‘Farming a Legacy’ at SF Black Film Fest celebrates Black farmers, an endangered species

by The People’s Minister JR Valrey

The realest state of affairs in this world is real estate, and the most important thing somebody can do on it is grow food. In the documentary “Farming a Legacy,” I learned that since the Emancipation Proclamation, one of the biggest fights that Blacks have had in this country was and is to own and retain farmland.

In the 1920s, there were 1,000,000 Black owned farms in the United States. By 2013, that number had dropped to 18,000, which represents less than 1 percent of all the farms in the nation.

Dale Jones is one of the few Black farmers left in Calvert County, Maryland, carrying on a family farming legacy. These endangered farmers display courage, strength, ingenuity, pride and dignity in their determination to pass along a family farming heritage to another generation.
Dale Jones is one of the few Black farmers left in Calvert County, Maryland, carrying on a family farming legacy. These endangered farmers display courage, strength, ingenuity, pride and dignity in their determination to pass along a family farming heritage to another generation.

The most successful farms that have lasted generations have been those that have utilized the skill sets and skill levels of everybody in the family. “Farming a Legacy” is a majestic cinematic look at what life is like when your occupation is one of civilization’s oldest and most important professions.

“You need a good, reliable, trustworthy source of food. That’s why farming is of the utmost importance. Why would you want to farm it? I question that daily, but it gets in your blood. It’s a good, wholesome way of life, very diverse. You’ll never get bored. You may be exhausted, but you’ll never get bored,” said Dale Jones, the subject of the documentary “Farming a Legacy.”

“Farming a Legacy” follows the day to day life and the family history of a third generation farmer with over 40 years’ experience named Dale Jones, who is from Sunderland, Calvert County, Maryland. It also features different members of his family that are involved in farming like his children and his wife, as well as his cousin who lives on his own property close by – on a street named after his father.

“Farming a Legacy” is a majestic cinematic look at what life is like when your occupation is one of civilization’s oldest and most important professions.

“What I like most about living on the farm is playing with the animals , getting to ride horses and just having fun with the animals,” said 10-year-old Carrie Jones.

Her 12-year-old sister Becky’s job is to clean up after and feed over 50 animals daily.

Her mother’s job is to be a bookkeeper of the animals’ health records, and she works with the goats, as well as doing whatever else needs to be done.

The father, Dale Jones, has various jobs on the land. He is the hay grower, pasture grower, fence fixer, barn fixer and more. His son, William, and the rest of the family are his assistants.

Just in the way of hay production, Dale Jones has over $100,000 invested in equipment. 2013 was a great year for hay production, but it was the first one since 2005. He only grows hay for the animals on his farm to eat.

Speaking of his cattle, Dale said: “If you study the animal and its digestive system, they were designed to eat grass. If you feed them corn, you could get the weight up much faster, but you come up with not necessarily an unhealthy product, but it’s not as healthy as if you strictly grass-feed.

“You will come up with some different amino acids and omega 3 fatty acids within the beef that normally would not show up on a corn fed or a grain fed animal. That’s why we try to give grasses,” said Dale Jones, expressing his knowledge about a subject that his family has worked at since the Civil War.

Dale Jones is very close to establishing his own breed of cattle. He also grows tobacco.

The particular farm they live on started in 1935, when Clyde Jones Sr. and his wife, Pearl, purchased 25 acres and expanded it to 150 acres. One of Clyde Jones Jr.’s first jobs on the his family’s farm was to milk the cows so that his mother could make butter. In 1958, Clyde Jones Jr. bought 75 acres from his mother.

Tobacco was the cash crop and economic base in southern Maryland for over 300 years, since the colonial times of slavery. In the year 2000, the state of Maryland instituted a voluntary tobacco buy-out program where the government would pay a farmer an annual dividend to not grow tobacco.

“It was more of a moral decision than an economic one.”

Tobacco made the community closer because it was tied into the fabric of where they were from in Maryland. In 2013, people just saw tobacco barns as rotting relics and didn’t realize the blood, sweat and tears that those people put in to build the county up.

“Farming a Legacy” screens Friday, June 12, 5:15 p.m., in the Buriel Clay Theater, African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton, as a part of the San Francisco Black Film Festival.

“I hope that we could leave a legacy with one of these children or grandchildren of having a true relationship with the land and with the crop that you produce, just an intimate relationship where I don’t want to rob the land. I don’t want to abuse it. I want it to stay pristine, the way it is. I never want to be at a production level where what’s best for the animal is not what’s done,” said Dale Jones.

“And if I taught them anything else, a good stewardship of the land, the animals and hopefully an appreciation for what it takes to keep this. I guess my prayer is that this property will never not be owned by some Jones. Of course once I’m gone, I don’t have no control over that, but I would hope that we’ve impressed that upon them enough that they would keep that going for however many generations there are to come.”

I would recommend that people take their children to see “Farming a Legacy,” a film that deals with the very necessary but less glamorous aspects of life. Everyone wants to be a movie star or rapper, but no one wants to own land and grow food. How is that sustainable?

“Farming a Legacy” screens Friday, June 12, 5:15 p.m., in the Buriel Clay Theater, African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton, as a part of the San Francisco Black Film Festival.

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.