Fort Baptist Farm in Ithaca is a Black-owned and operated farm at a time when less than 2% of farms in the U.S. are run by African Americans. Donnette “Dee” Baptist, owner/manager and lead farmer, discusses the importance of this representation, how the farm’s CSA supports underserved individuals and families, and what daily work on the farm entails.
Edible Finger Lakes: Describe some of the daily tasks involved this time of year.
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: Describe your history and personal connection to farming and how you celebrate that.
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. This celebration means that we take the time to recognize the various African-descended cultures in our community. This celebration means focusing not just on the achievements, but also on expanding- ing 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: Describe an issue or experience related to the farm that is on the top of your mind righ tnow?
Dee: 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 some resolutions or priorities you may have for the farm in 2021?
Dee: Rebuilding 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 plan- ning to put up a greenhouse to get a jump start on spring planting.
EFL: Describe how your community-supported agriculture (CSA) harvest subscription program works.
Dee: Fort Baptist Farm’s CSA 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.
EFL: What are some of the greatest rewards of running your farm?
Dee: 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.
This feature originally appeared in our Spring 2021 issue for the magazine.