Fort Baptist Farm in Ithaca specializes in a people-first approach to growing nutritional produce and supporting its community. It is proudly Black-owned and operated at a time when only around 2 percent of farms in the U.S. are run by African Americans, according to the New York Times. Donnette “Dee” Baptist, Owner/Manager and Lead Farmer at Fort Baptist Farm, discusses the importance of this representation with Fort Baptist Farm. She also describes how she is recognizing Black History Month, how the farm’s CSA share program supports individuals and families that are typically underserved, and what daily work on the farm entails—which is often accompanied by an adorable farm dog named Leo.
Edible Finger Lakes: Could you please describe some of the daily tasks involved this time of year in running Fort Baptist Farm?
Dee: Daily tasks during the winter months have included feeding our ducks and chickens and our five crazy pigs! Our chickens are over-wintering in deep straw in our high tunnels in an effort to keep building our soil. We are about to move them out of the tunnels and will then layer more materials on the straw, including compost, for the start of our farming season. We have also started to plant our long-growing seedlings like tomatoes and peppers, which are currently taking over our basement as we give them a chance to grow big and sturdy before we plant them out in May.
EFL: Could you please describe what Black History Month means to you and/or anything you may be doing at Fort Baptist Farm to recognize the month?
Dee: As a Black farmer, I am steeped in my personal history. I am the granddaughter of Jamaican farmers. As a child, I spent summers on a small coffee and subsistence-agriculture farm high in the hills of Manchester Parish, Jamaica with my siblings and my grandparents. Now, with my family, I celebrate my grandparents, and all of our heritage during Black History Month. This celebration means that we take the time to recognize the various African-descended cultures in our community. In our house, we celebrate through foods, through music, through Black History Month celebrations and even in family-oriented gatherings such as dinner and a movie—or dinner and a documentary! This month-long celebration means focusing not just on the achievements, but also on expanding African-American representation in areas of life where we were not previously recognized. Representation matters so much to us as a family and as a farm, that we ensure that members of our community have access to the foods we grow.
EFL: Could you please describe an issue or experience related to the farm that is on the top of your mind right now?
Dee: Right now one of our top priorities is fencing-in our new field, in an effort to keep deer away from the yummies we grow! Building a fence is quite the task and we can’t wait for the ground and the weather to be more amenable to this.
EFL: What are two or three things that you wish more people knew about running a farm?
1) Running a farm has great personal rewards if you enjoy the dirt, and being outdoors!
2) We wish more people—in particular, BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) would farm and reconnect to the Earth which nurtures our body, mind and spirit by way of the things that grow.
3) Less than two percent of farms in the USA are run by African Americans—that is a statistic we can change individually and collectively.
EFL: Could you please explain how the work of running the farm might be split between other employees and the importance of teamwork?
Dee: In the non-growing season, I lead the farmwork and my spouse does as much as he can. In the growing season, it’s still us, but we also have one “retired” volunteer who does the work of five persons. Last year we hired three young adults who equitably rotate between animal husbandry chores, seeding, weeding, harvesting, cleaning, and the packaging of our produce. In between all of that, there is marketing, lifting, setting up for markets (pre-Covid) and responsibly running a socially-distanced farm table on location.
Our friendly farm dog Leo also provides companionship and is happy to be in the field with any of our workers. The importance of teamwork, and the positivity and exuberance that our team brings to our work, is appreciated immensely, and can’t be stressed enough! A good commitment to teamwork is the backbone of any truly successful organization—but it is the positivity and camaraderie that makes the Fort Baptist Farm personnel such a great squad.
EFL: What are some resolutions or priorities you may have for the farm in 2021?
Dee: We definitely are all about building that fence we mentioned earlier; getting a barn door re-attached by an artisan who knows how to attach barn doors to 1810 edifices; and re-building our layer chicken stock. We lost about 100 chickens to predators in 2020 as they would pick off our stock bit by bit until the chickens were all gone. If we have any energy left, we are also planning to put up a greenhouse to get a jump start on spring planting.
EFL: Where can people find your products/produce?
Dee: We are happy to invite folks to connect with us directly on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ft.baptist.farm/. We can also be found at the farm in Ithaca, and www.lptslifestyle.co/black-owned-businesses/Fort-Baptist-Farm-LLC.
Fort Baptist Farm’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares contain 20 weeks of lush, organically produced vegetables. We support individuals and families that are typically underserved, and those who may be experiencing food insecurity. With the aid of our community partners, we provide “solidarity shares” a term coined by Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm. This simply means that for every three full-priced shares we sell, we give away a full-priced share to an individual or family in need. Our community partners also aid us in reaching out to the BIPOC community for low-cost or no-cost shares for low-income individuals or families. We invite everyone to participate in purchasing a CSA share this year—giving yourself, your family and your community members the opportunity to access great food. Our contact details are firstname.lastname@example.org, 607-379-9049 and (917) 825-7849.
Additionally, Fort Baptist Farm is a member of the Ithaca Farmer’s Market. It also supplies produce for CSA shares through the nonprofit program called Healthy Food for All (HFFA). HFFA is a collaboration between Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County and local farms that makes fresh produce available to families and individuals struggling with hunger through providing CSA shares and educational outreach.
EFL: What are some of the greatest rewards of running Fort Baptist Farm?
Dee: Some of the greatest rewards include that we get to work with our family! Personally, I’m rewarded by some of the flowers that grow here. I am always rewarded by the quality of our food and the fact that we get to sell and eat organically produced foods (we’re not certified, but we use all-organic methods) almost all year-round. There’s no substitute for foods that have been grown with love by our own hands.