Featured photo: Brittanie and Jarold Hendrick with their daughter Joanna. All photos by Sayaka Matsuoka.
Tanya DuBois never had any intentions of being a farmer.
Born and raised in New York City, DuBois grew in a jungle of concrete and convenience stores rather than open fields and fireflies.
And yet, on Saturday, she points to the multitude of produce spread out across the table at her tent at a new farmers market, describing the products with care.
“These are patty pans squash,” she says, gesturing to some knobby, saucer-like vegetables. “They look like flying saucers. They probably have another name but that’s what we call them in the South.”
When her husband Clarence’s grandfather passed away, leaving them his farm in his will, they initially planned on clearing the land and converting it to a regular homestead where they could quietly retire.
But things changed when they actually saw the plot.
“Once we got down here and saw the footprint and saw what he accomplished,” Tanya says, “it made sense for us to carry on.”
Clarence’s grandfather, Oscar Quick, started the farm in Rockingham near the speedway after buying the land in the 1970s. He had moved down from New Jersey and began growing and selling greens like lettuce and collards along with tomatoes — everything necessary for a hearty salad. He grew his crops and sold them locally, asking his neighbors what they would want to eat, and occasionally taking his produce to local churches.
“It was more like a neighborhood type thing,” Tanya explains. “But as he started declining in health, business went down and he began to sell off some of his land.”
When the DuBoises took over three acres left to them in 2012, they began clearing away shrubs and trees that had begun to encroach on the land, in hopes of restarting the farm.
“We had no experience in farming,” Tanya admits. “We knew nothing…[Oscar] did an old-style of farming. Plowing the land, planting crops and then having to rotate the crops. We knew we didn’t have a lot of experience in that.”
They quickly familiarized themselves with area agricultural centers and had a specialist from NC A&T University come out to help them evaluate best practices for farming.
“We took classes and began learning about the soil and learning how to market our vegetables,” Tanya says.
In 2018, Gabor Farms made its debut. Since then, the DuBoises have been selling produce at area farmers markets in Durham and Charlotte, and to produce hubs in Raleigh which buy direct from farmers and resell produce to grocery stores. Recently, the DuBoises added another farmers market to their rotation.
The Bountiful Land Food for All Farmers Market celebrated its second week of being open this year on July 4 by inviting members of the community to come shop at two locations — one in Greensboro and one in High Point. Both locations are situated in areas that are known as food deserts, where residents lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables. In Greensboro, the market opened in the Willow Oaks neighborhood off McConnell Road. In addition to bringing nutritional food to an under-served area, another goal of the farmers market is to highlight Black and Brown farmers.
“It’s important that Black and Brown, poor, disenfranchised people do not succumb to the various structures that bind them,” says Deborah Barnes, the chair of the state NAACP’s anti-poverty committee and the organizer of the market. “We have a choice not to be destroyed by this.”
Barnes, who also teaches at NC A&T University, believes in the power of food to change people’s lives.
“In the poor communities, where they only have fast food or Sheetz, they’re not eating whole foods,” Barnes says. “They’re not eating fresh foods. They’re eating shelf-stable foods. There are all these sort of traps. Most of that is people just don’t know anything about nutrition. I’m seeing that more and more: People don’t have the options to prosper. You’re setting them up for failure.”
As a child raised during the Civil Rights Movement, Barnes says she remembers how dangerous life could be, but that having access to healthy food was not an issue.
“Almost everybody I knew grew food in their yard,” she says. “I’m not talking about a farm. I’m just talking about in the yard. Even poor people were not hungry. You might not have had the newest shoes but you could eat some squash and tomatoes for sure.”
By the time Barnes came back to this area in 2006, she said that was not the case.
“No one knew how to grow food,” she says. “People had no way to feed themselves. People who were impoverished were required to turn to food pantries or other kinds of programs that would feed them.”
Bountiful Lands is a step to changing that, Barnes says.
“We wanted to go into a community where we refused to put a grocery store,” she says. “We Black people have fed America for 400 years. We can feed ourselves. You don’t want us to have food, it’s not a problem. We just have to go back and teach people to do it again.”
She hopes individuals who come to shop at the farmers market not only have access to fresher, healthier food, but view farming as a viable option for them or learn techniques to start their own gardens at home.
“We want people to consider food production as a career option,” she says.
On Saturday, dozens of families and individuals park in the gravel lot next to the market which sits on a mound and begin to peruse the goods under the tents which give respite from the heat. The market is small but plentiful in a variety of produce from different kinds of squash to melons to plums. A resource table full of information about medical testing, free condoms and job opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals sits in the middle of the row of tents.
“I live right around the corner,” says Sharon Jacobs, the assistant principal of nearby Foust Elementary. She tries a piece of what vendor Phillip Barker calls “sprite melon” before Barnes tells the vendors they can’t give out samples because of the virus.
Jacobs says, “This right here is amazing. To have this on this side of town I think it’s a beautiful thing. It was quicker for me to get here than to get to the grocery store.”
Jacobs, who is Black, says she likes to buy local produce whenever she can but says that she appreciates having the ability to buy from Black farmers.
“This right here is a huge classroom,” she says. “I can look at the people who are growing the food. I can let them know, ‘Hey, we see you and support you.’ This is priceless to me. You should know about your local farms. Black and Brown people grow food too. We don’t just cook it or serve it. This is community.”
Jacobs poses with a sprite melon, which she says she’ll take to her friend’s cookout later in the day as well as bags filled with zucchini, squash, onions, corn, peaches and green tomatoes.
Down a few tents, Brittanie and Jarold Hendrick hold their daughter Joanna’s hand as they shop at Tanya DuBois’ table. While the family lives on the other side of town, they decided to patronize the market when they learned about it on Instagram.
“We’re looking for diversity in general,” Brittanie Hendrick says. “We want to see America represented in the food that we eat. I would like, especially for our daughter, to see diversity in all resources.”
As the first hour of the market comes to a close, most of the patrons that come to the market are people of color. But Barnes says that the market is for everyone.
“The goal is to make people food secure and also importantly, it’s about food sovereignty,” she says. “For people to have the food they want to eat.”
Bountiful Lands Food for All Farmers Market is open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 1901 McConnell Road in Greensboro and at 701 East Washington Drive in High Point. Learn more on their Facebook page.