MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Al Hooks has been a farmer all his life.
“I’m 72, will be 73 in about four months,” Al said.
The business of growing crops to support the family and community has been passed down through generations. His son, Demetrius Hooks, is next in line. He's a fourth-generation farmer.
“We’ve been farming about well over 100 years," Demetrius said. "My great grandfather bought the land I guess back in the late 1800s.”
Demetrius says his great grandfather bought the land shortly after the freeing of slaves in the United States.
“A lot of the stuff that my father does, comes from my grandfather and my grandmother. How he plants, how he rotates his crops,” said Demetrius.
Rotating crops is a method that was developed by Black farmers shortly after slavery ended.
Dr. Raymon Shange is an assistant professor of environmental science in the college of agriculture at Tuskegee University.
"The community was still an agricultural community, but then came the idea of ‘how do we develop this skill into something that brings wealth into the community and sustains our communities,'” Dr. Shange said.
He says Black farmers have contributed much value to the agriculture industry.
“Dr. George Washington Carver as an agricultural scientist, as an inventor, as a humanitarian, actually had a huge impact on the way that we serve our communities,” Dr. Shange said.
Dr. George Washington Carver invented the method of rotating crops, but he also came up with other sustainable techniques like composting.
"There are a million websites on composting, but to think that Dr. George Washington Carver drew a bulletin and was delivering this information before the internet is amazing,” Dr. Shange said.
Composting is when waste on the farm is utilized to build and maintain healthy soil. Dr. Carver’s legacy has continued to live on bringing visitors to his museum, which is currently closed due to the pandemic.
Dr. Shange says it’s important farming knowledge gets passed on through generations. The Black farming community has worked hard to do so.
“To be able to strengthen food systems and food production in limited-resource communities could be a game changer for the entire country,” Dr. Shange said.
Hooks says he plans to start composting on his farm and he’s optimistic Al Hook’s Produce will become more profitable. He says his hope for Black farmers all over the country is that they get to keep their ancestral land.
“Everybody that farms in important," Hooks said. "And I think the thing that’s relevant now in terms of Black farmers is that there just aren’t that many of us anymore. To say that we started off as 15% of all farmers in America after slavery and now we’re down to less than 1% of all farmers in America.”
According to Dr. Shange, it’s very possible that percentage will increase again.
“There’s been a lot of struggles throughout the history of this country with African American farmers, but there seems to be a ground swell right now of young African Americans that are really interested in coming back and impacting agriculture.”
That innovation is what we need in a world that relies so heavily on food.