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Conference Name Rural Women Agriculture Leaders

Linda Riggins


Members of the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative for Economic and Social Justice (SRBWI) are middle and low-income African American women, who are from three states. The initiative itself is a three state collaboration, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. In Georgia, the women range in age from 32 to 70 and have access to land that they have inherited, purchased or are returning to.
We are very excited about all of our projects. One of the major highlights for the group is our work with pecans.
In Georgia, we have the prefect example of a female who has held on to her roots in agriculture, expand her knowledge and has ventured out into a non-traditional farm life.
For the past five years, Ms. Diane Johnson along with her husband has being renting 125 acre pecan grove in Mitchell County. She has learned the process and practices necessary to ensure a good harvest. She cuts, prune, apply herbicide, cleans her groves, and any other manual labor required. She has employed 2 full time workers year round and 10-15 workers seasonally. The full time workers are paid above the minimum wages and the seasonal workers, (who pick up pecans) make .20 per pound. Would you believe that when we picked up pecans to have money to go to the fair, we were paid .03 a pound. They owe me.
Ms. Johnson has been able to generate a stable market for her pecans. She usually sells them to Nut Tree Inc., who is her highest bidder.

However, the concept of non-tradition for women in agriculture also includes three black females from Smithville, Georgia who operates a Pecan Plant in Leslie, Georgia.
Not only are these women operating in a non-traditional setting, they have formed a coop. This is a perfect example of the NEW WOMAN IN AGRICULTURE. When one speak of value-added production and a group of women working cooperatively it can be seen in the Southern Alternatives Agricultural Cooperatives, Inc. Would you believe that Ms. Johnson is also a member of this Coop.
The ladies who operate the plant take the pecan through the same tedious process of removing the shell, sorting, cleaning and soaking them as any other pecan processing would do. They add-value to their product by removing the shells and selling pecans in halves and pieces, they can even sell the shells. The shells are finely ground into a product called “meals”. The coop also sells pecan candy; this adds more value to pecan halves and pieces by covering them with coatings of chocolate, caramel and sugar & spice and others.
The women, Carrie Thomas, Ruby Hawkins and Gussie Bess have faced many herdals and have overcome many obstacles. There primary obstacle was a lack of money, however by the grace of God, they were able to purchase pecans from Ms. Johnson and sell 30, 000 pounds of them to Equal Exchange, from Mass., they were awarded a grant from the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People and Seed Capital funds from SRBWI. With these funds, they were able to purchase new equipment, repair existing equipment which has enabled them to develop a state-of the art plant and develop a classic brochure, establish a website, take mail orders. They employ at least 12 workers during the season and pay them above minimum wage. If the big boys can do it, these three women from little Smithville, Ga., DOES IT TOO.
These ladies, Diane, Carrie, Gussie, Ruby work on the premises of knowledge, unity and promotion-learning all there is to know about the business of growing, harvesting and processing pecans; working shoulder to shoulder with each other; and promoting a quality product that anyone would be proud of.

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