It was the start of the coronavirus pandemic when meat and eggs began to disappear from the aisles of Vincent Padgett’s local grocery store.
“I was like, ‘This is a problem,’” Padgett told CNN. “There was no meat probably from March to April unless you got there early morning.”
With a lack of access to quality food, the 25-year-old from Memphis, Tennessee, used what he had to provide healthy options for his wife and two children: He turned his backyard into a poultry farm.
“I just decided to start growing my own food,” said Padgett, who was furloughed from his job at Best Buy at the start of the pandemic. “I took the initiative for myself and my family.”
In what he described as an average urban backyard, Padgett is raising chickens and growing several types of produce, including green beans, tomatoes, strawberries, apples and more. He says the backyard farm has lowered the cost of feeding his family and has become a lesson in sustainable living for his kids.
Padgett is one in a new generation of young Black farmers who have started farming to provide food for their communities and reconnect with their cultural heritage.
A study published last year by Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research found that during the pandemic, food insecurity for children was especially prevalent in US households of Black and Hispanic respondents.
Padgett said he strongly identities as a Black farmer in America because it reconnects him to his ancestors who farmed to provide for their families. “We were out there raising cattle, farming full scale for people that would not allow us to own land,” he said. “But we had small crops with small properties that we lived on and took care of our own families.”
According to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture, in 2017 there were only 45,500 Black farmers in the United States, which is almost 1.3% of all US farmers, a substantial change from the 925,708 Black farmers the USDA counted in 1920.
Padgett, who has since got a job at Tractor Supply, hopes to be a part of a new wave of Black farmers who have the resources and platforms to take better advantage of opportunities to own their own farms.
“Just knowing that a lot of the government did not allow some funding for land grants and land ownership for Blacks really hit me hard,” said Padgett.
In the future, he plans to expand his small backyard farm by purchasing more land, with the aim of providing fresh food for his community.
“When we run into crisis like the pandemic, with sustainable living you’re not only giving back to the soil, earth, and environment,” said Padgett. “You’re making sure your family’s healthy and the people around you.”