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January 2021

National AgrAbility Project

Welcome sign on back of trailor with a car and pickup truck to its right and farm buildings in the backgroundThe National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) held their annual conference on a farm outside of Boydton, Virginia, October 31 - November 1, 2020. This year, the National AgrAbility Project (NAP) sent two staff members - Ed Sheldon, NAP farmer veteran job coach and engagement coordinator, and Chuck Baldwin, NAP underserved populations outreach coordinator. Ed and Chuck were joined by John Jamerson, African American farmer from the historic Lyles Station community in southwest Indiana. Jamerson leads the LIFE (Legacy Innovation Farming Economics) Project, a USDA 2501 grant to help socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers, and veterans, in which the National AgrAbility Project is a partner.

Picture of farm with implements and tractors in the foreground, two silos in the background against a blue skyJohn and Kara Boyd sitting at dining room table with video and computer equipment on table - conducting a Zoom meeting.While past NBFA conferences have welcomed in excess of 600 attendees in a hotel setting, this year's event, due to COVID-19, was hosted on a 1,000-acre farm belonging to NBFA Founder/President Dr. John Boyd and his wife, Kara, who is co-founder and president of the Association of American Indian Farmers. Storms along the eastern seaboard grounded flights for Native Americans coming in from western states, so in-person attendance was limited to about 50. However, all of the conference sessions were broadcast live via Zoom, so a wider audience was reached.

John Jamerson, Ed Sheldon, and Dr. John Boyd  with facemasks on talking together outside on Boyd's farmThe small attendance gave more opportunities for the NAP and LIFE Project team to develop close relationships with others at the conference and particularly with hosts John and Kara Boyd. The conversations held over the two-day event were eye-opening as many of the black farmers in attendance shared current-day stories of financial and physical mistreatment, unequal access to loans, discrimination in the markets, and sometimes violence or property damage due to racist attitudes. The plea that was heard the most was not for any kind of hand-out, but for an equal opportunity to work hard as a farmer and to reap the benefits of that labor in equal measure. Both John and Kara expressed again their appreciation for the open collaboration with Purdue's AgrAbility Project and the services AgrAbility has rendered to Black and Native American farmers for several years.

African American Viet Nam veteran wearing red and black plaid flannerl shirt, red vest, and black hatAmong the attendees was a local Viet Nam veteran with whom Ed was able to share a copy of "The Next Mission" and some AgrAbility/LIFE Project brochures. John, Ed, and Chuck were able to share information about AgrAbility and the LIFE Project during a one-hour session, both in-person and via Zoom.

Metal table in front with jugs of sauce on it and behind that a whole hog roasting in wood-fired hog roasterDieDra, the "Alabama Blues Queen" and the Ruff Pro Band playing on a semi truck flatbed trailor in front of two silos on the Boyd farmThe NAP/LIFE Project team was welcomed by the Boyd's/NBFA in true Southern style and hospitality and made to feel as if they were truly family.

For Ed and Chuck, the biggest take-away was the close-up relationship-building that was done across racial, political, and social lines - both the giving and the receiving. "An amazing experience!"

Submitted by Chuck Baldwin

Staff Changes and Recognition

Portrait of Steve Swain in dark suit coat with a blue and white striped shirt and dark blue and white  tie.After more than 20 years of service to AgrAbility clients, staff, and a multitude of other professionals and consumers, Steve Swain officially retired on December 31. The NAP and Indiana AgrAbility teams wish Steve the best in his life after AgrAbility. You can read his farewell here if you missed it.

"A couple of months ago I did not expect to be writing this e-mail. I begin retirement from AgrAbility and Purdue tomorrow, December 31, 2020. Covid-19 has changed a lot of things this year. One of those is the incentive package to retire offered by the dean of the College of Agriculture at Purdue. It was an offer I could not refuse. My wife has been after me to retire but I told her it wasn't time yet. God hit me over the head with a 2x4 saying it is time. I have no definite plans going forward but have options as well as jobs at home. I will still be part of AgrAbility in different ways in the future.

I am very grateful to Dr. Bill Field and Paul Jones for taking a chance on me and being patient with me for over 20 years. Paul Jones and Ed Sheldon will pick up my responsibilities and can be reached at the toll-free phone number.

I will still have my Purdue e-mail if you have any questions and can be reached at my personal phone number: 219-604-1244." Steve Swain

Submitted by Paul Jones