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Looking Back: Arkansas Family’s Farm Legacy and a New Era of Opportunities for Landowners Of Color

We are highlighting a story from a  Farm Journal Story Lead contest that focused on stories of 1890 Land-Grant Universities who are making a measurable impact in the lives of farmers or ranchers.  The contest-winning story was "Landowner Furthers Family Farm Legacy Through Partnership with UAPB Forestry Program," by Will Hehemann of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. The story spotlights Shane Boler, a landowner, and participant in the University's Keeping it in the Family (KIITF) Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program. Shane Boler manages and improves his family's land in Howard County, Arkansas, where his great-grandfather purchased the land over 120 years ago. Stories of Black farmers and landowners empower future generations, according to the 2017 Census, less than 2% of the country's farmers are African American.

Honoring the Past:
Shane Boler remembers really wanting to play an instrumental role in caring for the land and our family's legacy. Then in 2015, after his uncle passed away, his Aunt, Helen Adamson, asked him to take over the 60 acres as executor, which Shane sites as "a huge honor." Shane Boler said he feels much of his family's legacy comes from strength, and his great-grandfather showed strength in initially purchasing the land.

His active stewardship of his family's land paid off, and in 2021, the family farm became a certified American Tree Farm and Arkansas Century Farm. "Getting the official tree farm signs installed at our property was an emotional experience," Boler said. "To me, this moment means that the sweat and efforts of my great-grandfather have not gone unnoticed and are not forgotten." Shane Boler said he feels much of his family's legacy comes from strength, and his great-grandfather showed strength in initially purchasing the land.

Kandi Williams, outreach coordinator for UAPB's KIITF program, said when a landowner receives certification for their land as an American Tree Farm, it means that they stand among the best forestry stewards in the nation. "Being recognized as a Century Farm is an astonishing accomplishment within its own right, but it is even more impressive to see an African-American family maintain and stay committed to being good stewards of the land by promoting healthy woodlands and wildlife habitats," she said. "In the last century, African-American landowners have lost their land at an alarming rate, from approximately 16 million to 19 million acres in 1910 to around 3.8 million acres in 2017." Shane Boler's participation in the KIITF program can serve as an example for other landowners.

Empowering the Future:
"For me, it's not about money," Boler said. "It's about creating a mechanism to encourage others to give back and honor our ancestors' legacy. It's establishing a foundation for heirs." Boler said people of color, including landowners, have been socially disadvantaged and deprived for generations. "Those ills have been identified and are now being isolated," he said. "In our family's case, we can now make this land more gainful. But it takes smart planning now. We need to make sure young heirs take the helm." Boler said he wants his family to think outside the box to ensure opportunities for their family and the community. He was excited when one heir expressed his desire to direct monetary inheritance toward a scholarship fund.

Thanks so much to Will Hehemann for putting this story together. Read the full story below on ag web!

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