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Tall Grass Food Box Project Helps Black Farmers Struggling During The Pandemic

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Gerald Harris has been busy during this pandemic, along with two other friends. Here's how their weeks usually start.

GERALD HARRIS: So we usually spend Sunday trying to curate what the box look like. On Monday, we contact our farmers.

SIMON: Up to 20 farmers, all African American, all in the Durham, N.C. area, are struggling through supply-chain problems from the pandemic. Gerald and his friends, Derrick Beasley and Gabrielle E. W. Carter, run a subscription service to deliver fresh vegetables, the Tall Grass Food Box. Some people get the boxes each week, so do a few restaurants. The project started in March after Gabrielle Carter encountered someone with a restaurant that was in trouble.

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GABRIELLE CARTER: What felt like it was supposed to be kind of a casual run in, where we were going to have, like, a quick positive hi-and-bye moment turned into very quickly kind of a jarring, serious moment where I left and remember reaching out to Derrick and being like, hey.

DERRICK BEASLEY: We just started talking about the farmers that we know we're in community with. And these are mostly Black farmers. We called a few of them, and their pathways to the market had been interrupted. So then I hit Gerald that day (laughter) or the next day and was like, yo, what's up?

HARRIS: It was the day I got married. Derrick was there at the ceremony. When we were outside, he was like, hey, Gabby and I have this idea.

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HARRIS: Fast forward to that. There was a website. There was an Instagram and a Facebook account. And we were, in so many ways, in business. On April - I believe it was April the 3rd is when we dropped our first box. It was a very, very quick turnaround.

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BEASLEY: What was in the first box?

CARTER: Eggs.

BEASLEY: Definitely had collards, sweet potatoes.

CARTER: Herbs - a bouquet of herbs. There was, like, mint.

BEASLEY: Green onions.

CARTER: Garlic scapes.

BEASLEY: Yeah, garlic chives.

SIMON: After getting the word out, the team got orders for about 30 boxes. Derrick Beasley says that two weeks later they had 60 orders.

BEASLEY: I think people were just weary of going to stores and weary of being out in public, mingling over vegetables (laughter) that people have been picking up and putting back and coughing over and, you know, whatever.

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BEASLEY: At our peak - at summer excitement - strawberries, watermelon - we had 225 subscribers. And now we're ending the season with about 150, which makes sense considering it's cold outside. It's a lot of root vegetables (laughter). It's a lot of greens - not quite as glamorous. But I think we feel - we felt really good about the consistency in which people have supported us and the farmers.

CARTER: I really just enjoy in a time of kind of isolation having these moments where we could still connect with our friends and see our people at pickup. They became these big, almost like ceremonious moments, pulling boxes out of the back of a U-Haul. And there would be music playing. And everybody would be kind of lined up six feet apart.

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CARTER: And just seeing, like, the joy in people's faces to be able to get this produce that came from a farmer that even if they haven't met them, they feel like they've met them through this rapport that we've created.

BEASLEY: So we've been able to pay Black farmers over $75,000 since we started in April.

HARRIS: I know that there's a lot of people that have personally been struggling through this time. This work kept me sane. It kept me doing some things that I love with people I love. This work has been, like, everything. And I really appreciated just the opportunity to be able to serve the community in this way because with them, I'm - also feel like I'm being served, too.

SIMON: Gerald Harris, along with Gabrielle E. W. Carter and Derrick Beasley - they run Tall Grass Food Box in Durham, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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