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NASA awards RTI research grant to strengthen Black farming community in North Carolina

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.— The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has awarded a grant to researchers at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, to use NASA data to help Black farmers in North Carolina optimize and preserve their current farming operations and agricultural production. Many Black farmers in North Carolina and elsewhere have faced unique challenges, including centuries of institutionalized racial and environmental injustices.

To identify issues faced by Black farmers, RTI will partner with four community organizations: Crystal Taylor, co-founder of The Black Farmers’ Market; Demetrius Hunter, founder of the Black Farmers Hub; Tinece Payne, founder of the Young Urban Farmers Network and Volunteer in Your Community; and Makeda Ma’at, founder of Grow to Life. These organizations work directly with the Black farming community in North Carolina and can offer their expertise and connections to guide a landscape analysis.

RTI’s analysis will identify the barriers in place that prevent Black farmers in the state, who largely live in rural, poverty-persistent areas, from accessing and understanding the Earth science information NASA has created for the agriculture industry. This could inform and enhance their farming outcomes, thereby providing economic opportunities and fill voids in food apartheid areas.

“Through this project, we aim to expand the awareness and accessibility of NASA’s Earth science data and tools to North Carolina’s Black farmers. Advancing equity and environmental justice (EJ) for this population will help to inform their crop planning, irrigation, fertilizer application, and pest control,” said Kibri Hutchison Everett, lead researcher and environmental scientist at RTI. “The information and insights gleaned from this analysis can serve as a lifeline for sustaining this underserved community, whose population has dwindled in this state due to unjust systemic, structural and environmental obstacles they experience.”

As part of the project, RTI will facilitate listening sessions and conduct interviews with the Black farming community to assess awareness of and access to NASA’s technology that addresses the environmental challenges they face.

The project provides a valuable opportunity to learn from a population that is understudied, as well as build relationships with a critically important EJ community and the community groups who are connected with them.