Seeds of Hope is a network of 18 farm-stands in South Carolina that are mostly located on the property of houses of worship. It was founded twenty years ago by Donna Bryan, a community visionary who wanted to help small-scale black farmers in the South. She concluded that local church land was a good place to locate markets because it naturally generates community interest. Over the years, Bryan has worked with about 50 farmers, and 95% of the farmers currently selling at Seeds of Hope locations are African American.
Considering the decline in African American farmers in the United States, Seeds of Hope’s success at helping farmers stay in business is a remarkable accomplishment. The NAACP estimates that the rate of decline for African American farmers is three times greater than that of white farmers. Most of the Seeds of Hope farmers sell at three different congregations per week on average, which provides their primary source of income. Most of the farmers have been participating for at least 15 years and are doing much better financially than before they joined.
Seeds of Hope is also noteworthy for the links it has forged between farmers and religious organizations. It has partnerships with all denominations of churches, as well as synagogues, health centers, hospitals and community centers. Most of the markets operate on church land and their clientele consist of neighborhood residents and church members. Farmers markets located in church parking lots may not be unique, but Seeds of Hope has pioneered ways to tightly weave together the interests of each church’s members, the farmers, and the larger community. For example, produce left over at the end of the day is taken to a hunger agency chosen by the congregation.
Over the years, new farmers markets have sprung up in the towns where Seeds of Hope operates, forcing some of its farm stand to close. Bryan sees these developments as a sign of success. “We consider this a good thing,” she says. “It means we stimulated demand.”