How a Hemp Harvest Could Help Midway, Florida

By Lyneisha Watson

On the eastern edge of Midway-Canaan, a historically Black community near Sanford, Florida, Miss Crystal, an elderly German immigrant, owns 12 acres of land where she grows Snapdragons and Baby’s Breath flowers. 

On that same piece of land, hidden behind the Podocarpus bushes, 69-year-old Carl Eudell—who was born and raised in Midway—grows black-eyed peas, collard greens, okra and green beans. After 17 years working with the City of Sanford as a fertilizer for the Parks and Recreation Department, Eudell says that only by the “grace of God” was he able to meet Miss Crystal and begin farming on her land. 

“My daddy probably had the biggest farming crew in Midway. When I got out of the military, I took a liking to farming,” Eudell tells the Emerald. “I was going to junior college. I had about 100 hours, but I didn’t have a sense of direction about where I wanted to go with it. If I would have gotten a degree it would have been in political science or economics.”

“But I took an interest in farming back in ‘74 or ‘75. And I realized then farming was a gift in me,” Eudell adds, “I haven’t found anything that I’ve wanted to do besides farming.”

“Ever since then, I’ve had a couple of jobs in between,” he explains, “I’ve grown a lot of stuff, but I couldn’t ever make any money. So I had to take a job because I had young children.” Eventually, Eudell says, the Lord opened up a door so he could come farm with Miss Crystal.

Every May, Eudell sets up a vegetable stand at the corner of Celery Avenue and Cameron Street. He dresses in his best white suit, white cowboy boots, and red hat as he prepares to sell his first crops of the season. 

Also on Cameron Street towards the Sanford-Orlando International Airport is the new Riverbend neighborhood—full of Florida-style homes with three to four bedrooms and $249k mortgages—and it’s blossoming fast. 

Gentrification has been suffocating the 1,400 residents of the small, Seminole County town for more than 50 years. Once a sharecropping community, the lives of Midway residents are stifled by an expanding Sanford-Orlando International Airport; the newly built Midway Elementary School; Millennium Middle School; Galileo School for Gifted Learning; and high-income residential neighborhoods like Riverbend. 

According to a 1997 report by The Orlando Times, residents at the time were focused on addressing “rising water levels, higher elevated new and residential developments surrounding the Midway Basin, and decades of waste-water leaching from resident septic systems and drain fields into the ground.” 

In 2019 the issues are no different, and residents of this community are still facing the same problems that have kept them stuck in a cycle of oppression. 

“Midway has always been fiercely independent,” says Tristan Sanders, a local farmer and the director of the Midway Community Garden. “But the problems that we face here in Midway [are due to a] lack of resources, which means we can’t control the economics in our own community.”

“Anywhere you see Black people who’ve come in contact with Europeans you find the same traits: Jesus, violence, drugs and economic instability,” Sanders continues.  

According to the 2013-2017 American Community Survey produced by the U.S. Census, 34% of the Midway community is impoverished and the median household income is $23,317. Sanders believes that their unincorporated community, can benefit from the state’s emerging hemp revolution, which could help them to fight gentrification, stimulate their economy and make their community livable again. 

Deemed an “agricultural commodity,” hemp is Florida’s new cash crop. On May 3, the state senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1020, which created a commercial hemp market in the state. 

Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner, Nikki Fried says that the state could generate between $10 billion-$20 billion in sales. With the promise of a multi-billion dollar industry, state lawmakers say that they want everyone to have access to the hemp market.

“We believe that hemp is going to be a revolution in our state,” Fried says. “Not only is it going to be an opportunity for so many in our farming community, from the smallest of farmers to the largest, but it will also give an opportunity to those who were excluded from the medical marijuana [program] […].”

“You [have] to own and operate a nursery for 30 years with a 400,000 plant capacity [to grow medical marijuana], which [excludes] so many members of minority communities,” explains Fried in a phone interview. “The hemp industry is going to be an opportunity for all those who are ineligible to participate in the marijuana industry [and] have the economic resources available to them.” 

Though the state wants to create an open marketplace for interested individuals to thrive, minorities still may not be offered fair access into the industry. 

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) published a Notice of Proposed Rules on the license and cultivation of hemp in the Florida Administrative Register. One of the requirements to cultivate hemp is submitting fingerprints to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. 

