When we think of heroism, we often think of figures in the medical field. We think of selfless healthcare workers; tireless civil rights activists; politicians who actually work to make society a better place for all. We may even think of athletes or entertainers who provide us with a bit of much-needed escapism after a long and trying day. But most times, we fail to think of our heroes who need us most… our agricultural heroes.
Black people have largely been expelled from the US agricultural landscape. In 1920, nearly a million Black farmers worked on 41.4 million acres of land, making up a seventh of farm owners. Today, only about 49,000 of them remain, making up just 1.4 percent of the nation’s farm owners, and tending a scant 4.7 million acres—a nearly 90 percent loss.
This didn’t happen by accident. Since Emancipation, Black farmers have had to fight for a share of this country’s fertile ground, due to a history of racist policies and land theft. But modern sustainable agriculture owes much to Black agriculturalists like Houston’s very own, Jeremy Peaches.
Born in Greenville, Mississippi, Peaches became fascinated with farming and agriculture at an early age. “I was actually born in Greenville, Mississippi; the heart of the Delta, the heart of blues, B.B. King, slavery, cotton. My grandfather and grandmother always had gardens and farms,” Peaches recalls.
“My mom had me at 21 when she was in college so she wanted to come to Houston to live a better life. I remember seeing fields of crops on the way to Houston and I remember getting to Houston and all you see is like apartments and big buildings. That’s my fondest memory of coming from my birthplace to the major city. Seeing the fields, the tractors, the cows and that’s where I’d say my earliest passion for agriculture came from. As I got older I realized that my last name is Peaches because my family on my grandfather’s side, two to three generations ago, were slaves and they worked on one of the largest peach orchards and farms in Mississippi. So my family has a rich ag tradition,” Peaches expresses.
Raised in Houston on the trail riding scene, Peaches attended Prairie View A&M University as an agriculture major and even served as Senator for agriculture while he was there.
“I had other options. I had scholarship offers from UT (University of Texas) Austin and other schools but PV was the premiere agriculture school. We had the most land, the most equipment and if you go to Prairie View for agriculture, you’re not just going to learn economics or animal science. They teach you everything.”
Fresh Life Organic
At just 28 years young, Peaches keeps busy as the owner and operator of Fresh Life Organic Produce Co. & Agricultural Consulting Firm. He specializes in aquaponics, hydroponics and traditional soil farming. Growing indoors with aquaponics and hydroponics has allowed Peaches and other farmers to continue to grow food during the recent harsh and inclement weather.
When asked to explain aquaponics and hydroponics, Peaches says simply, “Hydroponics is basically water being recirculated around the plant roots for them to be able to grow. You just have to add nutrients. Aquaponics is just like hydroponics, except you’re adding fish. So you can grow fish and plants in an environment or ecosystem together and they will both thrive. And you will have protein as in fish and fiber-food in the lettuce or leafy greens. This technology has actually been around for years. It’s how we grow rice and crawfish. So it’s nothing new but it’s something that’s monumental in 21st century agriculture. You don’t necessarily have to grow in ground like we did as slaves on a plantation. You can grow inside of warehouses, buildings and controlled environments using aquaponics and hydroponics systems. So it’s just another way of growing using water.”
Fresh Life Organic was created in 2016 after Peaches built the largest aquaponics/hydroponics greenhouses in the city of Houston at his alma mater, Pro-Vision Academy, a public, charter alternative school in the Houston Independent School District. Upon graduation from the academy, Peaches returned during summers to farm while also working for the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). His goal was to build massive greenhouses and feed the community. However, his passion was dampened by a business model that did everything but that.
“I left Prairie View as an agriculture major to come back to the hood. I could have continued working for the USDA but I thought I was going back to build this massive thing to feed the community and it was ultimately about business. So I left there in 2016 and I started doing this for people in the community. I started backyard gardens at churches, helped senior citizens to install gardens. Eventually it turned into me just putting the farm at my house since I’d been doing it for everyone else.”
