Breaking Barriers With The Black Yard Farm Collective

Black Yard Farm founder Ashanti Williams tells us how the New York-based initiative is opening doors for Black farmers. She also shares her love of okra.

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by Phillip Mlynar
PHOTO: Black Yard Farm

Headquartered in New York, the Black Yard Farm Collective is focused on boosting the number of Black farmers operating in the agricultural world.

“The collective is providing space for folks of the African diaspora to learn, experience and enjoy an agricultural space dedicated to uplifting African and African-American ancestral practices and contributions to farming,” explains founder Ashanti Williams, who launched the initiative in 2020.

Taking a moment out from organizing the collective, we spoke to Williams about the roots of the organization and the many joys of okra.

Farming Roots

“I was raised growing food in a community garden that my family started in the ’90s,” says Williams, recalling her farming roots. “In my early 20s, I had the opportunity to raise layer hens in the garden. This experience inspired me to pursue a career in animal husbandry and sparked my desire to transition from urban to rural farming.”

Breaking Down Barriers

Part of the Black Yard Farm Collective mission involves opening up farming opportunities to Black farmers who might be facing barriers to entry. Williams points to “secure land access and sourcing the capital to fund a farm business” as key problems to overcome.

“As a Black farmer, I’ve also had to deal with racism, culture shock and lack of diversity in the rural spaces that I’ve transitioned to,” adds Williams.

Getting Into Okra

When it comes to her own farming adventures, Williams says that okra was 2023’s runaway success.

“I was a little late in getting the starts transplanted in the ground, but I planted them in a high tunnel, which extended the growing season a little longer,” explains Williams. “Okra is not a crop that a lot of vendors offer at the market where I sell, so customers were excited to see it offered at my stand. My parents are from South Carolina, so okra has always been a staple veggie in my home growing up.”

Cooking With Okra

“Some of my favorite ways to enjoy it are sautéed with sweet corn, tomatoes and summer squash or served with a side of cornbread,” says Williams when asked about ideas for cooking with okra.

More recently, Williams has also been experimenting with chopping raw okra and soaking it in water in the fridge overnight with a splash of lemon juice to crate a hydrating drink.

Providing Opportunities

Looking over the Black Yard Farm Collective story so far, Williams pinpoints the most rewarding part of the process as being able to provide the sort of opportunities that were absent during her own journey transitioning to rural farming.

“Being able to inspire others to consider this profession by existing in agriculture and being a representative of what it could look like for them,” she says, before adding that she takes nourishment from being able to farm “in ways that allow me to give back to my community and with other like-minded individuals as my ancestors did before me.”

Follow Black Yard Farm on Instagram.

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