P. Wade Ross, Chief Executive of Texas Small Farmers & Ranchers Community Based Organization (TSFR/CBO)
What is the history and mission of your organization?
The Texas Small Farmers and Ranchers Community Based Organization (TSFR/CBO) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1998 by W. Wade Ross (State Director) and his wife, Anita Ross (Executive Administrator). TSFR/CBO was initiated while farming and ranching on 120 acres in Bryan, Texas, by a group that included 30 Black farmers and ranchers from surrounding counties as its first members and a few representatives from Prairie View A&M University (a 2501–1890 school ) just prior to the settlement of the infamous Pigford v. Glickman class-action lawsuit* in April 1999.
TSFR/CBO was established with the goal of strengthening USDA outreach efforts to limited-resource, traditionally underserved and underrepresented farmer and rancher customers to ensure USDA coordinates program delivery outreach efforts in counties throughout Texas. This CBO is actively accelerating assistance to minority, female, limited-resource, veteran, and beginning farmers and ranchers by providing outreach assistance in receiving information, technical, and program assistance from USDA, state and county agencies, and various Texas universities.
*A class action discrimination lawsuit led by Black farmers against the USDA - the largest civil rights class-action suit in US history.
As the leader of the TSFR/CBO, is agriculture part of your family history?
Our 120 acres that we farm is a legacy from W. Wade Ross' paternal grandfather, Jack Ross, a runaway slave from South Carolina in the late 1890s. The uncultivated property was offered to Grampa Jack for $1,200 by the townsfolk that wanted to keep him in the community for his excellent blacksmith talent. He could pay $100 a year for 12 years, so since he couldn’t read or write, he notched an old tree in front of his little shack each year before he went into town to make his annual payment. In the 12th year, after he made his final payment in town, a group of white men told him that they had chopped down his “payment tree,” so he had to start his payments again, which Jack did for another 12 years. To this day, the family cannot find a tree with his notches.
From the mid-1940s to the mid-to-late 1980s, our family land lay desolate until remaining family members, including Wade, returned to the land to farm it. Over the past 25 years, the land has been farmed (primarily grass/hay operation and Angus cow/calf producer) by W. Wade Ross, along with his two youngest sons, P. Wade and Ken.
Would you share a story about a person who has used your services or programs?
Billy Wright, a retired Army Veteran, and his wife, Marilyn Wright, are owners and operators of a small, 240-acre ranch and farm operation. Since 2004, they have raised cattle. They have participated in TSFR/CBO outreach events and projects for the past 15 years and have utilized several of our organization’s tools and resources to enhance and greatly benefit their operation. Via TSFR/CBO’s partnering with Texas USDA/National Resources Conservation Service on a variety of ag projects, the Wrights are in the process of putting up more cross-fencing, using cover crops, and for the past two seasons have started using a no-till method for planting crops. They are also working on improving the efficiency of the pastures, so weed control is always on the agenda. Lastly, through our ongoing member projects, they recently acquired a high-tunnel hoop house to help diversify their production as well as set up an Egg Mobile business that allows them to produce and sell eggs daily.
What else would you like people to know about your group?
Please know and understand that systemic racism is a real thing. For decades, groups like TSFR/CBO have been attempting to effectively communicate their needs and initiate impactful policy and processes for small and underserved rural residents to survive and thrive through economically impactful policy. In this digital age of cellphone cameras and frequent visual instances of social injustice, mainstream media is finally starting to wake us up to the fact that we do not currently live in a colorblind society where there is a level playing field (as much as we want to believe that is a thing of the past…). It impacts us all. We have work to do.
How can people support your mission?
Be open to learning the true racial history of our country, past and present. For too long, it has been a taboo subject that we have attempted as a society to sidestep simply as a hiccup in this great country's history. As painful as it may be, until we truly learn and understand race’s role in our country up to this point, we are doomed to continue repeating our mistakes. Once we truly know it collectively as a nation, we can authentically embrace and create sustainable change, starting with our own surrounding communities. To those who want to learn more about our organization, they can visit our website at tsfrcbo.org.
Is there anyone else we should highlight?
On September 12, 2012, Wade Ross, Founder and State Director of TSFR/CBO, received the USDA 64th Annual Secretary’s Honor Award in Washington, D.C., for forging partnerships between government agencies and other entities leading to changes that promote sustainable agricultural client bases and healthy environments for rural and underserved communities. Please support local and state policies that help unserved and underserved individuals and communities survive and thrive economically.