“Take Advantage of This Opportunity. You Will Not Be Disappointed.” – Interview with Winrock International Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer Champion Felicia Bell
In Honor of Black History Month and Women's History Month, Winrock International's Farmer-to-Farmer Program Recognizes and Celebrates Volunteer Champion Felicia Bell
Danika Lam & Eric M. Washington
As an organization committed to sustainable and equitable agriculture and rural development, the Winrock International Farmer-to-Farmer Program would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and honor the significant contributions and impact that the Black Diaspora has had on the agriculture industry in the United States. For centuries, Black farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers have played a critical role in shaping and sustaining our food systems, despite facing systemic discrimination and barriers to land ownership and access to resources. Their contributions have been vital to the success and diversity of the American agriculture sector, yet their stories and legacy have often been overlooked or undervalued. We understand this is a long-term commitment and that much work must be done. However, we are committed to being a part of the solution and working toward a future where Black farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers are honored, respected, and have the necessary resources and support to thrive. This is why we at Winrock International’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program would like to recognize and honor the work of one of our Volunteer Champions, Felicia Bell.
Felicia Bell has worked as a Sustainable Agriculture Specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s Gulf States regional office in Jackson, Mississippi, since 2013. A fourth-generation farmer and founding member of RD&S Farm, LLC, Felicia is fascinated by traditional agriculture strategies of all cultures, especially African farming methods, and techniques. Felicia was born into agriculture and has been a lifelong practitioner of what most people today would refer to as “homesteading.” Felicia’s deep-rooted values in helping others as an agriculturalist has been the driving force in her lifelong work in assisting communities that seek Felicia’s expertise. Over many years, Felicia has learned several innovative methods and practices that assist small-scale producers with resourceful and cost-effective solutions to lessen expenditure burdens and increase the viability of farming initiatives. Felicia believes that everyone deserves the right to access healthy foods, and with the collective effort of small sustainable farmers across the country, this can become a reality. As a Volunteer Champion, we reached out to Felicia to gain insight into the extensive work Felicia has contributed to the Farmer-to-Farmer Program and how it has impacted her journey as a lifelong agriculturalist. Below is Felicia’s interview.
What makes you passionate about Winrock’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program (F2F), and why are you such a strong advocate for the program?
I am passionate about the Famer-to-Farmer Program because it allows me to serve and help African farmers–a cultural group I identify with–within my area of agricultural expertise. Service is my duty, and I feel fulfilled in being able to give back to my community through F2F.
Why do you think BIPOC communities must participate in the Farmer-to-Farmer Program? What is the purpose and importance of having a DEI initiative for the agricultural sector?
As a Person of Color, I strongly believe in the importance of BIPOC participation in programs like F2F. The majority of the people we aim to help are also People of Color, and I believe a person is more likely to receive information without putting up a barrier when it comes from someone who looks like them. It is a shame that programs like this did not exist 20-30 years ago, but now we have an opportunity where we must commit to engage. The lack of effort from organizations and institutions to recruit People of Color has meant that these organizations are missing out on a wealth of expertise, and I am a strong advocate for DEI initiatives and the role they play in rectifying this imbalance.
What are the benefits of volunteering with Winrock International? Why should BIPOC communities volunteer?
Volunteering with Winrock has provided me with many benefits. As a Person of Color, I received a warm welcome from the hosts, who appreciated that I looked like them. Being of African descent, I was eager to go to Africa and help the farmers there. It was a wonderful experience to connect with my cultural background and give back to the people of my forebears. Volunteering with Winrock provides a unique opportunity for People of Color to return to their roots and use what they have learned to make a difference in the lives of their Hosts.
What advice would you give a new Volunteer?
My advice for a new Volunteer is to take the chance of a wonderful opportunity to share their expertise but also to give service where it is needed. The benefit to you as a Volunteer is more than you would think and worthwhile for as your work is concerned. Also, the open and welcoming atmosphere of your host country is phenomenal. Take advantage of this opportunity. You will not be disappointed.