned family farm established in 1994, engages in sustainable agriculture, forestry, farming, natural gardening, and rental property operation.
This farm is part of the 195-acre Williams Family Farm which was established in 1916. Going back to the term “legacy,’’ in 1910 Tussie and Roxana Williams (grandparents of the present owners) married, which began the family business.
Roxana’s maternal family, known as the Wilkinses, originally owned the land prior to her marrying Tussie. As a result, once married, the property was brought into the marriage. By 1916, Tussie purchased 38 acres of land for $864. Later on in 1924, he bought 100 acres for $3,000.
Over the years, they were able to purchase land whereas 195 acres still abides under family ownership to present day.
Fourtee Acres is owned by Tyrone and Edna Williams who are third generation along with their three sons, Trevelyn, Tremaine and Tyron.
As you can see, Fourtee Acres is also a play on words as well. It correlates with the proverbial “forty acres and a mule” that was promised to African-Americans after slavery as a form of reparations (but we still never received).
Also, notice the twist at the end of Fourtee. It recognizes the four T’s which are Tyrone, Trevelyn, Tremaine and Tyron. In addition, notice the “double” EE’s at the end of Fourtee. They represent the “Energizing Effort” that Mrs. Edna Williams brings to the family. She is the backbone of the family, through her alone, she is continuing the legacy of the Williams name.
Fourtee Acres is a North Carolina century farm that is recognized by the Department of Agriculture and by the Black Century Land Ownership Recognition Program, also known as BCLORP. BLCORP is a Winston County Self Help cooperative out of Mississippi. This organization has a focus to recognize Black century landowners nationally while honoring and celebrating the families who have passed down their legacy for generations.
Fourtee Acres also participates in the adopt-a-highway program through the Department of Transportation in memory of their grandparents.
Now, there are certain goals put into place for Fourtee Acres: Measured succession planning, generating sustainable wealth and income, and conservation of the environment, natural ecosystems, vegetation and wildlife through sound management practices.
Fourtee Acres is a part of the American Tree Farm certification. One of which goes beyond the certification which is forest stewardship certified.
“People say money doesn’t grow on trees and our thing is to show them that it does,” said Tyrone Williams. To further add, these trees are second generation loblolly pine which from 2015–2019, it has grown tremendously.
“When I would ride and look throughout the countryside, I would also see these beautiful trees and I noticed we did not have them on our property. So my whole motivation behind this is that I would not have a lot to leave to my three sons. But I knew if I was able to leave them a managed stand of timber then they would possibly be able to have a better quality of life. So I decided to get involved with a program that would educate me more about forestry and woodland ownership,” Tyrone added.
Williams retired in 2014, and Ms. Edna retired in 2018. After retirement, they started growing vegetables for themselves.
In 2019, a high tunnel was put up with money from the USDA. Granted, everything was experimental because unbeknownst to anyone, Mr. Williams had never grown anything, let alone farmed before.
However, by that second year of growing vegetables, everything started to come into fruition. They began to sell to people but there was no plan. As a result, the coronavirus provided them with a plan. Once COVID hit, a family member partnered with the CSA food boxes and asked if Mr. Tyrone and Ms. Edna would supply vegetables which began the entire process of selling.
Ultimately, this led to them selling their vegetables to others which then led to nonprofits, restaurants, private sales, etc. In addition, Fourtee Acres has also entered into a partnership with Whitaker Small Farm group. This particular group has helped tremendously with their family farm.
Within this group, Fourtee Acres serves as a demo farm for the Whitaker Small Farm group in which they host workshops every other month.
The Carolinian sat down with Tyrone and Edna Williams for an interview about their land. We wanted to capture their history and show why Black agriculture is still prevalent today.
“We grow both indoors and outdoors. We do not use any fertilizer or pesticide. I use diatomaceous earth which I sprinkle on the vegetables because the worms cannot digest it,’’ said Mrs. Williams.
“We also use a little bit of neem oil. Those are all organic things. I also hand-pick the vegetables. Also, OMRI which is a seedling starting mix. So I started with basil, peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, Crenshaw, honeydew, watermelon, zucchini (yellow and green), cucumbers, squash, straightneck, okra, patty pan squash, strawberries, karabi, string beans, daikon radishes, cauliflower, spinach, beets, Brussels sprouts, red and gold potatoes, and rainbow carrots,” Mrs. Williams added.
“Now with our high tunnel, it is small. We decided to do like 35 by 30. We try to use every corner of it. We are growing things that other people do not grow. Other people do beefsteak tomatoes so we decided on a great white tomato. Which actually is less acidic. Everyone had cherry tomatoes but we decided on a sungo and sunburst tomato.
“We tried to expand what we were doing. We did things that you couldn’t find in the store. I tried all kinds of stuff just to see what the land would bear. You name it, we tried it,” Mrs. Williams said.
“I also try to package everything where it can go from my sink to your pot. I want to make sure that it was clean and contaminant free. We provide to the farmers market, one restaurant, and two nonprofits, and also private sales.’’
‘‘Now some people come here, once I post on Facebook. My son shared it, then people showed up in the yard,” Mr. Williams said.
“What we are trying to pass down is concepts. It is easy to tell people stuff but we want to show them. Each one of our three sons all fit in differently. So rather than leaving them money, I would rather leave infrastructure.
‘‘My oldest is more of an outdoor person, the middle son is trying to figure out what else we can do. He is not going to go out there and get dirty. The youngest son is kind of like idk (I don’t know), haha. But that is okay because one day, this will be his. I don’t worry about that, my thing is to make sure that everything is in place.” Mr. Williams added.
He also had some advice for young Black farmers just starting.
“I don’t want people to look at it like our ancestors did. Farming is different now. Before, it was connected to slavery and some people look at it like that. But I would like to see young people experience it for themselves. It feels different, especially when you own your own land,” Mrs. Williams said.
“That great migration to the north and the bad taste about sharecropping and slavery. Now it needs to be about oneness and connectivity. If you can bridge that and understand the connectivity of the land to your ancestors,’’ said Mr. Williams.
Why is Black agriculture important?
“ Legacy. It’s a sense of where you came from. I have a connection with my mother when I am out there in the garden. So just to look back at where we come from. How it was then and how it wasn’t profitable for us then but it is now.
“To be proud to do it now. I wish my mother could see me do it now. Because so many of us have lost land, it is important for me to help him and our children to the land,” Mrs. Williams said.
The government has withheld funds from Black farmers. How does that affect your farm?
“I am trying to get my grandad’s 40 acres and a mule,” said. Mr. Williams.