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People of color are less than 2% of Connecticut's farmers: Listen to their stories

Héctor Gerardo backs their first tractor out of the garage, careful to avoid the family van.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Héctor Gerardo backs their first tractor out of the garage, careful to avoid the family van.

One-third of Connecticut’s residents identify as people of color, but statistically, more than 98 percent of Connecticut’s farmers are white.

It’s a disparity rooted in generations of racism, unequal access to land and credit, and systemic discrimination.

But while their numbers are small, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) farmers do exist in Connecticut.

All summer long, we are bringing you their stories through audio interviews and photographs, which will be posted here.

Listen to these farmers in their own words.

Liz Guerra, 37 & Héctor Gerardo, 38

“We are not a traditional ‘ag’ family … We came here with a dream and a compost box.”

The co-owners of Seamarron Farmstead in Danbury want you to know that “Black farmers do exist and BIPOC farmers – in Connecticut.” They describe a farming journey that started on a New York City fire escape and led to today, where they grow everything from garlic to hemp in the backyard of their Connecticut homestead.

Xóchitl Garcia, 26

“Growing up, my family made agriculture a taboo subject because it was a method of survival.”

A woman explores how farming intersects with her Mexican identity while working at a community garden in New Haven.

Sarah Rose Kareem, 29 & Azeem Zakir Kareem, 29

She was like, ‘Why is no one coming? This is so strange. Why is no one here?’ I'm like, 'cuz you got a Black dude, here.’ This isn't a place where you just find Black people walking around.”

Speaking on a windy day outside their Windsor Locks farm, the married co-founders of Samad Gardens Initiative celebrate the freedom they’ve found farming, but say customers at farmers markets treat them differently depending on who’s behind the stand.

