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Washtenaw United: Argus Farm Stop works to help expand diversity in farming and agriculture

Kathy Sample
Kathy Sample
Kathy Sample

ABOUT KATHY SAMPLE:

Ann Arbor resident, UM graduate, active with Peace Neighborhood Center, local farming initiatives, like the Washtenaw County Black Farmer Fund.

TRANSCRIPTION:

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And here at the station, we talk quite a bit about equity and opportunity, and we do so with members of the community who are helping create it. I'm David Fair, and welcome to this week's edition of Washtenaw United. Today, we're going to look at equity and opportunity through an agricultural lands. Our guest today is co-owner of Argus Farm Stop, and Kathy Sample is a champion of agricultural equity and local philanthropy that includes service work with Peace Neighborhood Center and the Washtenaw County Black Farmer Fund. Now, because of the totality of her work, the United Way of Washtenaw County has named her its 2023 Power of the Purse Woman of the Year. And we're glad to have her with us. Kathy, thank you so much for making time today.

Kathy Sample: Well, thank you, Dave. I'm happy to be here.

David Fair: How would you describe the mission of Argus Farm Stop?

Kathy Sample: Our biggest stop is an everyday farmers market with a mission to help grow our local agricultural economy by providing seven-day-a-week access to locally farmed goods. So, we connect local farmers with consumers in a way that expands beyond the two-day-a-week Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

David Fair: So, local farming. Family farming. It has suffered in the era of factory farms. And yet, the agricultural industry remains the backbone of the American experience. How difficult is it for the local farmer and family farmer to create a space for itself these days?

Kathy Sample: It's very difficult because you have a farmers market to sell your goods to, but you used to--in the old days in the fifties--be able to sell to grocery stores. In fact, our market on Packard Street in Ann Arbor used to be Clegg's grocery store, and we actually have a farmer who has taken over her family's farm--fifth generation farmer--who's selling through us there, and her great grandfather used to sell through Clegg's. So, the outlets that were available to farmers back in the day are no longer available. And so, they're really relegated to farm stands and farmers markets. So, we wanted to expand that.

David Fair: So, the agricultural industry, in some respects, difficult for anybody, but also lacks diversity. Do you happen to know roughly a percentage of Black farmers in Washtenaw County?

Kathy Sample: Oh, gosh. You know, I don't know it statistically, I probably should know it. I will tell you that the known number of farmers of color are probably 1%. Crazy how few Black farmers are rich in the marketplace. Now, there are some farmers that I know of in Sumpter Township who do farm stands, but they're not really at farmers markets, so there's very low visibility of them, and there are a few of them to begin with. So, we had to really search to find farmers to whom we could give excellent source of grants.

David Fair: So, before we dive into some of the broader issues, how do you keep diversity, equity, and inclusion at the fore of what you do at Argus?

Kathy Sample: Well, we're a retail organization, and we also have an amazingly talented and passionate staff who are very aware of these issues, and they've done nothing but make us better because of their awareness and their passion to have DEI at the forefront. So, we're doing things to reach out into the community for food access--again, the Black Farmer Fund. And, of course, we, you know, in hiring, we are super eager to be more diverse in our hiring. And I think it's just awareness, even down to the level of retail and how do people shop--learning how to include people who might not normally shop at a farmer's market.

David Fair: We're talking with Argus Farm Stop co-owner Kathy Sample on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. So, what does encompass the work that's being done with and through the Washtenaw County Black Farmer Fund?

Kathy Sample: Well, first, of course, there's fundraising, which we've done through a number of different ways, and that was quite successful. Then, we identified the farmers to whom we should offer grants funding. We had them apply. We accepted and disbursed funds to those farms, and those were as diverse as somebody who has a truck farm, who really wants to expand by putting in more growing capacity, to a farmer who wanted to expand their beekeeping capacity. Because, of course, honey is a locally-farmed product, basically. So, the grants have been quite diverse in terms of how people are going to use them. And we're actually just initiating a little study of how they have been used so far. And we're excited to, you know, to get that feedback about how did it work and how are things going.

David Fair: And do you expect that it will eventually, if not immediately, become a tangible difference in the community?

