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More than 9 out of 10 farm owners in the United States are white, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And there's a growing movement to try to change that. The goal is to help more people of color become farmers and to make healthy living more accessible to more people. NPR's Alan Yu reports.
ALAN YU, BYLINE: Chris Newman used to be a software engineering manager in the D.C. area - well-paid, but he worked long hours, ate fast food and went to the doctor a lot. Eventually, enough was enough.
CHRIS NEWMAN: I don't eat at Popeyes anymore. I think it's disgusting. I used to love Popeyes.
YU: Newman says he and his wife moved to Charlottesville, Va., to become farmers. He keeps pigs, ducks and chickens.
NEWMAN: I have a really hard time eating bad meat. I'll eat a vegetarian dish at a restaurant if I don't know where that meat's coming from.
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YU: There's no bad meat on this farm. Newman knows these chickens and takes good care of them.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHICKEN CLUCKING)
YU: He says the idea is to give the animals sunlight and room to run around, so their manure doesn't overwhelm one spot and so he doesn't have to give the animals antibiotics.
NEWMAN: It's not just about our happy damn chickens. This is about, how do we fix this system?
YU: Newman wants a lot more people like him growing food using these methods. Specifically, he wants to help more people of color get involved in farming.
NEWMAN: So what has to happen in order for this to be accessible to everyone is way bigger than me, is way bigger than this farm, is way bigger than all the farms in central Virginia or the mid-Atlantic or anywhere else.
YU: To get more people of color interested in farming, first, you have to show it's a viable career. But then there is a more complicated problem - one that the vast majority of farmers don't have because they're mostly white. A couple years ago, Newman was driving past a rich neighborhood. He pulled his pickup truck over to the side of the road to eat his lunch.
NEWMAN: This lady, like, jogs by, and she gives me this look. And every black man in America knows that look. It's a mix of fear and incongruence. Like, you don't belong. Something's wrong. And as soon as she, you know, ran by and gave me that look, I'm like, the cops are going to be here in less than five minutes. And lo and behold, like, five minutes later, here comes a cop.
YU: Newman says this officer was in a part of town where police almost never go. The cop slows down and looks at him.
NEWMAN: I know how to disarm white people, you know? First thing you do is smile. You act like you own the place. You act white. Change your voice, you know, to where you code switch and you become a lot more articulate. You maybe lower your voice a little bit. Or maybe you just raise your voice a little bit and talk like kind of an intellectual. You make sure that there isn't too much in your voice. And smile. Always smile.
YU: Newman is addressing the lack of diversity among farmers by hiring interns, focusing on women, people of color and other underrepresented groups. And there's demand for this kind of work. Leah Penniman is a farmer and activist at Soul Fire Farm in New York state.
LEAH PENNIMAN: I started getting calls from mostly black women in different places in the country who were saying, like, I just need to hear your voice and know that I'm not alone and to know that it's possible to be a farmer.
YU: She also teaches black and Latino people basic farming skills. And demand for her training is booming. And she's developed a system where the people who can afford it pay more to cover the cost of those who can't.
PENNIMAN: The food, no matter what - it comes every week to folks' doorsteps - high-quality, full box of veggies. And for many people, they say if it wasn't for that, they would just be eating, you know, boiled pasta because that's the most calories for the least money.
YU: Penniman says she hopes to bring healthy food to people who can't afford it - one household, one farmer and one box of veggies at a time. Alan Yu, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTEZA'S "GOLDEN HILL")
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