To commemorate Black farmers and agricultural innovators for Black History Month, Noel M. Estwick, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the College of Agriculture and Human Sciences, and his class visited Ivy Leaf Farms in February. Ivy Leaf Farms is a Sunnyside, Houston, farm owned and operated by Ivy Walls, a Black female farmer. The trip exposed the students to local food systems and examined various economic, political, and institutional forces involved in the control and use of land and natural resources. The experience also gave the group a first-hand view of how classroom theory can be applied to address food insecurity through sustainable agriculture and equitable food systems.
Ms. Walls was an epidemiologist in a hospital before she left to enjoy more time outdoors and start growing vegetables. She says the farm has only grown ever since.
“I started Ivy Leaf Farms in 2020 to be an organic food resource for my neighborhood to have vegetables,” said Walls. “Everything that we produce here on the farm is free and low cost to my zip code.”
Jeremy Peaches of Fresh Life Organics and a Harris County 4-H Agent for the PVAMU-Cooperative Extension Program (CEP) says the collaborative efforts of Ivy Leaf Farms and Fresh Life Organics are empowering local communities by partnering with local minority farmers to fight food insecurity in Sunnyside.
On the farm, the students examined its internal systems and engaged Walls and her staff in discussions about crop production, marketing, agri-tourism, agricultural training, and financing for agricultural operations.
“Our visit to Ivy Farms was amazing,” said Paul Fields, a PVAMU senior. “As a business owner, it gave me some insight into the business aspect and the personal challenges one faces when running their own business as an African American. Ivy was able to shed some light on those challenges to give me some ideas moving forward that will help me. Just an unforgettable experience.”
The 30 students who attended the trip are enrolled in the Food Distribution Systems and the Land and Resource Economics courses. The Land and Resource Economics class is an African American Studies (AFAM) course under PVAMU’s African American Studies Initiative, which highlights the achievements of Black farmers.
“As a professor, there are numerous benefits and much satisfaction to be derived from exposing students to such opportunities,” Estwick said. “However, my top two takeaways were hearing students express their appreciation for seeing the application of classroom theory in a real-world setting and observing the student-to-student interaction. I offer sincere thanks to Ivy Leaf Farms, Fresh Life Organics and everyone else involved in making this field trip successful.”
Ivy Leaf Farms and Fresh Life Organics currently are making plans to open a local grocery store in Sunnyside, with farm-fresh produce and value-added products.