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Nurturing a Fading ­Agricultural Legacy

Film captures the last generation of Maryland’s African American Farmers


Dale Jones rides in the tractor bucket with daughter Carrie Jones as son William Jones drives.

      In Calvert County, the last of the African American farmers in Maryland toil night and day, tending to their livestock and remaining acres of crops.

      At its peak, the population of African American farmers was at 1 million, whom in total owned 16 million acres. Today, there are 18,000 black farmers left in America, who own not even one percent of the farmland in the U.S.

      Maryland has seen a steady decline. Only 223 black farmers remained in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And only 23 in Calvert County, a vast region of farmland.

      The plight of a few African American farmers in Calvert County is highlighted in Farming a Legacy, a film by Rodney Sutton, a 20-something director living in the D.C. area. The film premieres at the third annual North Beach American Film Festival.

     For Sutton, the film highlights an “important issue.” 

     “I want to do what I can to use my voice and my capabilities in visual media to tell their story,” he said. “But the film is less about decline than a celebration of these farmers who have survived against the decline.”

     Sutton directed, produced, funded and shot the film singlehandedly. He was inspired by a book by photographer John Ficara, who wrote about the issue. Sutton’s film premiered at the San Francisco Black Film Festival in 2015 and is showing in Maryland on June 23.

     Anthony Greene, the founder of the North Beach festival, said a panel of judges select the films. He called Sutton’s film a must-see, especially since the festival honors culture and diversity.

     “Agriculture is a huge part of America, and the film shows how things are changing,” he said. “Our festival spotlights the fact that we are all one people. The American Story is all of our story.”

     Sutton worked with a few black families in Calvert County.

     “Will this be the last generation of black farmers in Southern Maryland?” he asked.