The regulation reads as follows:

“If the fingerprint processing identifies criminal charges or convictions related to a controlled substance violation under state or federal law, the Department will notify the applicant that additional information is needed to complete the application. The applicant must provide to the Department a certified copy of the final disposition concerning the matter which the Department requested additional information pursuant to this section within [90] days of receipt of the notification.”

The ACLU reports that Blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis. In 2017, 42,000 people in Florida were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Half of those arrested were Black. 

As an unapologetic Trump supporter, Eudell was excited to hear that the President passed the 2018 Farm Bill, but his lack of knowledge surrounding cannabis left him with his guard up. When asked if he would be interested in joining the hemp industry Eudell says, “It’s either hemp or Jesus, and I’m going with Jesus.”

From Christian indoctrination that says cannabis isn’t God-like to the traumatic experiences birthed by the War on Drugs, Blacks across the southern Bible belt have largely been left out of the cannabis industry. There is a huge education disparity in Black communities where Reefer Madness propaganda is easily spread and championed. 

Sanders, local Midway farmer, says that the minds of the older generation who lived through the brunt of cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs are harder to change because they’ve been taught to believe that cannabis is the “Devil’s lettuce.”

“When you’re talking about [economic freedom through cannabis], then it’s almost impossible to change the [older generations] mindset,” he adds, “Unfortunately, the elders are the ones who are in control of the land, and they make the decisions with the land.”

Sanders continues, “The problem is that you’re trying to get people to break the psychological programming of a plant being bad. When [others] haven’t been able to block the psychological programming that they’re bad, their skin is bad and that their hair, in its natural state, is bad.”

This is an opportune time for Blacks across the South to create abundance while stepping away from America’s toxic hustle and bustle culture. In Salem, AL., Dr. Portia Fulford is taking advantage of this lucrative opportunity. 

Fulford is an agribusiness financier, and founder of Organpi Farms and the Black Belt Hemp Corporations. In the Spring of 2020, Fulford will launch an incubator that welcomes people of all creeds to study the production of hemp on her farm. 

Members will be given an acre of hemp to become master growers and begin nurturing their future businesses. 

Fulford believes in the bottom-up business model and says that creating thriving economies in rural, Black Southern communities begins with understanding people. 

“First and foremost, when you develop people, you develop communities. And in order to develop people, you have to have resources,” she explains. “You have to have [the] resources to be apart of an economically thriving community. [So] with my companies, the focus is always on developing people, meaning extending opportunities for employment, starting businesses [and] incubating businesses.”

All community starts with people. In order for people to have access to better opportunities, they have to be given access to opportunities like those presented by the cannabis and hemp industries, explains Fulford.

That’s why she believes in a bottom-up, versus a top-down perspective, she says, “I think Black people in the South [need] to have access to the industry because it would allow for better communities, economies, better cities, and more sustainable businesses […],” says Fulford.  

In 2018, the U.S. hemp industry sales topped $1 billion, which is only one-tenth of the $10.4 billion the cannabis industry made as a whole. Cannabis is already a nascent industry, but every part of the industry will see a huge boom in 2020, especially with the possibility of federal legalization. There is so much money to be made; rural, Southern Black communities should be benefitting from the Green Rush, too. 

“It’s clear that the cannabis industry is growing quickly and it needs to take a justice oriented stance in order to withstand the status quo of most industries. There’s a real opportunity here to do the right thing,” Opal Tometi, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter tells The Emerald.

“If we care about the state of the world on any level and care to rectify the injustices, and desire to learn from errors in our history then, now and with cannabis, we have [a] prime opportunity to do things differently,” Tometi explains. 

Eudell believes that there is big money in the hemp industry, and he wishes that there were more programs educating Blacks across the South about the cannabis plant. “There is real money in it. Billions and billions. I might want to grow some hemp. I might be interested in that,” says Eudell. 

For Sanders, seeing his community benefitting from the hemp industry is about respect. 

“This country [would] have been nothing without cotton, and cotton [would] have been nothing without [Black people],” he adds. “So I mean, we have to get people into understanding that we are trying to bring it full circle.”

Emerald contributor since September 2019

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