SummaryKaleb J. Hill of Oko Vue Produce Co. explains the history of Black agriculture workers in the United States, the steps he and his peers are taking to stop the dwindling numbers of Black farmers, and the work it takes to battle food insecurity in Louisiana.
Mel: Welcome to The Resist bot
Podcast, hosted by me, Melanie Dione. Join me this week and every week
as I chat with the advocates and activists in your neighborhood at the
intersection where policy meets people. Now let's start the show.
Hey, everybody, and welcome back to the Resist by podcast. I'm your host, Melanie Dione, and let's get right to it. Wednesday, October 12, is National Farmers Day. There's no debate that farming, which is literally responsible for the way we're able to physically sustain ourselves, is and should be a priority city in this country. However, farmers across the board are in crisis. But this is the Laird issue, because not only are we dealing with farmers across the board being in this crisis, when you look at the racial demographic of the United States, it's about white, about 18 and a half percent Latinx, about twelve and a half percent black, and 67% Asian, give or take, fool around with those numbers. However, when you look at the demographic of farmers, 91% of farmers are white. This means that all other nonwhite ethnic groups fit into less than 10% of the farmer demographic, and that number continues to shrink for black farmers. This week, we're going to be talking about the legacy of black farmers in my home state of Louisiana, and I'm always happy to talk about New Orleans and Louisiana, so let's get right to it.
Mel: My three Ss told you the
South got something to say.
And as a daughter of the South, you
know, I always have something to say,
especially when it comes to my folks.
So the first thing I'd like to say
is, hello to my guest and friend,
Kaleb Hill of OkoVu Produce Company.
He's right here in New Orleans, Louisiana,
which as you know is my hometown.
Good Evening, good evening.
Mel: So glad to have you here with us.
You know, I always love to, to have my New
Orleans folks with me and before we get
into your work, that's important, but we
all know it's impossible without people.
So tell me first a bit about
you, Caleb, the person, and
what brought you to your work.
Or you're calling as a farmer because
your story is very interesting.
Caleb: Well, fourth generation in
agriculture, my family started their
roots in Florida in north central Florida.
People know that a tattoo of chattel
slavery, if you will, on the plantation,
so, you know how I got in, I been
dealing with, animals and growing
fruits vegetables since I was young.
one of my fondest memories is being
on one of my uncle farms and he was
telling me to go feed the chickens.
He had chickens he raise ball of chickens
with, That's what we know is meat chickens
or what you buy in the store, and the
chickens are like dogs, like they are
trained and know when it's feeding time.
So he was like, come out here
and help me feed the chickens.
So I went and got a big bucket of corn.
And this is my first time feeding chickens
that they just started, They bomb rush me.
So I didn't know that when you feed
chickens, you gotta spread the food
out because they are competitive
when it comes to that food.
When it hits the ground
they are just going for it.
I dumped the whole bucket down.
So all the chickens start.
You just saw feather flying
everywhere and that was a teaching
moment for them to show me like you
know maybe don't do it like that.
You gotta pick up the
food and spread it out.
He had beef cattle that he had
a little small steer and it
was more like a, a farm stand.
He, he had like hoop cheese, different
things that actually he, he used like
a byproduct of what he had on the farm.
Anything that he had on
that farm, he sold in that.
So, and he did that for years.
so I would say that was like one
of my first memories and what
motivated me to wanna have my own.
And in this day and age,
I'm doing it more modern.
So I have, you know, a lot of people
purchased their groceries online.
Had my owns farmers market for years back.
it was a little called that was over
in Central City over at the capitol
hill, but actually default now.
But from hustle and produce like
that to, I used to get on the
RTA bus and bring produce to
people, you know, you get it live.
it just started when I was five and
it's grown, through out the years when
Covid happened, it really helped me.
It caused me to pivot, I wanted to Create
a digital platform to be able to sell
the produce and get it to the people.
Cause you know, a lot of people
doing contact less delivered and
I wanted to serve as another way
to outreach get my voice out there,
because there's one of the things,
you know, where us being in the south,
especially in, Southeast Louisianas
Foods, brings people together.
