One Black Man’s Journey From Battlefields To Green Pastures
It Hasn’t Always Been Easy For Black People To Own And Keep Land
Post slavery, many Black people found empowerment in making a profit off of land they had once been forced to work for free. Into the 20th century, one in every seven farmers was Black and collectively held 16 million acres of land. But over the years, 98% of Black farmers would lose their land due to dealings with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other federal programs. At one point, Laws like the California Alien Land Law of 1913 prohibited people of color from owning land. To this day, people of color make up less than 4% of land owner-operators. In 2021, the return of Black people to agriculture could be more important than ever.
If America has a successful coup or if the nation has an economic collapse, millions of people will likely starve People who don’t have the money to buy food can’t feed their families. Millions of Black people are at risk of starvation should America go back to Jim Crow Era times. It’s looking as if this is a strong possibility within the next four to ten years.
Growing one’s own food and reaping the health benefits is beneficial to everyone, but especially in the Black community where obesity and heart disease are a disproportionately bigger issue. The numerous benefits of sustainable agriculture look like a way out. Bypassing governmental hurdles and generalized inequality, Black people stepping back into the agriculture space could revitalize our communities.
And some Black farmers have already taken initiative.
Marlon Willis Scott is a former Marine turned Black farmer who found his passion in agriculture. He’s since taken that passion to establish his own farm and wants to use farming to revitalize the Black community. The purpose of this article is to raise awareness about his project and his goals. The following is an interview about his life and work. This is his story.
Tell Me A Little About Your Military Background
I was homeless at eighteen and wasn’t disciplined enough for college, so the military was the only viable option. Two weeks after high school, I joined the Marine Corps. I’ve always wanted to be an infantryman, but the quota was full so I entered as an “open” contract. Later I received field wireman training at Twenty-nine Palms, California. After which, I was assigned to 3rd Battalion 6th Marines in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
I remember reading a Newsweek article about a black marine rising through the ranks of the Marine Corps. The picture was of him getting promoted in Afghanistan in 2003. I saved the picture and felt so inspired to join. Well, in 2004 I ended up in the same unit as that Marine in the Newsweek article. I told him the whole story once we deployed to Iraq together, and we just laughed.
Surprisingly, the military was still very segregated then: 95% whites served in the infantry, and 95% blacks in the support roles. My interest remained though, nothing was stopping me from my dream to be an infantryman. My grandfathers served in WWII and the Korean War, my uncles served in Desert Storm, so naturally, I felt honored to continue that legacy of serving my country.
I brought my Marines home and received two letters of commendation for “An uncanny ability to adjust and implement any unforeseen changes.”
How/why did you decide to get into farming? Where is your farm located?
I enrolled in college after my tours of duty to study political science. After
college, I had many job prospects but no interest. A great career and high-paying salary doing something I was not passionate about were not appealing to me. I wanted my work to be meaningful and impactful to my community, my people. African American people.
For three years I volunteered and worked odd jobs in various industries, but nothing kept my attention like farming.
I researched farms and found the “Veggielution” community farm in San Jose, California. I worked in the greenhouse mainly, and with the chickens as well. At the end of our work session, we got to take home as much fruit and vegetables as we could carry.
Eating a cherry tomato off the vine was the sweetest thing ever. The food grown there was magical. The only time I’ve had real fresh food in my life was when I was deployed in Iraq, near the Syrian border, and our unit ran-out of supplies mid-mission. Our Captain directed us to this tree with weird fruit, which happened to be the sweetest dates I ever had, and my favorite fruit till this day.
There are similarities between farming and military operations. In the military, attention to detail in planning combat patrols and missions is required. Crop rotations, soil amendments, and adjusting to varying weather conditions are similar to military operations, so it all made sense to me.
After spending a year volunteering at Veggielution, I went to Chattahoochee Hill, Georgia to start my own organic vegetable farm. I used the last of my savings to buy land and a walk-in tent. I lived on the property for another year while building a relationship with my neighbors and saving money. In this situation, not having the initial capital forced me to address the learning curve. Naming the terrain, plants, and creatures I see every day.
What is your goal?
I want to work within my community to accomplish three goals:
1. Feed the discarded. I want to feed the homeless and any overworked, underpaid families.
2. Provide paid internships for troubled youth.
3. Inspire others to build small efficient farms as well, and promote similar sentiments for their surrounding communities.
Why is farming important to you/the African-American community?
As a community, we may not control our employment opportunities, but
we must control our own food supply. Without food, we’ll die. In war, the first act of war that happens is dismantling resource supply lines. Just read about General Sherman of the Union Army, on how he made “Georgia Howl” when he captured Atlanta during the Civil War. Let's not forget the “Massacre at Ebenezer Creek” where our recently freed ancestors were left by their emancipators to be killed and further traumatize through starvation, rape, etc. by the remaining Confederate soldiers.
African-Americans are still vulnerable to this day because we’ve never been made whole from slavery and the violence that ensued during and after Reconstruction. America has never protected us.
We’ve always had to fend for ourselves.
I’ve always wanted to be the man my younger self needed, and in these times, a dedicated farmer is what my community needs. I do not plan to have children, this is my life. We need to radically change the way we see food. It’s not just something you go and buy at the local Kroger but rather medicine for the body and soul. For example, start growing Aloe Vera plants if you have limited space and patience. Those plants heal burns relatively quickly. If you have space, start with a bucket composting operation. Purchase buckets from Lowes with lids, sawdust from a mill, and collect your food scraps from the comfort of your kitchen. Keep a layer of sawdust on top of your compost, so it won’t let
off too many gases. Involve the children now because they are the future.
If you teach a man to fish, he/she will be able to feed his/her family for life.
My approach is in no way a model for “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” The federal government has a debt to pay. African Americans are owed a debt.