Elizabeth Guerra and Héctor Gerardo look out over their homestead farm in Danbury.
Tyler Russell/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
Elizabeth Guerra and Héctor Gerardo look out over their homestead farm in Danbury.
 Héctor Gerardo's garlic is coming in nicely now that squirrels have stopped eating it each night. The secret is a little cayenne pepper.
Tyler Russell/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
/
Connecticut Public
Héctor Gerardo's garlic is coming in nicely now that squirrels have stopped eating it each night. The secret is a little cayenne pepper.
“Agriculture, for me, is reconnecting with our indigenous ancestors,” says Xóchitl Garcia, who farms land at the Ferry Street community garden in Fair Haven.
Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
“Agriculture, for me, is reconnecting with our indigenous ancestors,” says Xóchitl Garcia, who farms land at the Ferry Street community garden in Fair Haven.
In the weeds, Xóchitl Garcia clears her 4-foot by 8-foot plot of land in the Ferry Street community garden in Fair Haven where there is a waitlist for its 56 growing beds. “My parents themselves were farmworkers, but they just called it work,” says Garcia.
Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
In the weeds, Xóchitl Garcia clears her 4-foot by 8-foot plot of land in the Ferry Street community garden in Fair Haven where there is a waitlist for its 56 growing beds. “My parents themselves were farmworkers, but they just called it work,” says Garcia.
Preparing to plant, Xóchitl Garcia breathes in the smell of epazote seeds. “Growing up,” she says, “My family made agriculture a taboo subject because it was a method of survival rather than a passion seeking career.”
Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
/
Connecticut Public
Preparing to plant, Xóchitl Garcia breathes in the smell of epazote seeds. “Growing up,” she says, “My family made agriculture a taboo subject because it was a method of survival rather than a passion seeking career.”
A mixture of flower seeds rests in the palm of 26-year-old farmer, Xóchitl Garcia while sowing in a 4-foot by 8-foot community garden bed in Fair Haven.
Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
A mixture of flower seeds rests in the palm of 26-year-old farmer, Xóchitl Garcia while sowing in a 4-foot by 8-foot community garden bed in Fair Haven.
Hauling topsoil, Xóchitl Garcia moves through young plants at the Ferry Street community garden in Fair Haven where there is a waitlist for its 56 growing beds. “My parents themselves were farmworkers, but they just called it work,” says Garcia.
Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
Hauling topsoil, Xóchitl Garcia moves through young plants at the Ferry Street community garden in Fair Haven where there is a waitlist for its 56 growing beds. “My parents themselves were farmworkers, but they just called it work,” says Garcia.
Farm supervisor Billy Flynn and Xochitl Garcia (left) share a laugh over tomato and pepper plants Flynn gifted Garcia for her 4-foot by 8-foot bed in a Fair Haven community garden where there is a waitlist for an opening in any one of its 56 gardening spots.
Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
Farm supervisor Billy Flynn and Xochitl Garcia (left) share a laugh over tomato and pepper plants Flynn gifted Garcia for her 4-foot by 8-foot bed in a Fair Haven community garden where there is a waitlist for an opening in any one of its 56 gardening spots.
Gently tapping the soil, Xóchitl Garcia nestles a tomato plant into a new bed at the Fair Haven community garden where she farms. “I actually feel very proud having dirt on me,” she said, “Looking all sweaty and tired because this is all my passion and energy that's going into cultivating something."
Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
Gently tapping the soil, Xóchitl Garcia nestles a tomato plant into a new bed at the Fair Haven community garden where she farms. “I actually feel very proud having dirt on me,” she said, “Looking all sweaty and tired because this is all my passion and energy that's going into cultivating something."
After planting her bed, Xochitl Garcia hugs her friend Ruth Garcia, one of the founders of the Fair Haven community garden on Ferry Street.
Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
After planting her bed, Xochitl Garcia hugs her friend Ruth Garcia, one of the founders of the Fair Haven community garden on Ferry Street.
Sarah Rose Kareem & Azeem Zakir Kareem harvest lettuce and clear footpaths on their Windsor Locks farm.
Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
Sarah Rose Kareem & Azeem Zakir Kareem harvest lettuce and clear footpaths on their Windsor Locks farm.
Azeem Zakir Kareem hauls sprinkler heads from storage to a field he is preparing for planting. “In order to come back to where we have to be, not just as Black people, not just Native American people – but as a whole planet – we have to come back to agriculture,” said Kareem.
Mark Mirko / Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
Azeem Zakir Kareem hauls sprinkler heads from storage to a field he is preparing for planting. “In order to come back to where we have to be, not just as Black people, not just Native American people – but as a whole planet – we have to come back to agriculture,” said Kareem.
Azeem Zakir Kareem brushes gently past his wife, Sarah Rose Kareem while the two tend to lettuce rows at their Windsor Locks farm. “How I got started with agriculture,” said Kareem, “That was my wife.”
Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
Azeem Zakir Kareem brushes gently past his wife, Sarah Rose Kareem while the two tend to lettuce rows at their Windsor Locks farm. “How I got started with agriculture,” said Kareem, “That was my wife.”
Water showers fresh cut lettuce as Sarah Rose Kareem cleans the harvest on the Windsor Locks farm she manages with her husband Azeem Zakir Kareem.
Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
Water showers fresh cut lettuce as Sarah Rose Kareem cleans the harvest on the Windsor Locks farm she manages with her husband Azeem Zakir Kareem.
Azeem Zakir Kareem hauls sets up irrigation lines on the Windsor Locks land where he farms with wife Sarah Rose Kareem.
Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
Azeem Zakir Kareem hauls sets up irrigation lines on the Windsor Locks land where he farms with wife Sarah Rose Kareem.
Water showers fresh cut lettuce as Sarah Rose Kareem cleans the harvest on the Windsor Locks farm she manages with her husband Azeem Zakir Kareem.
Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
/
Connecticut Public
Water showers fresh cut lettuce as Sarah Rose Kareem cleans the harvest on the Windsor Locks farm she manages with her husband Azeem Zakir Kareem.
Azeem Zakir Kareem jumps a sprinkle pipe junction while preparing his fields for irrigation. “You start working in that soil, and there's things – there's biology inside the soil – that sends a light signal through your nervous system that hits your brain, that has your brain release, beautiful, joyous chemistry that makes you feel good,” said Kareem.
Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public / Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
Azeem Zakir Kareem jumps a sprinkle pipe junction while preparing his fields for irrigation. “You start working in that soil, and there's things – there's biology inside the soil – that sends a light signal through your nervous system that hits your brain, that has your brain release, beautiful, joyous chemistry that makes you feel good,” said Kareem.


Copyright 2022 Connecticut Public Radio

Patrick Skahill is a reporter at WNPR. He covers science and the environment. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.
Mark Mirko
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