KENTUCKY — For six years, Kenya Abraham and her husband, Iyad, have run a 29-acre dairy and cattle farm in Lexington. Producing raw milk and halal meat in accordance with their Muslim faith, SlakMarket Farm is a unique herd share operation.
"We don't do any pasteurization. We have about six cows on pasture. It’s a way to introduce people to their food. They know what’s on their dinner table," said Abraham, a mother of four.
The name Slak was formed using the first letters of the names of Kenya and Iyad’s children: Sabeal, 9; Laila, 6; Aiya, 12 and Kathem, 14, who all have informal roles working on the farm ranging from "egg collector" to "chicken whisperer."
The novel coronavirus has deeply impacted the family. The $6,000 they would have received in March in advance of opening a farm camp for children this summer had to be postponed.
"I would have used that to help buy the chick feed and to support the operation. We are at a dead halt with our agritourism," said Kenya Abraham.
As she hears announcements from Washington about support on the way for farmers, she's not confident producers like her will be included in that aid.
"I’m sure they are going to give a lot of packages and support to these large industrial farmers. We get overlooked as small farmers a lot in these types of programs," she said.
Ashley Smith runs Black Soil, an organization that advocates for black farmers in Kentucky like Abraham. She said rather than turn to the federal government, her network has been looking to one another for ideas on how to stay afloat.
"We’ve had to think of ways to be resilient and preserve and think outside of the box and work together collaboratively to achieve this common goal. We have directed our culinary artists that we work with to existing infrastructure around helping out of work food service folks be employed during this time by helping prepare meals for the community," said Smith.
Smith said it's vital for Congress and the United States Department of Agriculture, who will take applications for 16 billion dollars in direct payments to farmers this month, to carve out designations for people of color, who have historically been unable to access these funds.
"Every entity needs to have some sort of focused and targeted funding that generates some stimulus within very marginalized minority-owned businesses," said Smith.
"When you think about the quandary of inequity and disparity, oftentimes you aren’t receiving large subsidies from federal entities anyway," she added.
The USDA's Coronavirus Food Assistance Program will provide aid to farmers who have suffered a five percent or greater price decline due to COVID-19.
There is a payment limit of $250,000 dollars per person, but applicants who are corporations may qualify for more money. Spectrum News 1 reached out to the agency to learn if there will be any special considerations for minority-owned farms but a spokesperson said,
"The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program is a federal program open to all eligible producers. CFAP is available to an individual or legal entity who shares in the risk of producing a crop or livestock and who either: a) is entitled to a share in the crop or livestock available for marketing, or b) would have shared had the crop or livestock been marketed."
The good news for farmers like the Abraham family is while they are losing money in certain areas, they are gaining interest among people who want a closer connection to the original source of their food.
"People are a little bit afraid of what’s going on in their grocery store. Five people have signed up in the last two weeks to join the herd share," said Abraham.