By me developing our website, which
is making groceries market.com, people
are actually able purchase a product,
and coming directly from the field.
There is no middle person.
When you go to the grocery
store at least four sets of
hands gonna touch that produce.
So it goes from the
farm worker who harvests
That produce to a person that packs it.
And put it in boxes and pallets
it into the delivery driver..
Then the delivery driver, bring it
to the grocery store and then the
grocery store, they assemble it in
the grocery store for you to purchase.
One of the biggest things that I help
with cutting some of the costs, it's
also being efficient with getting
that produce fresh on the field.
So that's what we created
about fresh on the field.
So what I say is fresh on the
field it literally pick within
a day or two of you eating it.
But that's a totally different arena
when you're dealing with most grocery
settings that you know have to get
shipped from all over the country.
actually some other countries,
to get to your plate.
from growing up, we had some of
the freshest produce growing up
A lot of people don't really like
vegetables because they don't
know what it really tastes like.
So that's one of the biggest things
we know that, and why it motivated me
to get back into agriculture because
I actually went to college, studying
cause wanted serve in, the, healthcare,
but I was developing some web
technology for people that had diabetes.
And every time I would do an interview.
When I was doing surveys throughout the
neighborhood to see what their needs were,
everybody mentioned, Well, I know I got
diabetes, but the grocery is too high.
So I buy what I can afford.
And sometimes, the things that they could
afford with things that were nonperishable
that, you know, they could last a little
bit longer opposed to getting fresh
produce that they have to be able to
refrigerate and hold for several days,
or, for at least a couple of weeks.
That just, it shifted me.
I say, I put this, the web of technology,
biotechnology thing to the side and
said I'm gonna get back to my roots and
start growing fresh produce and giving
people access to the same things you
think of like going to Whole Foods.
We using compost opposed to,
fertilizers that washed into
our water systems waterways.
and I'm talking about the
freshest of the fresh food.
that was the main motivation was
when I first, started doing those
interviews and going into, historically
black neighborhoods in New Orleans.
that was my target population that
I wanted to help because I knew that
those were some of the main people
that was having to go to the hospital
with chronic health conditions.
it all came back as far as.
Me still wanting to help from the
healthcare background, but I went all
the way down if you break it all the way
down to just the base, which was having
the best thing go into your body so they
can, be processed and go to your mind,
get to all of your extremities and all
of your, systems, in the body the best.
It all goes back to the fuel
that you're putting into you
Mel: that's amazing.
When you talk, I think about that
saying how food is medicine and when
you're not getting quality food, of
course that leads to a breakdown of
what your body is capable of doing,
how your body is capable of recovering.
Like we know there are some foods
that are just going to make us more
prone to things like inflammation.
Just something as basic as that.
So I appreciate having that awareness
with us being in New Orleans.
We're a food capital, and yet when
you look at the economic breakdown
of so many of the people who live.
Financially, the ability to either
buy, whole wholesome food or be able
to access it in their neighborhood
sometimes, even if there's a
matter of being able to afford.
You have to drive 15,
20 minutes to get it.
So that's just a part of the reality that
we deal with here in New Orleans, and
we're not the only urban area like that.
But I wanna talk a bit about
being a farmer and what that
looks like when you're not white.
So the demographic of this country.
57.8% people in the
United States are white.
18.3 Latinx, 12.4% are black.
6% are Asian.
When you get to the racial demographic
of farmers, 90.1% of farmers are white.
6.3 in Latinx, 1.4% are
black, and 1.1% are Asian.
Knowing that breakdown, what challenges
do you face specifically as a black
farmer that you think people overlook
or that you know, people overlook?
Caleb: Well, I would say is
a lot of the reason why that.
There's a huge disparity It's land
ownership, so when you go back you can
always, all the way back to the Homestead
Act, we were not necessarily able to.
Benefit from the Homestead Act in the
way that a lot of white farmers were.
So they, there are farmers, white
farmers that own 10,000 acres.
