WEST CHESTER, PA — Christa Barfield, the owner and operator of FarmerJawn Agriculture, has announced a new partnership with West Chester’s Westtown School, where she will lease 123 acres of the nearly 161-year-old Quaker institution’s 600-acre campus to create an organic farm with an unconventional model. The project will get underway in the beginning of January 2023.
The land around Westtown has been cultivated for hundreds of years, starting with the Lenni-Lenape Tribe, and later through the farm and educational programs at Westtown School. Barfield will farm half the land and use it to stock a farm market already located on the premises as well as grow for local food businesses, food artisans, and chefs. The market will operate under the FarmerJawn name beginning next spring, and will eventually include a CSA, prepared foods, and other locally grown and sourced products. FarmerJawn and Friends Foundation Fund is the 501c3, non-profit arm of this organization that is an educational platform for agriculture. The remaining acreage will become a “farming incubator,” comprising five to ten-acre cooperative farms operated by a cohort of Black farmers. This model will offer educational development opportunities and a “pathway to entrepreneurship” via sales at the farm market and beyond.
“Reclamation is all about opportunity, and this is in no way a free opportunity for us,” said Barfield. “We are paying market value for this land and this opportunity, and I’m looking forward to teaching people what it’s like to create food from scratch, merchandise it, and sell it.”
Jubilee Justice, which envisions “an America where the institutional injustices concerning land, race, and money are both spiritually and maternally transformed toward justice, equity, and repair,” helped make the connection between Barfield and Westtown School, as they wanted a Black farmer in this role, and have been incredibly supportive during the entire process.
Westtown School is a Quaker, PreK-12, co-ed, day and boarding school that offers a robust curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking, collaboration, service, and social action. Westtown School challenges its students to realize their individual gifts, preparing them to become stewards and leaders of a better world. The school’s 600-acre campus allows students abundant opportunities for learning, exploration, play, and stewardship. The campus is a vast educational laboratory for earth sciences, replete with many species of flora and fauna. It features a 14-acre lake, a frog pond, an arboretum, playing fields and courts, an organic student farm, a wooded cross-country course, and more.
A portion of the school’s land has been leased for farming use since 1996. Upon the announcement of the current farmer’s retirement, the school began a search for a community-minded partner with a commitment to a reciprocal, regenerative, and restorative relationship with the land. The school created a Farmland Task Force and commenced a months-long search for a mission-aligned partner. Head of School Chris Benbow shares, “The task force was impressed by Barfield’s experience, approach, and strong alignment with the school’s mission and Strategic Vision and is pleased to invite her to campus as our new partner.”
“Our goal is to create ‘seed-to-shelf products,'” said Barfield. “I want to create sunflower seeds, potato chips, a hot sauce line and other delicious foods that people are excited to come purchase. We should be creating foods with the land we have, and we should be doing so in an organic way. Our goal is to transform this land and farm 100% organically. My entire FarmerJawn team is excited to expand our regional network to Westtown School to create a just food system that perpetuates regenerative and organic health for our customers and the planet.”
The new market — a 3,000 square-foot storefront where Pete’s Produce was situated for several decades, includes a kitchen for prep and production, a walk-in refrigerator, dry storage and lots of space for merchandising freshly picked produce, prepared foods and packaged goods. Barfield will bring in her own energy and products to create change for the community, while also hiring five or more employees in addition to having a vast volunteer network in the community.
Additionally, FarmerJawn maintains a farmer incubator for Black and Brown adults. It launched in 2022, and the goal is to create a group of people who are practicing agripreneurship while learning how to farm and impact urban networks and food systems. In its first year, 10 people were chosen out of 50 applications, and seven have graduated.
Barfield came from an urban community to farm in a rural community to help unite the food system that exists in the region, with nutritional security for local citizens being one of her top priorities. She is a passionate entrepreneur and advocate for healthy, organic food, and regenerative farming practices with a vision to restore access to farmland and farming for Black farmers. She currently operates two Philadelphia-area businesses, FarmerJawn Agriculture and Viva Leaf Tea. Her organization includes a retail and garden learning center in Germantown, a community-supported agriculture (CSA) business, and five acres of land in Elkins Park, PA. Additionally, Barfield was recently invited to the White House to discuss nutrition security and healthcare.
Barfield has also begun conversations with Cheyney University of Pennsylvania — the nation’s first HBCU. Cheyney has expressed interest in having Barfield develop an agriculture certificate program for their students in the coming years. “The history of farming in America is rife with enslaved persons,” said Barfield. “This is one reason why these partnerships are so historical and thought-provoking, as we are creating serious change. Farming in America included slave owners using enslaved persons and share cropping, with Black farmers working in exchange for food and a place to live. We are looking to change the history of Black farmers in America. We are determined to be definitive agents of change.”
A champion of organic methods of growing, Christa Barfield is a former healthcare worker turned urban female farmer based in Philadelphia. In 2018, Barfield created FarmerJawn Agriculture and Viva Leaf Tea Co., which she defines as “earth-born brands,” to reintroduce farming into the lifestyles of urban people, which helps individuals improve their health by providing knowledge regarding where their food comes from. “Agriculture is culture” is the brand’s slogan. Learn more about FarmerJawn by visiting http://farmerjawnphilly.com.
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