LORAIN, Ohio — According to the USDA, there are currently millions of independent farmers across the nation, and the majority of them are white men. Yet, Steel Magnolia chef and owner, Shontae Jackson, is beating the odds by becoming a small independent farm owner in Lorain.
“I had thought about this way before like before the food truck, before our restaurant and catering event space,” Jackson said. “I couldn’t do this by myself; it’s a collaboration of building relationships to better build our nutritional standpoint and our health.”
Across the nation, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) counted about 3.2 million farmers in its 2019 census report. However, less than 2% were Black. The odds are even more staggering for Jackson, owner of Steel Magnolia food truck, restaurant and catering space. The Black woman owner with Mississippi roots is now joining the one percent of Black female farm operators and producers In America, according to a 2017 USDA census.
Jackson says her inspiration and encouragement to make her childhood dream a reality came from her father who is a U.S. Army veteran. Her father’s veteran status is what allowed her to become eligible for a Rid All Green Partnership program to learn more about farming, nutrition, and how to heal the community.
“I grew up like this, being on my dad‘s silver little tractor you know picking berries and eating fresh cucumbers,” she said. “I want to implement everything my father has taught me, everything that I’m passionate about, and everything that Rid All has added onto me and take it to a whole ‘nother level.”
As a gift from the Lorain County Port Authority five months ago, Jackson was given a vacant plot of land on Clifton Avenue, which she has now transformed into “Steel Farm and Garden.” Jackson says the actual farm, where fresh and organic foods are grown, is about .25 acres.
Community Food Haven
Jackson says creating Steel Farm and Garden is her way of helping remedy food deserts, food costs, and lack of nutrition awareness, especially in Black and brown households.
“Not everybody can reach organic, healthy growing food,” she said. “Things that help us reduce our glue close levels, our blood pressure, now we’re implementing that and we’re growing things to reflect that.”
Jackson says all of the food grown on the farm is free to the community.
“In regenerating ourselves and becoming one with everything, we regenerate our community,” she explained…changing the way we think about our food and combat disease, combat COVID, combat anything else that may come and regenerate ourselves,” she said. “When they see the food truck up and we’re giving out food and things like that, it’s somewhere they can feel like they’re a part of a bigger collective and something that is for them.”
Steel Farm and Garden: The Non-Profit
Jackson has already implemented community outreach through the farm’s “Socks and Soups” initiative, which provides free soup and new socks to veterans. However, she says she wants to do more by establishing the farm as a non-profit.
“We are looking at that sector to help us build more, do more and be more present in the community.”
Jackson says community support and demand at the farm will help reach this next goal. She hopes more people will visit and take home fresh foods.
Steel Farm and Garden is located at 3618 Clifton Avenue in Lorain, Ohio. To donate or to learn more, email [email protected] or call 440-222-6047.