You might be expecting this story to take you to a farm out in rural Oklahoma, but this organization is located right in the heart of Oklahoma City. These plants are going straight into the hands of young women in the community and into the bellies of those nearby, as well.
As a young Black woman with a love for agriculture, Tammy Gray Steele didn’t have shoes to fill or a path to follow.
“I am from the rural area of Oklahoma with the 40 acres that was actually afforded to us through the Emancipation Proclamation,” Steele said. “My family still runs beef cattle on the farm. The only Black farmer from the rural part of Seminole, Oklahoma.”
Steele attended the law school at New York University and then returned to Oklahoma to work for OG&E. Eventually, her path led her to find the National Women in Agriculture Association.
Now, young women can follow in her footsteps.
“If you teach a child early and give them those opportunities, show them expose them, we take our children to Washington D.C.,” Steele said. “From that little bit of funding, we make it work.”
Valontay Linzy is one of those students.
“I have learned a lot,” Linzy said. “I have learned how to grow plants (and) take care of business professionally when I first walked in here I was just a kid.”
Linzy is now 19. In a few months, she will leave for the Army basic training and will then she earn a degree in agriculture.
“Agriculture: I feel like is the most important thing in the world," Linzy said.
Linzy said she is grateful she found Steele.
“It is not a lot of people who know about agriculture but even being Black in agriculture makes more of a difference because there are a lot of other people that do get that experience. Most of the time, you don’t get that experience being Black," Linzy said.
The National Women In Agriculture Association, now in 26 states, has a simple mission.
“Teaching students where their food comes from, how to grow it and make an honest income forever, if you want to," Steele said.
As a result, Steele said the USDA is now able to track how many Black women farmers there are across the country. Steele estimates there are anywhere from 150-300 Black women farmers in Oklahoma. The number includes backyard farming, as well.
"To give our women a voice: That is really why I started this organization," Steele said.
Steele said the organization has not received the funding needed to expand on those services and serve more people.
"Doing things that I have done in the community for 13 years, I have been in this community growing food, irradiating food desert issues, providing jobs to children 16 and older,” Steele said. “Some may be 15 ½, if they get their work permit but those things have gone unnoticed still. I know other organizations that are not of Afro-American origin that have come into the community and they receive the resources."
Those issues and a lack of support from local legislatures are why Steele said they must go national.
"Plan to go to the White House and Congress asking for help to make sure that minority women, as President Biden states, are seen and respected for their work and be able to make a change in America,” Steele said.
The act is called "The Youth and Women Equality and Inclusion Act."
Steele said the goal of the bill is to receive more resources, so it can become a pilot program for 4-H.
"We have been doing the work for 13 years in these communities with little to no resources,” Steele said. “I mean, if the national headquarters land a grant, we have to stretch it across 26 chapters, let alone trying to keep the lights on here."
The NWIAA is demonstrating the belief that with just a small seed and some hard work, a plentiful harvest may follow.
"Our story is going to be life changing and it is going to change America to the point where our children all people will have access to good food, to a decent living to sustainable living and it will decrease incarceration as well as increase the minority farm count," Steele said.
NWIAA is hosting a virtual event Thursday to celebrate Black History Month and bring exposure to their organization.
The event is called the "Farm Girls In Pearls.” The goal is to get the attention of Congress members who can help them get the resources they need to make an impact.
To learn more about NWIAA, click here.
For more information on 4-H, click here.