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Love of farming goes back to childhood for local farmer

NEW TRI-STATE DEFENDER — These days, there’s more to Lockards Produce than a patch in the front yard, and Lockard is growing much more than just greens. In total, Debra Lockard said that more than 165 acres has been passed down since the family bought the farm nearly 90 years ago.

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For as long as she can remember, Debra Lockard has been about getting that green.

No, not money – though she’s definitely about that, too. Actual greens. As a child, her grandfather gave her a little patch of land, right there in the front yard. In it, Lockard would cultivate greens – turnip, collards, mustards…

“I don’t know, there’s something about greens that I love to pick greens,”  said Lockard, who now runs Lockards Produce from the family farm in Glimp, just north of Memphis. “I can still see him today saying, ‘This is her green field.’ And I would just sit there and pick greens. 

“To this day, they have to say ‘Would you come out of the green field?’” she continued. “I just love picking greens!”

These days, there’s more to Lockards Produce than a patch in the front yard, and Lockard is growing much more than just greens. In total, Lockard said that more than 165 acres has been passed down since the family bought the farm nearly 90 years ago. 

She owns 30 acres of that land and, with her helpers, runs her farm on about seven acres of it. Her brother owns the rest. But that’s plenty of room to grow the greens, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and whatever else Lockard believes will sell at local farmer’s markets – just like her grandparents and parents did when she was a child.

“I grew up here in Memphis, I went to school here, but we would always go back up to the farm and harvest,” she said. “We would harvest and bring the harvest back here to Memphis and sell it at the farmer’s market. 

“And (we’d sell to) people in the neighborhood,” Lockard said. “They knew that they could come to us and get some good vegetables and fruit.”

While farming has always been in her blood, she hasn’t always been a farmer. Lockard returned to farming about four years ago, after a lengthy career as a teacher, technology coach and school principal. She also spent time caring for her aging parents until their deaths. 

One unexpected drenching can set off a cascade of events that can set back a small farmer, Lockard said. Take for example last April, when the National Weather Service reported that three inches of rain fell on Memphis in a 24-hour period.

Lockards Produce is certified naturally grown, meaning she only uses natural methods to fertilize her crops and manage pests. Her methods require a little more work and attention. And even if you do everything right, Mother Nature still has the final say. 

“The rain came at the beginning of the last season,” Lockard remembered. “Because of that, we were late getting crops in the ground. And when we did place the crops in the ground, continuous rain washed our seeds away. We would have to start over.”

Lockard is excited about what the new federal Farm Bill means for her and other African-American farmers. Not only does the legislation make it easier for farmers to pass land onto their heirs, it also bolsters funding at land-grant HBCUs and earmarks money to teach the next generation of “agripreneurs” how to farm.

She’s not planning on missing out. Even on New Year’s Eve, Lockard said she was applying for grants. If successful, she’ll use the funds to shore up her operation, including securing a food processing facility, food storage, transportation and a high-tunnel greenhouse to extend her growing season.

And once a teacher, always a teacher…

“I want to train students on how to be a farmer,” the former educator added, noting that some youngsters at her church approached her about learning to garden. “To get them started looking at agriculture as a business opportunity. I feel I’m being a good role model to them also.”

Think you have a green thumb? Well, like any other business, Lockard recommends starting small – perhaps with a garden in your yard. “That way you won’t waste so much money, if you try it and find out you don’t like it,” she said.

But can you be a full-time farmer in the Mid-South? That takes a major commitment, she said.

“For those who can get in and put in 100 percent, not working any other job, you should be able to sustain yourself,” she said. “But most people can’t do that. The weather affects you. Also finding a market to sell your produce can be a challenge. For most people, agriculture can be supplemental income.”

As a retiree, farm income only makes up a part of Lockard’s finances. But farming makes plenty of work for Lockard, who isn’t above doing the heavy lifting herself.

“Being a woman in agriculture, there’s so much that we have to be able to do,” Lockard said. “I’m just now learning how to work my tractor. I got a three-point hitch, and I drive the tractor. So I have to be able to lift the hitch, which might be 40 pounds. And other things like that. It’s very physical.”

And all of that doesn’t count the usual stresses of being an entrepreneur, she said. 

“I have an overseer on my farm, he’s one of my helpers,” she said. “But if something happens, I get an immediate call and sometimes that means stop, drop (what I’m doing), gotta go. That’s a challenge when you don’t live adjacent to your farm.

“And then, trying to maintain your family life, your home, trying to put in a vacation when you’re trying to grow. . . .that’s the difficulty of it.”

But she knows it’s worth the challenges when the taste of freshness brings her customers back for more.

“It pays off when a customer comes back and tells me how good (my produce) tastes,” she said. “When they talk about what quality it is, and how it makes them feel.”

Though the days can be taxing, she doesn’t mind a bit. She’s got generations of Lockards smiling on her.  “I know my parents are happy because all they knew was that I wanted to farm,” she said. 

“I don’t call it hustling. I call it having fun and living my dream and making people happy.”

This article originally appeared in The New Tri-State Defender.

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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