Moses Ochola, Director of Creative Strategy and Vision of Black Farmer’s Market, tells us about the power of local food from BIPOC farmers. In this conversation, we explore the difference between food deserts and food apartheid, how farmer’s markets can be a place for community and education. Moses is a Transforming Leaders 2017 Goodmon Fellow.
Owen: You told me recently that you co-founded Black Farmers Market, which is really cool. What was the vision behind that?
Moses: The Black Farmer’s Market started with the support and guidance of farmers asking us to create a marketplace for them. Our vision is to inspire and expand self-sufficient communities that support and protect Black farmers and entrepreneurs.
Owen: And how many years has it been?
Moses: The Black Farmer’s Market began from the Black Market, which started in 2015. At the time, the Black Market was an annual event primarily focused on driving traffic to Black businesses on Black Friday. In 2018 the focus expanded to include Black Farmers, and we hosted the first annual Black Farmers’ Market. It went on to become a bi-annual event and then in 2020, a monthly event in both Durham and Raleigh.
Owen: That’s very cool. So I looked on your website and saw the word “apartheid,” specifically food apartheid. And that’s a word that I’ve actually been doing a lot more research on lately. So I’d love to hear how Black Farmer’s Market helps to stop or remedy food apartheid in North Carolina and the triangle.
“We intentionally used the term food apartheid on our website instead of food deserts. Apartheid is a system of institutional racial segregation and discrimination, and these areas are food apartheids because their limited access to healthy food is due to racially discriminatory policies. The Black Famers’ Market helps remedy this by intentionally placing our markets in food apartheid and inspiring affected communities to create their own self-sustaining systems.”
Owen: Got it. And so these farmers, where are they located?
Moses: The Black Farmers Market has farmers throughout the Piedmont area, coming as far away as from Fayetteville. We even have a South Carolina farmer that comes in during the summer. Since starting, we’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about expanding our footprint. Unfortunately, we don’t have the capacity or funds to do that right now, but we plan to in the future.
Owen: Do you think there might be a future of more people growing their own food and possibly becoming farmers or homesteaders?
Moses: I hope so. I mean, that’s the work that we’re trying to do. We want others to recognize the importance of growing their food and building food systems that support local farmers. If we’re doing our job well, we can get a new generation of younger farmers interested in this line of work.
Owen: Does Black Farmer’s Market tailor certain demographics? Also, does it offer educational programs as well?
“We create a space that’s welcoming to everybody, but that is intentionally for Black people. Our markets are curated to make Black people feel comfortable coming out and engaging with our farmers, building a connection and relationship that isn’t just about commerce but also about education and community. We’ve had to be very creative in engaging with our customers due to COVID precautions; however, as restrictions start to subside, we’re really excited about creating programming that takes education to the next step.”
Owen: What are you excited about this year in the lens of the Black Farmer’s Market and things opening back up?
Moses: I’m really excited about having more customer engagement. I can’t wait to move away from the market being an in and out destination just to buy stuff to being more of a place for enjoying each other’s company. Having something as simple as a food court area for people to sit down and enjoy their meals or items they’ve just purchased makes a big difference to how the market feels.
Owen: I also saw that you’re the Director of Strategy and Creative Vision, which is a really cool title. I’d love to hear, I’m not sure if you did the branding, but what’s been your philosophy behind your vision and creative strategy at Black Farmer’s Market?
Moses: It’s changed as we’ve grown. In the beginning, the strategy and creative vision was geared towards building a brand and excitement. Now it’s about leveraging our brand to accomplish our mission. My vision has always taken a shoot for the stars, land on the moon approach throughout the journey. I’m grateful to my team for entertaining all of my crazy ideas and, when possible, politely keeping me grounded. Developing a creative strategy has come relatively intuitive as we have always remained community-driven, relying on an advisory board, farmers union, and customers to help guide our direction.
Owen: That’s great. All right. Last question. Kind of a random question. What’s in season this time of the year, and what’s your favorite food from the farmer’s market that you like to eat?
Moses: Yeah, so right now it’s definitely strawberry season. So I’ll go with strawberries as my favorite food until early June.
Owen: Yeah. Food is a huge part of black culture. It’s either food or hair.
Learn more about Black Farmer’s Market at their website!