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BIPOC farming fellowship uses 'knowledge applied to real world situations'

A white farm house with red roof is behind a large garden with a wood sign and next to two trees with green and red leaves. The sky is bright blue.

A pilot fellowship program for local BIPOC farmers provided them with opportunities to study and work on issues from increasing agricultural school curriculums to lobbying lawmakers.

The Agraria Center for Regenerative Practice launched its Regenerative Farming Policy Fellowship Pilot Program for Black, Indigenous and people of color growers in September of 2023. It recently wrapped up its first cohort.

The program allowed area farmers to address unique challenges that small-scale, regenerative farmers face. For many Black, Indigenous or farmers of color, these challenges include racial inequities when accessing government resources or support.

“These fellowship and education programs, we didn't want it to be just knowledge," said Patty Allen, program manager for the BIPOC Food and Farming Network. "We wanted knowledge applied to real world situations and real world issues.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education partnership provided $50,000 in grant money aimed at engaging BIPOC growers in the greater Dayton-Springfield metropolitan region.

Ten farmers participated in a series of educational modules over the past seven months. That included a day of advocacy at the Ohio Statehouse on Oct. 17, 2023.

One fellow worked with Dayton Public Schools and focused on expanding agricultural and food programs in the DPS curriculum, Allen said.

“Through this fellowship program, they were able to connect with school board officials and officials at the higher level of the Dayton Public School administration to really promote the need for expanded food and agriculture courses,” she said. 

Fellows also launched a podcast about the Farm Bill, a community campaign to elevate Black farmers, and an organic seed library initiative.

Jessica D’Ambrosio, board chair for Agraria, saidthe nonprofit is recovering from its financial issues in 2023 and slowly reopening with a strategic plan.

According to D'Ambrosio, the fellowship program was made possible through community partnerships.

"So really everyone coming together and saying, 'Yes, we care about this. Yes, we think this is an important thing, and let's try to figure out how to make this pilot project work,'" she said.

D'Ambrosio credits three major components to the program's success: partnerships, the dedicated fellows and the program's sponsor.

"So the USDA SARE program, just being willing, knowing that we had a lot of changes on our end and a lot of uncertainties, and they were willing to enable us to still do the projects and work with us," she said. "And they gave us a chance and that really was helpful."

Going forward, Allen said Agraria is hopeful that the program will continue in future years and eventually become statewide.

For more information about Agraria and the pilot program, visit agrariacenter.org.

Shay Frank was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. Before working at WYSO, Shay worked as the Arts Writer for the Blade Newspaper in Toledo, Ohio. In addition to working at the paper, she worked as a freelancer for WYSO for three years and served as the vice president of the Toledo News Guild. Now located back in the Dayton area, Shay is thrilled to be working with the team at WYSO and reporting for her hometown community.