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Organic Farming Conference Presenter Profile: Chef Fresh Roberson

Published: Jan 2023
By: Tay Fatke, Marbleseed Local Food Purchasing Specialist

One of the most enjoyable parts of attending Marbleseed’s Organic Farming Conference is looking around at all the attendees and seeing pure excitement for the upcoming growing season. It’s difficult to think of anyone who displays more joy about growing food, building community and helping others than Fresh Roberson. As someone who didn’t grow up on a farm or even consider a life in agriculture until I went to college, Fresh’s story is so refreshing. Fresh grew up in Eastern North Carolina, their grandparents were sharecroppers, and their mom was not interested in pursuing farming. In a webinar I watched Fresh explained that their mom, “Ran away from farming and doesn’t understand why I was running towards farming.” But it’s clear from listening to them speak that the draw to farming comes down to healing our bodies through good food, clearing obstacles for beginning farmers and building community.

Fresh is a chef, activist, healer and farmer. They put all of that together when founding Fresher Together, a collaborative food and farming project for healing, economic development, training and retreat in the south side of Chicago. This collaboration is black and LGBTQ+ owned and aims to serve the community with nutritious foods and restorative spaces while collaborating with community organizations and businesses. I think it’s clear that BIPOC and queer farmers have not had the same opportunities to participate in agriculture, so a space such as Fresher Together is critical to help grow the next generation of farmers and demonstrate that there is space for all in the local food movement.

What impresses me most about Fresh is that they put it all together. They focus on the soil and the importance of nurturing it. They train other growers and invite them to participate in a safe, thoughtful space. The community is invited to learn, get their hands dirty and pass it on to their neighbors. Chef Fresh will take this local food and prepare it into something absolutely delicious. Most importantly, Fresh speaks powerfully about creating an equitable, just food system for everyone to participate in and shares ways to simplify entering the local food realm.

With so many beginning, diverse farmers looking to get started, there need to be many different options to gain capital to start a local food venture. Fresh will be speaking about a very important topic at this year’s Organic Farming Conference and leading the workshop session: Funding Your Farm With Little To No Debt. It’s fair to say that the biggest issue for beginning farmers is access to land and capital when looking to start a farm. First generation farmers must be creative when starting out and looking to Fresh for guidance is certainly a good idea. In this workshop, they will speak to how Fresher Together Farms raised over $250,000 in funding in their first three seasons while also sharing grants and other debt free resources used by other regional farms.

So often, beginning first generation farmers are working jobs on top of starting their farm. They often do not have the opportunity to receive the more familiar agricultural loans available. What do beginning farmers looking to bust into the local food scene need? They need community support for more small-scale farms on the landscape and assistance to new farmers in starting their operations. We need to rethink how beginning farmers gain access to capital when starting a farm. Farms and farmers are more diverse than ever and that will only continue to become a reality. As a staff member of Marbleseed, I will be running around like a crazy person during Fresh’s workshop on Saturday, February 25. I am very excited to listen to their workshop recording and walk away with tips, strategies and examples of how I can help fund my farm without taking on too much risk.

I’d like to end by focusing on Fresher Together Farms four pillars of framework. Build Together. Grow Together. Cook Together. Heal Together. Growing food for a living is inherently scary, but when doing it together as a community some of that burden is relieved. Even if you do not farm cooperatively, get involved in your local food community by reaching out to other farms and community food organizations. Even if you are an established farm and have solid markets, look for ways to get your food to those in the community that may need it the most. Even if you believe your farm is already promoting equity, building resilience and assisting new and beginning farmers, look for ways to do more. Cook food with your local community and look for ways to heal together. Fresh has shared over and over how this is possible, and I look forward to learning much more from them for a long time to come.