We all know how important urban farming has become in Buffalo. Rural farms are just as important. Combined, the two offer a mix – a balance – that is not only timely, it’s imperative. For years, we let the practice of small scale farming drift away from us. We became disconnected from our natural food sources, and became reliant upon packaged foods that were not nutritious and/or sourced regionally.
As a way to get people more involved with the farm to table movement, Alexander Wright, Owner of the African Heritage Food Co-op (AHFC) on the city’s East Side, has invested in farmland (known as Blegacy Farms) that he says will be the future of community-based farming. Wright is of the belief that sourcing food should start with “inclusive, regenerative ownership.” We must be able to rely upon ourselves for sustenance, instead of the corner markets.
Give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.
Wright’s 22 acre farm, located on the outskirts of Buffalo in Franklinville, NY, will be a place where disenfranchised black community members with little access to healthy foods can farm. Aspiring farmers will also be able to lease sizable plots of land to grow and sell crops. And finally, the AHFC has committed to purchasing produce from the “Blegacy Farmers.”
Wright’s dream to empower the black community, by helping to provide people with access to affordable healthy foods, began when he was in the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity at the University at Buffalo (UB School of Law). Growing up in “East Buffalo,” Wright says that he was thinking a lot about food equity. “I was thinking about writing a book about the social impact within a fraternity, so I began to read about old black movements, by leaders such as Marcus Garvey,” says Wright. “Then I began to wonder why the Inner City looks like the Inner City. I decided, instead of writing about all of this, actually doing something about it. That’s when I thought about the co-op model for the market – so many great black businesses don’t have a succession plan, which is when the family businesses fall by the wayside. There needs to be longevity when it comes to these types of community projects. The co-op is a different model – if community members own the business, then they’re not worried about racism, glass ceilings, or how will we find work, and how will we eat?”
Since the pandemic, the AHFC has been temporarily revamped to providing food deliveries, which has been extremely effective. Additionally, investments by the Independent Health Foundation and the Buffalo Health Equity Network allowed the market to replace a $50,000 refrigeration unit, and purchase two new delivery trucks, among other “big jumpstarts.”
One would think that Wright would have his hands full with the AHFC undertaking, but instead of hyper-focusing on the co-op, he began to look at the bigger picture, which is where the farm comes in to play. He calls it “next generation farming.” While it is a separate business entity than the AHFC, the two work hand-in-hand together. “I initially thought about people in the neighborhood growing produce in their backyards,” says Wright. “But there was a quality control concern, with brownfields and lead. That’s when I discovered the farmland in Franklinville – the land has been tested… it’s fertile land.”
Talking to Wright, it’s interesting to hear about some of the concerns that drive him on a daily basis to seek food equity and justice for black people, many of whom live in food deserts, with little access to healthy foods. “Just think of the New Deal and its effects on black farmers.” Wright reminds me. “Roosevelt gave the money to the State to give to the farmers. But the black farmers wouldn’t get it, and they would have to sell their properties to their white neighbors. It’s a systemic black land grab. There was just a $12 million lawsuit awarded in Albany, GA, because her land was stolen from her during the farm crisis of the 1980’s.”
Because of past injustices, Wright is looking to restore some ‘food justice’ by creating a sustainable food system. He’s doing this with a 2-tier plan. First, he’s offering black farmers (with their own transportation) a chance to lease farm plots. He will be providing farm tutorials, shared equipment, and other resources to help the farmers. “People will rent the plots, and Blegacy will purchase the produce at market rates to sell at the AHFC. After people rent the land for 5 years, they will have an option to buy it. I want to make sure that it’s something that they want to do, before they over-commit. Farming is hard work, and it’s not for everyone. I don’t want to lock them into something that they can’t handle. Also, it’s about quality control – I want to make sure that the products are good, and that everyone is neighborly and communal… we want to build relationships and trust. And if someone buys in after 5 years of leasing, and then they decide to step down sometime after that, their property can be sold to family members (for example), but Blegacy has first right of refusal to purchase at market rate. That way, the land can’t be sold to a developer, or McDonald’s.”
The 2nd tier of the plan is to provide funding for community plots of land. At that time, there will also be communal transportation to the farm, to get people there and back. “I want to encourage people to bet on themselves,” explains Wright. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to get them out there. And we want people to know who is growing their food – the faces and the stories behind the farmers. It’s all about the love for the land – we hope that someday the farmers will live out there for the summer… there’s access to water (a pond), and we’re looking for funding to build two wells on the property. We’re going to make that investment. We’re also looking for support – people can help us to make this happen. There are opportunities to sponsor a plot for someone to farm for a year, to get their first crop going. We will purchase the produce, to make it sustainable.”
One day, Wright plans on inviting the entire community to attend African harvest ceremonies, before and after the harvest. “We will do this in traditional African ways,” notes Wright.
Wright describes this project as a win-win for the community. Not only is he providing people with a chance to invest in their own livelihoods, he’s doing it in a way that empowers residents from an overlooked and bypassed faction of the city that have been “left in the dust,” unfortunately.
There’s a lot that we can learn from Wright and his actions – hopefully in 2021, we can all help to contribute towards rectifying some of the social injustices that have occurred in Buffalo, from mending “The Scar” to shopping with/at the AHFC. In the end, the entire city benefits.
How It Works
- You lease a plot from Blegacy Farms
- You plant your seeds
- You water your seeds
- Your seeds grow into crops
- You keep or sell your crops
- We provide great soil and access to water
- We provide free introductory classes for new farmers
- We support you through this journey
Blegacy Farms Winchell, Rd Lot. A Franklinville, NY 14737
Individuals interested in farming at Blegacy Farms can get more information at www.BlegacyFarms.com.
AHFC’s current location is at 2616 Highland Avenue in Niagara Falls, New York
Niagara Falls Co-op Garden (coming soon)
Buffalo Co-op Garden is located at 132 Edison Avenue in Buffalo – farmers grow seasonal produce and herbs through the AHFC’s ‘Each One Teach One Urban Gardening’ program.
The Co-op’s future flagship location is located at 238 Carlton Avenue on Buffalo’s East Side.
Become a member of the Co-op – membership is not required to purchase produce
Lead image by Ahrian Stevens