A Forestland project to help black homeowners

Since 2016, the “Keeping It in the Family” program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff has worked to overcome historical barriers to success for African Americans in forestry.

The program provides educational resources and technical assistance to African American forest owners to protect and conserve their family lands for future generations, said Kandi Williams, extension program assistant and program coordinator.

Tom Martin, CEO of the American Forest Foundation, recently traveled to southern Arkansas to meet with some of the forest owners who have benefited from the university’s forestry programs.

“We were honored to have Mr. Martin visit as part of our annual review of the ‘Keeping It in the Family’ program,” Williams said. “The appraisal is largely an opportunity to review the strengths and weaknesses of the project, but most importantly, it is an opportunity to celebrate the outstanding achievements of the team and the landowners. During a touring the premises, Mr. Martin was able to hear the stories of the landowners and family histories first hand.”

The site visit took place on the property of Kenneth and Jacqueline Carswell in Pine Bluff. The Carswells explained how they purchased forest land and used the extension and outreach services of the UAPB Smallholder Farming Program to access appropriate organizations and resources to transform their land.

With help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division, they developed a forest management plan and used funds from the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentive Plan to implement recommended conservation practices.

In addition to improving their forest land, the family cleared land to set up a fully functioning organic farm, which they named “Peaceful Pines Farm”.

During the event, the Carswells’ son, Keith, was given a tour of the improved forest and organic farm.

“I especially enjoyed the site visit, where I saw the magic of a family of landowners and their natural resource advisors implementing the landowners’ vision for their forest,” Martin said. “It really underscored the connection between people and sustainable forests. … It’s clear that staff working directly with landowners are passionate about their work and have in-depth knowledge that they deploy on behalf of landowners. I hope we can find a way to provide legal help to families who need it to sort out their property issues and other issues – it’s a constant challenge for organizations serving black property owners.”

Martin said one of the highlights of the event was Keith Carswell’s tour.

“His sense of belonging came through very strongly,” he said. “I’m sure their forest is a wonderful counterbalance to his usual work as a merchant seaman. Japan, Myanmar and Diego Garcia are exotic, but the pine forests of Arkansas must feel like home.”

Later in the event, Shawn Boler, a landowner from Howard County, led a session in which different landowners shared stories of how they have been able to improve the sustainability and profitability of their operations through to a partnership with the UAPB. He also shared his own story of how he worked with the “Keeping It in the Family” program to maintain and improve the land his great-grandfather originally purchased in 1896.

Boler’s active stewardship of the land paid off. Last year, the family farm, known as “Ransom Tact Adamson Estate”, was recognized as a Certified American Tree Farm and Arkansas Century Farm.


Arkansas Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, who was in attendance at the event luncheon, credits the UAPB with addressing heir ownership and other challenges that black landowners in the southern Arkansas face. Heir ownership—the land inherited by a group of family members—can be a major issue for African-American communities in Arkansas. This type of ownership leaves families without clear titles that allow active management of the land, thus limiting any economic return.

Flowers represents District 25, which includes parts of Pine Bluff and Jefferson County, as well as parts of Arkansas, Desha, Lincoln, Monroe, and Phillips counties.

“Black land ownership was very important in this area because black people acquired land after slavery, during Reconstruction,” she said. “A great divide has occurred, and generations later have lost ownership and the benefits that come with owning land. property of heirs, and government agencies of forestry, agriculture and economic development are all highly relevant and helpful.”

As a lawyer, Flowers said she recognizes the importance of family relationships in condominiums.

“The people equation is about personal social relationships,” she said. “Challenges arise because broken or estranged family members don’t know each other and for a whole host of other reasons as well. A big part of building the platform to benefit from the land is bringing together family members.There are legal tools, wills and trusts that can help the process.Mediation is also helpful.

Flowers credits Henry English, UAPB’s Small Farm Program Director, for developing relevant programs for his constituents. She said programs such as “Keeping It in the Family” promote cultural, family and historical connections to the land and awareness and support for economic opportunity.

“I would say the biggest benefit [of the “Keeping It in the Family” program] teaches African Americans the value of their land and how to put it to good use, providing them with healthy food, medicine, clothing, financial gain, and more. “, she said. English has done a wonderful job of organizing excellent forums and conferences for small and large audiences. I love that I even saw him on the ground with African American landowners, advising and helping develop the land itself.”


UAPB’s “Keeping It in the Family” program is part of the African American Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention (SFLR) Program Network. During the summer of 2019, the American Forest Foundation (AFF) assumed administrative, fundraising, policy advocacy, and technical support functions for the SFLR program in conjunction with the SFLR Network.

“AFF appreciates its partnership with SFLR, which is made up of eight black-led organizations that work with African American forest owners,” Martin said. “Our collaboration with SFLR also helps AFF achieve its mission and vision of empowering family forest owners to have a meaningful impact on the conservation of their lands. Our strengths in fundraising, policy and extensive networking relationships will set in place and sustain the agenda already accomplished for continued growth and success.”

Martin said he aims to ensure that the SFLR network can take full advantage of AFF’s resources, including the AFF development team, the American landowner community, and integral organizations such as Trillion Trees. and the Forest Climate Working Group. The foundation’s work on Capitol Hill is also intended to benefit SFLR.

Martin said the AFF political team’s connection to Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan helped the SFLR move forward quickly. Thanks to this support, Kedren Dillard, forest owner and AFF board member, testified before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, representing both SFLR and AFF .

She shared how the SFLR Network helps African American landowners turn their home forests into sustainable economic assets, as well as how home forest owners can contribute to climate change mitigation.

For more details on the American Forest Foundation, visit www.forestfoundation.org.

Will Hehemann is a writer/editor in the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Humanities.

Tom Martin (left), CEO of the American Forest Foundation, visits with State Senator Stephanie Flowers and Kandi Williams, outreach program assistant and coordinator of UAPB’s “Keeping It in the Family” program . (Special for The Commercial/University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff)

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