For more than a decade, agricultural attorney Jillian Hishaw has been working in the southeast to alleviate hunger, help financially distressed farmers hold on to their land, and find markets for locally farmed goods.
Now Hishaw has been named a “Food Changemaker” by the Clif Bar Family Foundation.
The agricultural attorney is the founder of Family Agriculture Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S). In a short film about her work, she explains, “My grandfather was the inspiration behind F.A.R.M.S. because of his experience with our family-land loss.”
Hishaw works with organizations and individuals such as LeTanya Williams, who lives and farms not far from metropolitan Charlotte, in Chester, S.C. Williams explains she is a “minority, ‘double-time,’ as an African American and also a woman.” Support and understanding of farming struggles are important, “but what I really admire about Jillian is that she gathers money to purchase food from farmers – because this is not a billion-dollar industry – to give to their local pantries,” Williams says.
In November 2015, Hishaw organized a free produce giveaway for Charlotte’s low-income seniors and families. Hundreds of people attended. That same year, F.A.R.M.S. purchased 16,130 pounds of fresh produce from family farms, then distributed it to food banks, pantries, child care centers, and other community agencies.
Such organizations are often limited to stocking canned goods and other non-perishables, so these farm-fresh greens, beans, melons, potatoes and tomatoes are especially welcome. In 2016, the amount F.A.R.M.S. purchased and distributed increased six-fold – to 100,765 pounds.
The group also received a grant from the African American Community Foundation (AACF), part of Foundation for the Carolinas, to install gardens at a senior living facility in Charlotte’s Washington Heights neighborhood; then purchased produce and fresh-farmed fish for donation events to benefit single-parent households and a mental-health group home, respectively. Members of the Males Place partnered to assist with an event to provide 500 pounds of sweet potatoes to a day care center for elder Charlotte residents.
Certainly, food donations are the public face of F.A.R.M.S, but it’s the work behind the scenes that’s just as critical. It’s estimated that black landowners are losing approximately 30,000 acres of farmland each year. Hishaw explains, “The average age of a U.S. farmer is 65 or older. They need help with succession planning, estates, and foreclosure prevention.” To foster the next generation of farmers, the group also provides internships and educational programs for students. (While there’s no monetary prize for the “Changemaker” designation, the Foundation is a current funder of Hishaw’s program.)
Most recently, Hishaw has been working as a local consultant on the City of Charlotte’s Farmers Market study.
She states, “The need for farming is essential, and until we provide our existing farmers with support – and recruit new and beginning farmers into the career sector – our food systems will continue to be broken. Urban financial support of rural areas is essential because zoning and development pressures will keep urban farms from growing, and one can only grow so much on a vacant lot.” To sustain its mission, F.A.R.M.S. is seeking volunteers, friends on social media, and business partnerships.
There’s much more to this story of giving “A Big Lift to Small Farms.” Check out this video of Hishaw with some of her partners in food advocacy. For more information, visit the F.A.R.M.S. website, 30000acres.org.