A Big Lift to Small Farms
Clif Bar at its heart is a food company. We’re lucky enough to work with and support some of the most inspiring change-makers in the industry—individuals on their own personal journeys who align with our commitment to make a healthier and more sustainable food system. This is the story of one of those change-makers.
Jillian Hishaw sees the plight of the small farmer every day. The growth of Big Ag, a lack of antitrust enforcement, increasing costs for seed and other inputs, unfavorable contracts—these are the troubling trends that keep her (and small farmers) up at night.
“I’ve met farmers who’ve been forced to sell their land and work non-farm jobs to keep paying on a farm loan for a farm they no longer own,” she said recently. “One farmer was forced to sell his family land and, due to the lack of jobs in his rural community, ended up working as an employee for the new landowner. This is devastating to say the least. I’ve worked with black and white farmers over the years and many face the same problems. The effort to keep the family farm becomes more difficult by the season.”
The challenges facing small farmers inspired Jillian in 2013 to found F.A.R.M.S. (Family. Agriculture. Resource. Management.). The nonprofit is based in Rock Hill, SC, and works to protect family farmers in the Southeast through education and retail market expansion, while at the same time relieving hunger in the farmers’ communities. F.A.R.M.S. serves farmers and communities in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and the Carolinas.
“My focus is small farmers,” notes Jillian, who holds a J.D. and a master’s in agriculture law. “The black community loses 30,000 acres of farmland a year, primarily due to tax liens, foreclosures, discrimination, and lack of estate planning.”
As executive director of F.A.R.M.S., Jillian works with one volunteer attorney and one legal researcher to help farmers hold onto their farms. The team, with the help of an attorney network, focuses primarily on helping small farmers with estate planning and eldercare abuse prevention—all with the hope of ensuring land ownership for the next generation of farmers.
F.A.R.M.S. also generates profits for small farmers through a food bank program Jillian started in partnership with David Harper of Pee Dee Land Trust. The program pays farmers retail prices for their fresh produce, then turns around and donates it to area food banks, homeless shelters, and rural child and eldercare centers. Since 2013, those fresh produce donations have totaled more than 200,000 pounds, including cantaloupe, blueberries, kale, zucchini, collards, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
“It’s my favorite program,” Jillian notes. “It provides farmers with a livable wage and people in the farmers’ mostly rural communities with fresh produce. Food banks typically give away a lot of canned goods, which can be high in preservatives and salt to lengthen their shelf life. We’re giving the people who rely on food banks more options for fresh food, some of it organic.”
Jillian funds the produce purchases with donations from individuals and foundations—including the Clif Bar Family Foundation (CBFF).
“We’re so impressed with Jillian’s work,” said Carrie Walle, CBFF’s grants manager. “In some cases, farmers actually plant more crops because they know Jillian has created a market for them through the food bank program. This increases their wages as well as helps their neighbors who need access to nutritious food. Jillian is providing really important services to traditionally marginalized communities. She is leveling the playing field in the South.”
Jillian credits her passion for farmers and their issues to her grandfather, who grew up on a farm in Oklahoma. “He and his mom were forced to move from the farm when he was about 11 or 12,” she recalls. Years later, when Jillian was a child, she spent time with her grandfather tending his home garden in Missouri: “He taught me about the value and science of growing food.”
Now, two generations later, Jillian carries on the family tradition, doing her utmost each day to keep small family farmers thriving into the future.