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Sweet Home Alabama: Sandra Simone of Huckleberry Farm

by  Shantel Hanley on March 01, 2014
Sweet Home Alabama: Sandra Simone of Huckleberry Farm

With great passion, Sandra Simone tends to her land and goats. Once a city woman living in Long Beach, Calif., Simone now spends her days at Huckleberry Farm in Talladega County, Ala.

Simone didn’t always have an interest in farming and in fact, she didn't give it a thought until the late 1980s when her husband, Harry Burke, insisted that she buy her great-grandfather’s land. “We purchased land before we left California because he impressed upon me that we should not let the land go. This land that I’m on is very close to the lake and I have land on the lake. There are maybe one or two black families that still have houses on the lake because they [other families] sell it. Once you sell it you can’t get back to it anymore,” says Simone.

The couple later migrated from Long Beach to Atlanta to further Simone’s singing ventures, but shortly after the move her mother fell ill in Alabama. Simone took care of her mother for 10 years before she passed away. During that time, she fell in love with being in the woods. She carved out a little garden on the land she purchased and in her spare time she would drive from Atlanta to Talladega County with her husband or their dog to develop the land. Eventually, Simone and Burke agreed to move to Alabama to develop the land and continue to grow organic produce.  Her husband passed away from lung cancer before Huckleberry Farm was completed.

Simone carried on the vision by finishing the log cabin with the help of her family and growing the farm to what it is today. Simone produces a variety of organic fruits and vegetables and mentors children about farming as well as conducts farm tours. She started with 40 acres of undeveloped wood land. Now she has about 100 acres. “I enjoy it. I think that I’m blessed to have this land to do this with,” says Simone who still goes to Atlanta every so often to sing jazz.

In 2012, she was named Small Farmer of the Year by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. She’s a member of the Southeastern African American Farmers Network (SAAFON) and also works with conservation groups in Talladega County.

The future of black farming makes Simone worried. Children are selling their family’s land and older land owners are not interested in farming. “It’s a bit concerning. I’m involved with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with the Department of Agriculture. They offer farmers different types of programs and practices where they ‘call share.’ They pay 60 to 90 percent of the costs and the farmer pays the rest. It’s geared toward small and minority farmers. So as a part of me receiving a lot from this program, they have me arrange community meetings,” says Simone.

The meetings are geared toward minority land owners but Simone hasn’t seen a lot of follow through from attendees. In addition, she has noticed that young children between the ages of 8 and 12 are more likely to show an interest in farming than teens and young adults. “They [teens] aren’t thinking of doing anything that has to do with the land. They have high ideas about other things.”

For a look inside the lives of black farmers, The American Black Farmer Project by John Ficara is a book that documents the life and struggles of black farmers over a four year period through photography.  Through his pictures, readers will “feel their dignity, grace, humor and spirit as they battle the onslaught of globalization, changing agricultural technology,and discriminatory lending practices by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” among many challenges. For more information, visit www.theamericanblackfarmersproject.com.

For farm updates, follow Simone and Huckleberry Farm on Facebook.

Photo credit: Alabama NRCS

Shantel Hanley

Shantel Hanley

Hanley studied print journalism and Spanish at Hampton University. full bio

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