Green Heffa Farms is a Black owned farming business, tea company, natural health brand, and educational resource.
Clarenda “Farmer Cee” Stanley, the company’s CEO, is on a mission to defy stereotypes and remove barriers for others who turn to farming for a different quality of life.
We caught up with her to get an update on the state of Black farmers and her insights on how to operate a successful farming business and wellness brand.
What inspired you to start a farming business?
I honestly had no intentions of becoming a farmer when I left my maternal grandparent’s home. I actually was adamant that I would not ever be a farmer. My grandfather was a farmer and it was hard. I am from Alabama’s Black Belt, an area rife with inequity, racism, and corporate environmental neglect. I saw how the government treated Black farmers like my grandfather.
I saw how land was taken and families were broken, if not literally then spiritually. Holding on to family land is an accomplishment. Not only is land wealth but it’s also a way to hold on to family history. This is especially important when your people’s ability to trace their history was interrupted. However, in 2018, I purchased a beautiful piece of farmland and in 2019, I found myself needing a place to heal and where I could feel safe.
I found that by building Green Heffa Farms from scratch. From developing the land to building the brand, I grew to have tremendous respect for farmers who are entrepreneurs through and through. It gave me a newfound respect for entrepreneurs like my grandfather.
How did you decide what to grow?
So in the beginning, it was thought that Green Heffa Farms would focus primarily on hemp. Hemp had just become available to licensed growers in North Carolina. The hype was high and so were the scams. I admit, I briefly got caught up but quickly realized that while I wanted to broaden our focus to medicinal plants.
While cannabis is a beautiful herb, it is by no means the only plant that offers botanically-based benefits. I set out learning what likes to grow already on the land that has medicinal value (turns out, there were several plants already here), what we can grow well, and which plants have the properties that we need for our functional teas and blends.
We currently grow over 2 dozen species of plants and for some species, such as cannabis and holy basil (tulsi), we grow several varieties. Of course, there are other considerations but these are the primary ones.
What are the current challenges Black farmers are facing?
Many of the challenges are well-documented. We receive a disproportionate amount of resources whether public or private, are operating in supply chains that are inclusive, and have smaller land assets.
Other challenges include the need for more climate resiliency – our farms are more susceptible to floods and droughts and often lack the green infrastructure needed. We also are constantly having to educate the public about exactly who Black farmers are.
There is this antiquated mindset that assumes that we all grow fruits and vegetables or that farmers are not actual business owners with enterprises that thrive on revenues.
What are the different ways to get into the farming business?
Aspiring farmers can lease land, rent space in a nursery, or even grow indoors. Additionally, make sure that you truly research market opportunities. There are so many industries that rely on agricultural production from food to textiles to beauty to energy.
Do not limit yourself. You can also gain experience by working on a farm, even if part-time and on the weekends. Make sure to learn just as much about the business side as you do the production operations.
What are some stigmas attached to farming?
That we all are “struggle farmers”. Another one is that farmers are less intelligent. or uneducated. That is completely false. I have two degrees and I still feel at times that I am not smart enough to be a farmer. The level of brilliance some farmers possess is astounding. They would put most Fortune 500 CEO’s to shame.
What advice do you have for existing farmers who are trying to grow their businesses?
Build your brand, whether you are direct to consumer, business to business, etc. Try to get as rid of as many middle people as you can. Grow slow so you don’t owe. And when you do have to owe, make the debt work for you. Also, use digital and social media strategically.
What are your future goals for your business?
We will continue to grow slowly so we don’t owe, or rather owe as little as possible. We have plans to build a wash station and begin offering tea already bagged along with our loose-leaf options. We will also get into other products including seed oils and do more in the beauty space. And of course, we will continue expanding our herbal tea line with a few new recipes in 2023.
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