In perspective 1000
Acres farm could be considered
small still because there are some
that exist where like be close
to a million acres, you know.
we weren't able to own land and there
a lot of, what we call in the industry
legacy farms, which is black owned farms.
and it's black and white, have been in
people's possessions for generations where
they're 100 years in person's family.
And a lot of those people, Hundred plus
in some cases a hundred plus years.
And it's very few of those.
Cause I, I remember going to a conference
a couple years back That the farm Bureau
put on and they were honoring the legacy
famers and it was amazing to see a family
up there that was black they were from
And their family was still togethe
farming that land, you don't the
resources being able to take care
of that land, like people would
sell it off, whether it be in.
Parcels or if they just fell off the whole
thing because there, there may be a lack
of interest in the next generation and
being in there because it's hard work.
So like I said, main thing is just access.
If you do a survey, right now, the
national young farmers, which I'm
a member of, they do them, often
the main thing they're talking
about is money and land access.
the funding is just so limited.
Like they have grants, but they're
few and far between, and the loans
is very hard to get those loans.
Like they have micro loans and,
loans, operational and, it's just,
it's very hard to get the collateral
to be eligible for those loans.
That goes back to, the Pigford v.
Glickman case where they proved
that the USDA discriminated
against black people when to getting
access to loans,grants and so forth
so, you know, even just education and
it's a problem because considering the
contributions that George Washington
Carver called, gave to the agriculture
industry for free, George Washington
Carver and through his research he
found, you know, the benefits of crop
rotation he shared those things with a
lot of the white farmers they basically
would you know, our contributions
to industry, but we don't reflect
the demographic as a far as being
profitable, as profitable with land.
it boils back down to not
having access, not knowing what
resources are are available.
And some of the resources are
just not readily available.
And mentioned the Pigford v.
Glickman Case highlighted that, and
there are people that have passed on
and now they defended are actually
getting the funds, the payments, because
it took years for that, that lawsuit.
And by then, you know, people
just burn out and they say,
Well, you know, later for that.
And said, it's hard work.
it's not glamorous.
you have to deal with the element Right.
In Southeast Louisiana, even Southwest
and other parts of Louisiana, hurricane,
come out here and take out your whole
crop and things that you had put
months into planting And it is just
one day, the wind in the rain can come
out there and take it all from you.
Or it rains too heavily.
You have pest pressure.
It's so many different things
that you know, it deters people
from going into the space.
So one of the main things.
Like I said, if you did a survey
right now, people will say
access the capital and land.
also just, the knowledge of know.
What to do from a business standpoint
to being able to be profitable.
And that is partially why my company
exist, is because I wanted to
create a pathway for people that
are black farmers whether it be
up and coming, or veteran farmers.
Cause a lot of the times if you're trying
to sell commercially, they have, quotas
and they just don't want small quantities.
Then, you know, you can't compete with
a lot of things that are imported,
but the quality is there, and my
biggest thing is understanding.
There's a person on the other side of
your food and just bridging that gap
and bringing the elders and young people
together through the land, a lot of us
started as farmers and you know branched
out and got a little bit more education
and you went on and became a doctor.
You maybe, you know, your farm might
have put a son or daughter through
school and they became a doctoral
engineer, , these other lucrative careers
and they just, it's not appealing to em.
one of the biggest things that I want
my input to be and my legacy to be
is to connect that are interested
in getting back to our roots.
To have access to these veteran
farmers who to pass that knowledge.
Because when they pass on, if they
don't have a child or you know,
their grandkids or anybody in their
family that wants to take over, it's
gonna go with them and they're gonna
either, you know, sell it off parcel.
Or they're just gonna, let the
next person that is interested
get it, and then we lose that.
My family never owned the
land that they cultivated.
They had the dreams that they would.
But it was never enough and to the point
where some of them made settled or they
just, you know, let that go and, or some
just still grow small wanted to change the
narrative and that's why I stepped back
into agriculture, even though I was headed
towards like a more corporate career.
But I found more pleasure
in working with my hands.
That really made me
delve off into history.
That's why I can, talk about
these people like Booker T.
Whatley and a lot of people,
I would say people know George
Washington Carver, but Booker T.
