This article was originally posted by the Croatan Institute on May 23, 2022.
On May 21st, Croatan Institute joined the Rural Beacon Initiative (RBI) for the groundbreaking of Vera Brown Farm in Piney Woods, North Ca
rolina. With the support of a loan guarantee from Croatan Institute’s Fund for Recovery and Resilience and a zero-interest reparative loan from Foodshed Capital, Rural Beacon Initiative’s founder, William Barber III, led the purchase of the historic homestead and barn with over 50 acres of cropland and forest that is the ancestral home of Bishop William J. Barber II of the Poor People’s Campaign. This acquisition ensures the farm remains under the Barber family’s stewardship and averts ongoing Black land loss in the region.
The site is located in the historic community of “Piney Woods” a tri-racial black, indigenous, and Caucasian community with deep familial roots and a legacy of cooperation and self-determination. Piney Woods has historically been seen as a freedmen’s community; built by free people of color who were deeply committed to land and legacy. The community’s historical significance and deep heritage of self-determination by the tri-racial black, indigenous, and white population have been well-documented by Bishop Barber’s father and William’s grandfather, William J. Barber Sr., in Disciple Assemblies of Eastern North Carolina (1966).
Recognizing the importance of preserving the history and identity of the community and the opportunity to create a scalable model of sustainability, Rural Beacon Initiative seeks to develop a demonstrative “sustainability hub” in rural North Carolina. In partnership with Croatan Institute and Foodshed Capital, RBI will develop the Vera Brown Farm into a low carbon, self-sustaining, regenerative food system site benefiting the surrounding community by addressing food access issues and serving as a demonstration site for individuals looking to see sustainable agriculture in practice. Additionally, RBI plans to rehab the homestead into a cultural and educational center designed to allow community members and visitors to cultivate skills in environmental sustainability. Educational offerings will incorporate culturally-relevant training based on the history of the surrounding community and North Carolina environmental justice movements.
Additionally, through partnership with the Alliance for Native Seedkeepers, the RBI team is investigating the site’s ability to house a fully sustainable seed sanctuary that serves both Black and Indigenous communities in the cultivation and preservation of ancestral seeds as well as present-day culturally relevant foods. The team uses the term sanctuary in contrast to bank, with the belief that a seed is a living, sacred being that is to be revered. Seeds hold the stories and dreams of our ancestors allowing us to access their love and care over thousands of years. We strive to impart this relationship on all who are ready to learn.
The project will also inform the development of Croatan Institute’s North Carolina Soil Wealth Areas, a new place-based financing model with replication potential for other sites in the state and throughout the country.