Kathy Sample: I hope so. And we will see more struggle in areas closer to those farms which are right now in the Ypsi area. There's really a lack of Black farmers in the area around Ann Arbor. So, we would see it there, and then we would expand into our next level of fundraising. And, by the way, we were coached very well by the Detroit Black Farmer Fund, which is a really talented group of people who done this for a longer period of time than we have.

David Fair: And what all of these organizations recognize is farming is hard no matter who you are and carving out a living is difficult under the best of circumstances. Now, add in systemic barriers to a person of color seeking a place in the industry. It becomes even more difficult from land acquisition to loans and banking. There are additional and usually unspoken hurdles. Where do you see the best opportunities to make greater inroads when it comes to integrated opportunity and equity?

Kathy Sample: That is a great question. I can give you my personal feedback, which is that land access, and that is, by the way, the number one issue, not just for Black farmers, but for anybody who's entering farming land to access, because it's, first of all, Washtenaw County is very expensive for land. But land access for the Black farmer is even harder because they're often in more urban areas. And so, we're seeing people do more urban gardens, community gardens, because they don't have access to a piece of land that can be commercially viable.

David Fair: Washtenaw United and our conversation with Argus Farm Stop owner Kathy Sample continues on WEMU. And, Kathy, as we look at the local food systems as part of the greater whole, does the future hold room for a lot of growth?

Kathy Sample: Oh, absolutely. Right now, direct-to-consumer food production is less than 1% of what our food spending is in the United States. So, we are literally not competing with the big grocery stores at this point right? Less than 1%. There is so much opportunity to grow locally produced food. And I'm hoping that the consumer will realize the benefits of something that was grown closer. It's going to be fresher. And you can know the farmer and know their growing practices, which is more important than ever in this industrialized age.

David Fair: So, we know that local and family farmers are doing their part to not only sustain right now, but to grow into the future. But what do you think we as a populace should consider as a part of our responsibility?

Kathy Sample: Well, I would recommend that everybody think about, in their shopping habits, trying to seek out the local products that they can buy before they go to the next level, which would be an industrial level. And then, I would also say, as a populace, we should be looking at the officials with whom we work in our community and for whom we vote to determine that they're for sure looking out for the small farm and the small businesses in our area, because this is not an unknown. It is absolutely known that the small businesses contribute more in terms of employment and vivacity and quality of life in our area than a big corporation.

David Fair: And are you finding an adequate level of support among the elected officials throughout Washtenaw County to advance the mission?

Kathy Sample: Yes. We've recently gotten some people like Sue Shink, who actually comes from a farming background. You know, some of these people who really understand what a small farm is and understand that the government dollars that go into supporting farms shouldn't go to big farmers. They should go to the small farmers and help them rebuild what we've allowed to kind of disintegrate over the years.

David Fair: Well, as I mentioned at the outset, you have been named the United Way of Washtenaw County's 2023 Power of the Purse Woman of the Year. Do you see opportunity to use that platform to advance the mission of creating greater access to more local foods and for greater diversity for those who bring us those foods?

Kathy Sample: 100%. I'm really excited about working with the Fair Food Network and other organizations that have food access initiative that I know with whom we can work to break down the barriers and create a better system for people who have food access issues.

David Fair: I'd like to thank you for taking time and talking with me today. And, once again, congratulations on being named the United Way of Washtenaw County's 2023 Power of the Purse Woman of the Year.

Kathy Sample: Thank you, David.

David Fair: That is Kathy Sample. She is the co-owner of Argus Farm Stop in Ann Arbor, continuing work toward greater equity and opportunity in agriculture and beyond. I'm David Fair, inviting you to join us for another edition of Washtenaw United. We'll do it again next Monday. You'll only find it on your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

RESOURCES:

Argus Farm Stop

Washtenaw County Black Farmers Fund

UWWC STATEMENT:

Kathy Sample is United Way of Washtenaw County’s 2023 Woman of the Year for the annual Power of the Purse event.

Ms. Sample was chosen by the Power of the Purse committee for her commitment to the community, accomplishments in business innovation and the local food system, along with her acts of community philanthropy and volunteerism.

The Power of the Purse event will take place on Wednesday, March 8th, at Washtenaw Community College’s Morris Lawrence Building, from 5:30pm to 7:30pm.

Tickets are currently on sale, and United Way is currently accepting sponsorships and donations for new purses and raffle items. All proceeds go to support financial stability programs for women in Washtenaw County.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU todayto keep your community NPR station thriving.

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Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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