Berrien County, Michigan
Sherman Reed has always been a thorough researcher, so when his research pointed him to Northern Initiatives, he researched some more and surprised even himself. “They’re willing to work with (a farmer) like me. Wow.”
When it came time for finding grants to purchase a piece of farm equipment, Sherman Reed was baffled that there were grants for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and farmers markets, but none when it came to farm equipment. As an organic farmer, he needed to keep the weeds under control. He’d been told, “As soon as you finish planting, the war on weeds begins.” He started looking into loans.
He’s always been a thorough researcher, so when his research pointed him to Northern Initiatives, he researched some more and surprised even himself. “They’re willing to work with (a farmer) like me. Wow.”
Reed knew he wanted to be a farmer when he was 6 years old; 40 years later it has become a reality. And now, the crops are thriving and so is the Five Pillars Farm in Berrien County near Benton Harbor.
Reed’s grandfather, a former sharecropper in South Carolina, purchased his first farm in the early 1940s and it was during his annual visits that Reed first fell in love with farming. “When I would arrive to the farm, I would visit the hogs and sit on the tractors, combine before I would speak to anyone. I naturally felt it all was mine. I knew instantly I wanted to farm.”
Since farming was not happening soon and to be close to agriculture, Reed decided to major in Agriculture Industrial/Technology at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University. Later he furthered his education in Mechanized Systems Management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Nebraska Tractor Test Lab drew his eye. “I wanted to work for John Deere or Case International Harvester after graduation!” he laughed. Reed went in a different direction.
Reed is a District Conservationist for the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a position he has held for 12 years. He’s worked in various locations (Nebraska, South Carolina, Missouri, Arizona, and now Michigan) for some 27 years. NRCS began as the Soil Erosion Service in the late 1930s due to the Dust Bowl era, then became the Soil Conservation Service. “We look at a person’s land uses – soil, water, air, plants, animals – and introduce conservation practices that will help heal their resource concerns.” Through the Farm Bill, they also provide help with financial resources.
In 2018, with capital provided by the Michigan Good Food Fund, Northern Initiatives loaned Reed the funds to buy a harrow plow, specifically a 16.5’ Precision Tine Harrow which he’d … researched.
He moved to the farm, which is named Five Pillars Farm LLC (more on that later) in 2015 and leases land from another owner. He grows corn and black beans, and cereal rye as a cover crop, all organically. “The key thing in starting out in farming, you have to have friends in the community,” he said. He’s learned from, borrowed from, lent to, hired and helped plant and harvest with other farmers. And he continues to add to the land he farms, from the seven acres he started with to the 20 in 2021 to eventually 50 in 2022. As the farm continue to grow, he will be adding more storage and equipment.
Reed knows of only one other grain farmer in Berrien County who is Black, and says “outside of Benton Harbor, there are hardly any other Blacks living in rural areas, much less Black farmers. I hope Countryside Academy’s FFA (Future Farmers of America) program will help change that.” Countryside Academy is a public charter school near Benton Harbor that has an Agricultural Science program and incorporates Food, Agriculture, Renewable Resourcess and Environment (FARE) activities from preschool to 12th grade.
Reed, a Muslim, named his farm after the Five Pillars of Islam (declaration of faith, prayer, charity, fasting, pilgrimage), but turns them into his five pillars of farming: “pastureland, cropland, forestland, gardening and aquaponics.” He has a goal of a small-scale aquaponics operation that will grow plants without soil and raise fish.
Reed grew up in the Baptist church and takes to heart both the Bible and Quran when planning his farm operations. “Scripture says, every six years let the land rest,” he said, citing Leviticus 25:4-5. The Quran talks about food and storage as well, he said. “The Bible and Quran go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other.” He’s also curious about the farming according to the phases of the moon and their effect on water in the soil. “The moon affects water in tides – does it do the same to the soil?” he wonders.
Five Pillars Farm