Rev. Al Sampson: No Culture without Agriculture
He's arriving in New York the week before to organize New York churches to be part of the George Washington Carver F.A.R.M.S. network, which is bringing produce from black farmers in eight states to farmers markets at black churches.
"We start with black land, black farmers, on a black-owned truck to a black church," said Sampson in a phone interview Friday. Saturday, he's hosting farmers from Arkansas at Fernwood United Methodist Church, where he has been senior pastor for the past 31 years. For that entire tenure, he's been bringing farmers to the church on weekends.
"My man is going to drive up from Arkansas with a load of peas Saturday and if he has any left, he's going over to a mega-church Sunday," said Rev. Sampson. "By 10 p.m. Sunday, he'll call me that he's home in bed with cash in his pocket."
His commitment was shaped by his formative years in the ministry with mentor Rev. Vernon Johns, who would forego a collection when travelling for revivals, but instead bring a truckload of watermelons to sell. The other major influence was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who ordained Sampson at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1966 when Sampson was on the SCLC staff. Before then, Sampson graduated from Shaw University, where he participated in sitins with SNCC. "It was black farmers who put up their land for our bail, and I said if I ever had the opportunity, I would do something to make a difference for them."
Sampson has been delivering on that promise for three decades. At Lincoln University in Missouri, he's established a seed bank for crops from black farms. One of the threats to the viability of all small farms has been the patenting of seeds by agricultural conglomerates, which then force farmers to buy seeds from them.
He thinks black farms, historically black colleges and universities and black churches are the foundation of a network which can bring healthy food to black communities across the nation. Sampson's next objective is the development of regional warehouses which can keep the flow of farm products moving into those markets.
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