By Ryan Velez
The Black community, especially in urban areas, has struggled with a number of health issues, some ranging from lack of opportunities for proper nutrition to a limited amount of health professionals to mental health issues stemming from rough communities and outside forces. This issue extends to smaller Black communities as well, like the small town of Conotoe outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. Despite being surrounded by farmland, the nearest grocery store was 10 miles away. BlackDoctor covers how one pastor worked to try and create a change.
Perhaps the saddest thing about Rev. Richard Joyner’s venture is what led to it - an array of funerals due to poor healthcare and access to healthy, affordable food. “Diabetes, high blood pressure — when we first got started, we counted 30 funerals in one year,” Joyner said. “I couldn’t ignore it because I was spending more time in funerals than anything else.” When asked by CNN about his project, Joyner explains how his situation and his faith came together to lead him to this path.
“I was literally exhausted from the funerals, and I was asking God, ‘What are we going to do?’ And I really heard a voice saying, ‘Look around you.’ I looked around and there was nothing but land.” Ironically, Joyner had a deep dislike for farming, stemming from a difficult childhood as the son of sharecroppers, but he was able to work through it.
“When I came back to the land, I had to deal with my anger. And I’m still coming through that process. But for me, working in the garden has been a healing place. This has given me the opportunity to appreciate what my father took pride in teaching me about the fields. At this point now, I like the garden. It’s a place we can play. It’s a place where we can produce. And it’s a place where we can live.”
Today, his nonprofit, the Conetoe Family Life Center, manages more than 20 plots of land, including one 25-acre site. With the help of over 80 young people, Joyner plans, plants, and harvests 50,000 pounds of fresh food a year. Much is given to local residents, but the students also sell food, like their own brand of honey, to businesses and restaurants. This money goes towards school supplies and scholarships. The Center’s efforts to teach children and adults how to cook their food in a nutritious way are making the community healthier as well, with emergency visits going down.