Peaches shared that initially, Fresh Life Organic was just an agriculture consulting firm but the company shifted its focus once Peaches saw a need in his community. “At first it was just agriculture consulting and then it went to the actual production of food to feed people. Everyone didn’t support me at first. They had to actually see it and when they started seeing it, I kept having all these men who had felonies or who couldn’t get a job coming to me and I would actually hire them to help me. That’s when the light went off at the end of 2017 that I could create a business out of this and generate income, not only for myself, but for other people. I’m serving a need. So it’s a blessing.”
Peaches clearly understands the importance of teamwork and partnership. In just a few short years since Fresh Life Organic’s inception, he has hired and appointed ownership to several family members so that Peaches can focus on growing the company and other initiatives like RSTBioScience.
RST (Revolutionary Sustainable Technologies) Bioscience is a Black-owned agricultural consulting firm, focused on sustainable urban agriculture. The firm is a major contributor to a winning team in a global competition that recognizes emerging sustainable technologies that address climate change. Peaches serves as the President of RST bioscience while his business partner, Robert Harding, serves as the Founder and CEO. Harding’s design for a carbon negative zero waste urban farm distinguished his team from the other finalists in the global competition.
Harding’s passion for educating the community on sustainable agriculture is unwavering. He expresses, “The agricultural development district is a chance for our community to control our own food. No people can truly call themselves free if they don’t control their own food. We have to make sure our food is good for us and nutritious for us. Our food can’t be inferior; otherwise it won’t protect us from all of these diseases and cancers in our communities.”
Peaches revealed that one of the major issues that he and Harding have faced as urban farmers is being shut out by agricultural organizations. “The number one discrimination I face as an urban farmer is really being blocked; from recognition, grants, ideas. I’ve built almost every farm and garden for these organizations and I’m constantly blocked in the city by these agricultural organizations, which are largely run by white women,” Peaches shares.
The Case of Reparations
Peaches brings into fold what should be an essential concern for all African Americans – reparations. “All of this is based on agriculture. Agriculture is the reason they brought slaves here in the first place. We were the number one money maker: cotton, soy bean, sugar cane, tobacco. You can’t overlook the part in agriculture that is the land. They don’t want us to know that this is the time to get our reparations. Agriculture is the solution to create jobs and fix the food deserts. Give us our land and our money back. Let’s solve these problems.”
Although Peaches understands what we are owed, he refuses to sit back and wait for it. Taking matters into his own hands, he also partnered with fellow Prairie View A&M alum, Ivy Walls, for their initiative – Black Farmer Box.
Black Farmer Box
Ivy is the owner and operator of Ivy Leaf Farms, a farm dedicated to neighborhood beautification while creating sustainable food sources for Sunnyside, Houston, Texas. Her efforts recently caught the eye of Houston-bred megastar, Beyoncé and the Ivy Leaf Farms was awarded a $10,000 grant from the BeyGOOD Black Owned Small Business Impact Fund, in partnership with the NAACP.
Peaches and Ivy connected after Ivy reached out for assistance from Peaches to make some improvements on her land for a project. After working on Walls’ farm the two began collaborating on different projects throughout the community. They realized that they were doing similar work and decided to team up. Ivy drew up a plan that would address community access and equity as it relates to agriculture, Peaches added to it and the two conceptualized a program for African American farmers by way of Black Farmer Box.
“We decided to create something that wasn’t people dependent because with COVID and social distancing guidelines, we realized that we don’t necessarily need a farmer’s market or brick and mortar to sell our products and other farmer’s products. We put the products into a box for distribution and people can order it online,” Peaches explains.
Black Farmer Box’s mission is simple: to create a sustainable, equitable and affordable food system for farmers to food desert communities. Sunnyside is Black Farmer Box’s first community of focus.
Sunnyside is a historically Black neighborhood in south Houston, set up for Black people in 1912 by a white councilman as the other segregated neighborhoods in the city center grew crowded. The city of Houston didn’t annex it until 1956. In the 1960s, Sunnyside had so many Black-owned businesses that residents called a stretch of Cullen Boulevard “Black Wall Street.” By the end of the 1980s, most of the businesses had shuttered, leaving the neighborhood to become a desert, economically.
Ivy Leaf Farms, Fresh Life Organics and RSTBioScience are currently growing in Sunnyside and doing their part to reverse the damage and ensure that the community has access to quality food.