Whatley played an integral role, what we
call, you know, modern farming in today,
in the way it is structured and a lot of
farms are profited from this contribution.
He was also an instructor at Tuskegee,
you know, I tip my hat to Tuskegee
because they put out a lot of great
farmers in Southern University.
Well, that is the beauty of, a lot of
the hcu, they, that's where they started
was those, they had farming roots,
you know, the land grant university.
So through agriculture
and me being active in it.
It's actually got me more in touch
with the history of these land
grant universities and knowing
that some people, they don't have a
name, name like talking about that.
They make major
contributions to what we see.
Was just honoring them, like honoring
my direct ancestors, but also those
that fought for years to try, you
know, keep their crops alive, but
also want to hand it off to children.
Whether or not it happens, I don't
believe that its impossible for me to
pick up that, that baton and, and take it.
The finish line as far as, you know,
getting the next generation even excited
about agriculture, we all gotta eat.
And we all deserve quality food you
mentioned earlier about New Orleans,
a food city, yeah it's a food city?
But the other side of that coin is we
also have many pockets of food deserts.
And is it's disheartening you think
about if you had company coming over,
you wanna keep your, you gonna clean your
house up and, and have your best fit for.
But right now, I, I can't see that
New Orleans cause we ain't clean.
, we not getting on them to meet a
on and getting the baseboards and
hitting them and taking the trash out.
it's really bad that, our people
are not taken care of and we,
we telling everybody come over.
That's why backwards.
Cause we not taking care of home.
You, you clean up your front yard,
you got cold drink bottles and
everything in the front yard and
you're telling people to come over
and you just like, look over that.
You know, Come on in, Step over,
over that The dust might everywhere.
that's basically, my analogy
is for how it is, you know,
Mel: Let's get into that just a little
bit because you, you touched on a lot of
things, including how we are dealing with.
Being a food city at the same time
is having a lot of people who are
food insecure in food deserts.
when you're answering the call, because
you are, you take this very seriously.
You're very passionate about it.
And let me tell y'all, Caleb is not
just passionate about this conversation
or this topic for the podcast.
This is him.
And that's why since it's national,
Farmer's Day on October 12th, he.
The first person that I reached out to
because this is something that he is
always knowledgeable and informative about
in a very relatable way because we all
need food, and again, I am a New Orleans.
This resonates with me.
I think it resonates with all of us.
It definitely resonates with
people who, who visit us.
So when we talk about this from your
activist lens, Caleb, can you talk
a little bit about how you answer
that call when you're dealing with
food insecurity, food deserts,
especially as times get difficult.
Like we look at what food costs
right now and it's astronomical.
What have you found
yourself doing particularly?
we can even go back to this recently
as from the start of the pandemic.
How have you found yourself
answering that call to to the
shortcomings that we're dealing
with, with just food in this country?
Caleb: So one of the things is when
we have over it is I'll give it away.
So I, I'll seek families that
maybe have a need and even ask.
And one thing I, I'm.
Very passionate about.
It's not just giving people
stuff just cause it's, I got it.
I'm gonna ask them what they like and
if I got it, then I reach it to em.
You know, I don't feel like, you
know, just cause you down and out,
but you just gotta take whatever.
I remember, volunteering with
the local food bank and the food
that they were getting from a lot
of, you know, major retailers.
It was spoiled and I it in the compost.
That's how bad it was.
And it was like, you know, put glove on.
Like, no, it ain't for human assumption.
And I threw it away.
Cause I feel like, you know, even
if you're doing a giveaway people
should have quality food and it's
insulting considering the neighborhood
that bringing that food to.
from that experience, I said
I'll ask people what they like.
In, during the pandemic, when we did
have extras, I was able to give away.
Food in the ward, which is saint rock,
you know, a lot of people know saint rock.
And we also gave away food in, uh,
Uptown, and we said several hundred
families with, produce that was from
black farmers that was out there
intentional in making sure that not
only search, supported those black.
And my company did not, receive
compensation today, which something
that, that was on my heart.
And I wanted them to have
access to the best of the best.
