“So many times I feel that we have been disconnected from the land just through oppression. And I see now a returning, a resurgence, a remembrance that’s taking place,” says Clarenda Stanley.
Stanley is the head farmer, founder and CEO of Green Heffa Farms in Liberty, North Carolina. She is also a Black woman. The agriculturist founded the farm in 2018, after a tumultuous end to a career in fundraising. Today she grows flowers, teas and herbs (focusing on homeopathic methods of healing), on her 14.84 acres of land. “I am known in the farming spaces and entrepreneurial spaces as ‘Farmer Cee,’” quips Stanley. “It’s supposed to be a little spin on pharmacy. I grow medicinal plants. Nobody gets it.”
The farmer’s smile is as charming as her sense of humor.
As we chat via video conferencing, Stanley’s spirit lights up the screen. She beams in from an old sharecropper’s cabin, previously inhabited by white sharecroppers. She found the edifice on Facebook Marketplace and physically moved it, seven miles, to be erected on Green Heffa Farms. Stanley addresses criticism about her decision to place the sharecroppers quarters on a Black-owned farm. “With my energy, I’m coming into this with, I didn’t want the history of Black oppression within these walls. These were poor white folks[who lived in here [in the sharecropper’s cabin].” The entrepreneur continues, “Cultural flip. Cultural flip.”
Farmer Cee dons a floppy straw hat, lipgloss and lashes—she is certainly more put together than any other farmer that I’ve ever seen. While Stanley is no stranger to overalls and oversized rubber boots, she still manages to make farming look good. In fact, by her sheer presence in the agricultural industry, Clarenda Stanley challenges our nation’s understanding of who and what constitutes a farmer.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2017 95.4% of the farmers in the United States are white whereas, 1.3% were Black. The industry is also male dominated (which comes as no surprise), with women only constituting 36% of farmers across the country. Now, imagine where that leaves Black women.
“I definitely consider being a farmer—a Black woman farmer in the South—as revolutionary, as far as I’m concerned.” The CEO, who grew up on her maternal grandparents farm in Alabama, says that returning to the land is one of the most revolutionary things that we can do as Black people.
While today, people know Farmer Cee as a Black woman farmer with a sizable social media following, Stanley previously had an entire career in fundraising. “I will say that if my background weren’t in marketing and fundraising, I don’t feel that I’d be where I am today.” Stanley continues, “I focused just as much on building a brand as I have on developing land.” Prior to acquiring her farm, Stanley was a senior fundraiser at what she describes as the “world’s richest environmental organization.” In her role, the award-winning fundraiser says that she experienced discrimination and racism consistently. After parting ways with her toxic employer, Stanley looked to her farm as a place of refuge. “I turned to my farm. That’s where Green Heffa Farms came about. It came from a place of healing,” she reflects.
As Such, Stanley’s bit of earth became her “blank canvas.” This prompted the entrepreneur to often ask herself, “What do I want to create?”
Stanley, who bought the land (which is now known as Green Heffa Farms) with her then-partner, would go on to clear out a lot of baggage—namely, she ended her troubled marriage and poured herself into her business. “Keep what appreciates,” says the business owner. “The land did. The man did not.”
Building and maintaining land was initially overwhelming (especially with naysayers who told her that she wouldn’t be able to build a farm alone). But then Clarenda Stanley reminded herself who she was. “I’m a two time teenage mom from Alabama’s Black Belt where all I had to be able to ascend the social ladder was my ability to think and my mind. So if I put my mind to it, I know I can create something.”
But becoming the CEO of a farming business was not without its challenges.
Farmer Cee’s first hurdle was cultivating the land. Her plot was previously used to grow soybean and corn. This meant that Stanley started from scratch, building the infrastructure on her farm. Imagine learning how to grow agriculture, while simultaneously learning how to put irrigation pipes in, and also trying to understand permits and codes and cover cropping. All the things. These were no simple tasks. Furthermore, the business woman did not know how to produce on a large scale. Stanley was learning what it meant to be an entrepreneur and the CEO of a farming business in an unfamiliar space. She was essentially learning on the job.
Still, Stanley persevered.
At present, Green Heffa Farms is the only B-Corp farm in the United States that is owned and operated by a Black woman. Farmer Cee says that her farm grows nearly three dozen different medicinal plants and herbs. The CEO also emphasizes that these very herbs have been used traditionally and culturally for many years, to support wellbeing. Green Heffa grows anise (known as licorice mint), a few varieties of holy basil (tulsi), ashwagandha, cannabis sativa, hemp varieties and hibiscus in addition to an array of other dried herbs. “I grow teas for grown folks” says Stanley. And some of the tea blends come with with saucy names, like “Rich Auntea,” “Blackitea” and “Accountabilitea.” This is clearly the work of a person who has worked in marketing. “What I knew I could do was fall back on my [professional] skills and just really build up the brand,” says the former fundraiser.
For those looking to delve into farming, then Farmer Cee’s got a few tips. First she says, “Grow slow. So you don’t have to owe.” Stanley explains her mantra, “It doesn’t mean you will never need to take out debt or finance anything. It means just to be very prudent about it, and pay it off.” The head farmer also cautions against taking out too many loans because as a new landowner, you certainly don’t want to be inundated with debt.
“Two would be to build your brand to develop your land” says stanley. The entrepreneur encourages up-and-coming farm-owners to focus on the business of farming, but to also be realistic. “If you have led a very comfortable life and then you want to come over to farming and think that selling the fresh tomatoes at the farmer’s markets are going to still allow you to take a week vacation in Europe, then no, that’s not going to happen.”
Stanley’s final tip is pretty straightforward. She says, “Know your customer. Know who you’re growing for.” Be specific, be focused and plan as such. “You need to be growing for someone specifically.”
For Clarenda Stanley, her long-game is clear: To be the no. 1 herb producer in the South. “We want to be the number one domestic source for herbs in the South.” She continues, “We don’t need the world.” Regardless of dividends, or plans for industry-domination, Farmer Cee and Green Heffa Farms will always center joy. Black joy.
“I consider Green Heffa Farms to be my customized joy factory.” Stanley continues, “And here we manufacture joy and we center Black women’s happiness because the enlightened ones know that that is not exclusionary; you can’t make anything more inclusionary than ensuring that Black women are happy.”