In addition to being subscription-based, the Black Farmer Box also offers a Black farmers growers program which allows one to become a farmer in their own backyard. You can join the Growers program on www.blackfarmerbox.com and learn how to start high density farming in your own backyard. After course completion you will be able to wholesale your produce to Black Farmer Box and feed your community. This program not only focuses on feeding food desert communities, but also creates jobs and keeps the Black dollar circulating within the community.
Through initiatives like the Black farmers growers program, Peaches understands the importance of education. For it is knowledge of sustainable agriculture that will move urban cities and urban farming forward. He also recognizes the power of giving back to the youth, which is extremely important to Peaches and is why he continues to work with kids through 4H programs (one of the largest and oldest youth-serving organizations in America), teaching them about STEM, robotics and leadership.
“We’re not anybody unless we give back. We have to give them a hand up, not a hand out. If I see a young farmer and he’s growing food, or someone who wants to get involved in agriculture, I don’t mind giving them that information or allowing them to come work with me, or use tools and resources that I have. Agriculture farming and gardening is an industry in which people work together.
“If we don’t teach the next generation who will lead the world for the next twenty to thirty years and we’re having problems with climate change and food deserts, we’re not going to get to 2030 or 2050,” Peaches warns.
Plan of Action
For the past ten plus years, Peaches has dedicated his life to agriculture and urban agriculture. By 40 years old, he wants to employ technologies to build one of the largest sustainable farms in the world. When asked what the community can do to help his vision come to fruition, Peaches presents a simple 5-step action plan:
“Number one is to share our story with someone. It doesn’t take any money to share our story with people. Number two is to check us out on www.blackfarmerbox.com if you have access. Number three, be patient with us and support local African American farmers and entrepreneurs. Especially this next generation because we’re the ones who will carry this world for the next fifty to sixty years. Number four is do business with us. I’m not afraid to say that we need help. If you have access to resources, funds, whether monetary or land, reach out. And number five, we need the agricultural development district, which is in Houston, to solve some of these food desert issues. We need policy. We can’t do anything without law. We need political support.”
Peaches’ first action item is certainly covered as his story is currently being shared on major streaming platform, Hulu’s “Your Attention Please.” The episode aired on Season 2 of the series and is hosted by popular actor and comedian, Craig Robinson.
What can be even more awesome than being featured on a series which is dedicated to “Celebrating Black Stories” on a national subscription video on demand service fully controlled and majority owned by the Walt Disney Company, you may ask? Peaches, who also has an affinity for creating rap music, had his debut song “Life of a Farmer” placed at the beginning of the series!
When asked how the incredible opportunity came about, Peaches humbly shared, “I’m always getting interviewed for something but I think a friend from California referred me to [the creators of Your Attention Please]. They reached out to me the first week of December. We had a process of interviewing and checking for chemistry and I told them I made music. I like scores and I told them I wanted to be able to put my music in the score; and I actually got a placement. They placed my song “Life of a Farmer” in the show. So it’s work for hire, being an actor, but then when you get your music placed, there’s the licensing piece.”
Peaches’ ultimate vision is to create a local, centralized network for people in urban communities to grow food sustainably. He would like the network to be connected by other farms that produce and work together to create research and training programs.
“We feel like if the small, more family-localized farmers worked together, opportunities for risk to come up are being limited because you have other farmers in the network supporting one another,” Peaches envisions.
“Houston doesn’t have a true black farming and garden community. If you go to other cities like Atlanta, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Oakland or Los Angeles, the cities and counties embrace and uphold their farmers. They support their farmers through departments and programs. Right now it’s about us shedding light on this culture, this farming culture, this agriculture in Houston. We’re really for the people, by the people. We’re growing food. We’re going to make sure our people have their nourishment and what they need. We just need a little love and a little help,” Peaches concludes.
Follow Fresh Life Organic @freshlifeorganic or visit the site at www.freshlifehtx.com.
Follow Black Farmer Box @blackfarmerbox or visit the site at www.blackfarmerbox.com.
Follow RSTBioScience @rstbioscience or visit the site at www.rsustainabletech.com.
Stream Jeremy Peaches’ music (“Life of a Farmer”, “Soul Food Vegan”, “Greenhouse” and “We Are the Children” on all streaming platforms by searching ‘Fresh Life Jermo’)