Durham entrepreneurs back Black farmers through subscription food service

Black History Month

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – In a back room at Bull City Cider Workers in downtown Durham, three entrepreneurs meet every two weeks to pack boxes full of produce.

Derrick Beasley, Gabrielle E.W. Carter, and Gerald Harris can be found sorting through everything from eggs to collard greens to sweet potatoes that have all been grown by Black farmers in the area.
It’s all part of the trio’s bi-weekly subscription food service that they call Tall Grass Food Box.

The group buys the produce exclusively from Black farmers in North Carolina.

“We buy wholesale quantities from them at near or at retail price,” Beasley said.

The three then box up the produce and sell these goods to consumers who have a bi-weekly subscription.

“It kind of started at the top of the pandemic,” Beasley said.

The idea came after conversations the three had with Black farmers in the area about how getting their product out there had become a struggle.

“Access to the marketplace is one of those things that had decreased for them since the COVID crisis,” Beasley said.

Beasley said getting access to the marketplace has always been a struggle for Black farmers. While American agriculture was built on the backs of Black farmers, the trio said these farmers have been robbed of their land and systematically left out of critical farming programs.

“When it comes to the food system as a whole, we haven’t been at the table. And then for the individuals who have been at the table, a lot of us were never given chairs, but were given buckets,” Harris said.

But through Tall Grass Food Box, the three hope to help these Black farmers get the word out about their business.

During their peak season, they have 225 customers who subscribe to Tall Grass Food Box. It has helped farmers like Mark Paylor, from Roxboro, who said his farm sales have increased 45 percent.

“It means a lot. It takes the pressure off of us having to look for avenues to sell our products,” Paylor said. “Now we have someone who’s doing it for us, so we can pay more attention to our crop.”

The group is gearing up for what they are expecting to be a busy spring season in March.

“We’re stepping in a place where our infrastructure has failed them and we’re trying to provide a new infrastructure that is more sustainable,” Beasley said.

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