The same things that I
would sell to a restaurant.
Regular people, you know,
everyday people that's working.
People they had access to it.
And that was something that, you know,
we wanna do, quarterly if, if possible.
And, you know, when I think about what
the needs are, is it is, hasn't made it
corporate responsive or, you know, people
that maybe got a few extra dollars.
That they could, share so that I be
able to get more of those type of things
for people that are food insecure.
cause I ask people like how many
people, family, and some of the
things they like to, when the people
interact with my companies, I want
them to leave with their dignity.
So it's not for sure, I featured in a
local publication, but it definitely,
I didn't do it beed or nothing.
I just wanted to take of mypeople's,
the main reason why my company exist.
It is my lively hood but I also
want to be able to serve and give
them the best of the best because
I the same thing that I eat.
With no pesticides and, I'm not
pumping it up with chemicals
to try to make it grow faster.
That's what I want.
Anybody that, you know, interacts
with my products to have.
And I just happen to have few people
that are my inner circle, if you will, a
growing community that feel the same way
about not spreading things down and, The
things that we may, maybe make to, have
carcinogens and different things in them.
we were really passionate about that,
doing it the old school way, and sometimes
it's not, popular because it's, it's
not fast, but it's just that important
to us to just contribute in that.
Mel: Well, Caleb, I
appreciate your contribution.
I know we, the people of the city
appreciate your contribution.
So I wanna ask how can people
support your efforts directly?
We have our website it's
making groceries market dot com
Caleb: Market dot com And just visit.
Our email is okouvproduce gmail
V in victory, U, E as in egg
produce at gmail dot com, and
we open to get as many involved.
and we do have a donate button on that,
and also if you purchase product, we
have, you know, a program where if you
purchase a box for yourself, you could
actually, help to feed someone it's not
a new concept, but it's something that,
just think about somebody else if you
got an extra few dollars, and I know
money is tight for a lot of people, but
thinking of somebody else when, when
you and your family has some warm meals.
That's one of the things that you
can do visit out site, and share our
website if it's something you enjoy.
Mel: Thank you so much Caleb.
And as far as you, where can
people find you on social media?
Caleb: I'm on Twitter, mostly active
on Twitter, the Instagram this.
Like's, social, right.
Mel: I want to thank you so much.
I highly encourage, anyone,
everyone to support vu.
He is just a wealth of
information and delightful person.
Y'all know what I say?
Be nice when you, when
you follow my folks.
Everybody that comes on
this show is a person.
And I'm not saying y'all won't be nice,
but it's just a reminder sometimes.
We're all, we're all struggling,
so just remember to be kind when we
interact with new folks, especially when
we've encountered them on a podcast.
I appreciate you so much, Caleb.
Um, thank you so much for joining.
I hope that you come back.
There's gonna be a lot of
conversation, especially with.
The recent Inflation reduction Act
where there'll be, you know, there's
been money allotted to help farmers.
I would love to have a future
conversation about that.
And maybe, you know, a few months
from now, look at what progress,
what progress has happened, or
progress hasn't happened, and.
government can do to meaningfully
strengthen racial equity and farming.
So I wanna thank you again,
and we will see you next time.
Caleb: All right.
I like to thank Caleb Hill and Oklahoma Produce for not only visiting the show, but also the tireless contributions that they give to my hometown and state and the great information we were able to glean today. Each of the links Caleb mentioned, they're going to be in our show notes as well as a link to this episode's transcript because, you know, accessibility is everything. I want to thank each and every one of you for supporting not only this episode, but every episode of the Resist Bot podcast. If you'd like to know more about how Resist Bot can help you and your movement, go to resist. Dot bot. Also, if you love us, and I know you do, leave us a five star review. You can also text Donate to 50409 and become a monthly subscriber. Lastly, but not least, midterms are right around the corner, and no one who wants to participate should be left out. So keep your voter registration status in check by texting Check to 50409, confirm if your registration is active, and help you register to vote if it's not. It's simple, because exercising your rights should not be hard. So again, I want to thank you for joining me, and we'll see you next time.
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