Five Black farmers recently received a combined US$72,000 in funding to enhance access to resources and health outcomes for people across Maryland. The funding was a part of the EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator.

The EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator—a collaboration of the American Heart Association (AHA) and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield—is designed to support Black farmers in Maryland. Funds will be used to develop business strategies to address social and economic challenges and ultimately, increase access to healthy food.

Finalists underwent training in business and marketing development to enhance their brand’s story and collaborate with other Maryland Black Farmers. As they moved along in the process, they also had the opportunity to share their stories at an in-person finale before a panel of local business leaders.

“We’re providing them with an opportunity to learn strategies that will allow them to be successful in the future as they go out and propel their business model,” Kimberly Mays, Vice President of Community Impact at the American Heart Association, tells Food Tank. “Part of our goal with the finale was getting them in the room with folks who have the means to connect them with organizations that can continue to fund them.”

Ali Simento, the Founder of Geb-Ra Organics, won first place and received US$35,000 in grant funding. His startup aims to establish an Aquaponics farming complex in Baltimore, Maryland, using recycled shipping containers and implement a training program for public and private schools.

Finalists who received funding through the Accelerator also include Crystal Levine of CodaBax, Ashley Drakeford of The Capital Market, Richard Francis of Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm, and Doug Adams of New Brooklyn Farms.

“This was one of the first times that I’ve had the experience to actually pitch an idea in a business sense and pitching to folks that are looking at it from a business perspective, and we were definitely prepared very well,” Ashley Drakeford, Market Manager of The Capital Market and Finalist, tells Food Tank.

AHA and CareFirst seek to reduce disparities Black farmers encounter in Maryland’s agriculture sector, focusing on enhancing representation and economic involvement, and access to healthy food.

Read the full article about Black farmers by Alessandra Uriarte at Food Tank.