I am, just like most folks, simply doing what I can with what I have available. This is my personal mission steeped in my unique experience in America. The previously mentioned goals are dear to me. I remember living from shelter to shelter, standing in long soup lines while feeling the pain of my stomach acid being digested, encountering sexual and physical abuse. It’s a meat grinder out there.
Also, being deployed and seeing folk begging for food, batteries, chocolate, water, clothes. America is on the way to a severe food-insecurity crisis. I want to be ahead of the power curve. I want to be a resource for my people.
As far as my ethos, Christianity modeled my character. Service to others has always stuck with me, but this country is failing its countrymen. African-Americans were 14% of all US farmers, owning millions of acres of land. One hundred years later, we now own only 1.6% of the farming land in the nation. There has been a great theft of land from African Americans over the past century and a half. Land thieves understand the land is essential for survival.
Land gives men rights, like the right to vote and to make decisions about how our taxes are spent in our communities.
The land is seen as a form of capital. To me, it's freedom.
What are some of the pros/ cons/challenges of farming?
The Pros: Well, you get to eat a variety of fresh food, inhale good bacteria for your immune system, and feed others who would normally be starved of food nutrients. It’s extremely rewarding.
The Cons: Being a farmer is not a job nor a career. It’s a lifestyle. You must love nature, enjoy hard work, and love to get dirty. There is no such thing as traveling for fun anytime time soon, and there are no days off. Farming is coupled with land stewardship, so when winter comes you might have to remove fallen trees, continue to improve your soils through composting, etc. Hopefully, your loved ones will understand the importance of your absence. Farming is essential, and most people don’t care to understand the sacrifice. Be ready to be overlooked.
The Challenges: I understood I did not have everything I needed to start my farm, but I did have enough money to buy land. Finding suitable and affordable land was definitely a challenge. I would say I underestimated the infrastructure costs. I have invested countless hours of sweat equity for years just to shape the landscape. I have removed over fifty Virginia Pine trees, 50 feet high, with only a chainsaw and ax.
I have used my own truck and a reciprocating saw to remove tree trunks. This is extreme. This is desperation. Most people can’t do what I do, and shouldn’t, but capital is the great equalizer. I haven’t purchased new clothes or shoes in years and rarely eat fast food. Plus, I don’t have the usual social pressures to be tempted to do so. Saving money is easier, but I have to save for months to complete one project on the land. There is no other option for me. This is my life’s work, so I get to work as efficiently as I can.
What types of farming do you do? What products do you grow?
The only product I produce is compost. I experiment with different soil amendments on my Golden Pothos project and evergreen trees. Also, my neighbors provide kitchen and garden waste so I can improve my soil in the farmable areas.
What does your farm need to be successful?
The main ingredient is a steady flow of income, but also, teamwork! I remember the coordinated effort it took while working on a sweet potato farm in North Carolina. It was synergistic! I would also enjoy working with my local officials.
How does farming make you feel?
Farming gave me my purpose back after the military, and land stewardship is my therapy. My days might be long but I finally get quality sleep at night, it’s the perfect trade-off.
How can we readers help?
Please share my story and/or donate whatever you can. Also, stay with me on this journey.
If readers have any questions about the farm, Marlon’s contact information is below. If you’d like to donate equipment, seeds, or other supplies to help this farm succeed, please support the former vet and current green thumb. His goal is to raise $25,000 by the end of 2021. He used the winter season to completely develop his farm’s infrastructure to be prepared for a full year of growing in 2022.
***Disclaimer: The author is not affiliated with Marlon or his farm, she does not receive any benefits from his farming activities, and she will not benefit from any of the proceeds of donations and gifts as a result of this story.***
I hope readers enjoyed learning about Marlon as much as I did. The moment I heard his plea it spoke to me. He inspired me to start my little chintzy backyard garden. Farming is hard work. I want to use my platform to help people who need help, especially Black men.
African-Americans are getting back into farming for the right reasons, the issue for us is always the same, resources. Resources, our historic lack, has always prevented us from having access to land, farms, and supply chains to sustain ourselves. White Supremacy keeps everyone in the system dependent upon it. White Supremacy is a survival mechanism. It requires others to not have in order for those in power to have.
The morals of Marlon’s story are simple ones. Life can be as hard or as simple as we make it. No matter what we do in life, hard work is required to reap any rewards. We can work for someone else, or we can work for ourselves. Most importantly, a man who doesn’t work won’t eat.
Today, we work for other people and we own nothing. We are consumers, indebted, and enslaved. Most people have no clue how to grow their own foods. Most people don’t pay attention to where their food comes from, and too many folks don’t appreciate the hands that feed them enough.
African-Americans today cannot afford to be caught off guard the way we were during the violence during the Civil War and Reconstruction Era. A storm is coming. White men are setting the stage to be violent, rape, and pillage again. Those prepared will have a better chance of surviving. Knowing how to grow food, live off the land, and be resourceful during troubled times will be necessary.
Like Marlon, I want to be in a position to help my people. I also want to sound the alarm about what’s coming soon. White violence is on the way, and just like other times in our nation’s history, White men are running the show. Today they are running governments, tomorrow they’ll be running us.
Men like Marlon who understand the history of this nation are going to be fine. The rest of us need to be ready. We also need to work together collectively to help each other get through the hard times coming. Are you going to be in a position to be a taker or a giver? Are you going to be able to give help or will you need help because you didn’t take heed to the warning?
Take heed people. A storm is a-coming.
Thank you so much for reading this story.
Marley K. 2021
Thank you to Ms. Atira Claude for editing and thanks to Marlon Willis Scott for allowing me to share his story and personal journey into farming. You can contact him directly on Twitter @ MarlonWillisSc1 to share your thoughts about this story.