Jubilee Justice, Black farmers celebrate opening of new Alexandria rice mill

Melinda Martinez
Alexandria Town Talk
the Jubilee Justice Specialty Foods and Rice Mill is located at 7521 Highway 71 South in Alexandria.

The opening of the Jubilee Justice Specialty Foods and Rice Mill is the culmination of a successful rice experiment benefitting a collective of Black farmers from across the South. The project involved growing rice using the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method. 

Farming is hard and Black farmers have had a foot on their neck for a long time, said Konda Mason, founder and president of Jubilee Justice at a grand opening of the mill held Friday. The non-profit's mission is to help Black farmers become more self-sufficient through cooperative economics. 

The solar-powered facility is located at 7521 Highway 71 South. It was deeded to Jubilee Justice by Inglewood Farms , said Elisabeth Keller, one of Ingewood’s owners. The mill is operated by the non-profit and Black farmers and is the first of its kind in the southeast.  

By running their own rice mill, the farmers “can manufacture and distribute their yield, cut out the middleman and gain more profit from what they grow,” states a release issued by the non-profit.  

In 2020, Mason started the rice project on two acres she leased at Inglewood Farms. Keller was looking to heal her family’s land from its history of enslavement that Black people suffered when Inglewood was a plantation. 

That fit with Mason’s mission of healing society and the planet. 

At Inglewood, Mason and her crew grew over 18 different varieties of rice using the (SRI) method which uses much less water and fewer seeds than the traditional method of growing rice. The traditional system uses about 85 pounds of seeds to farm one acre of rice, while only 6 to 8 pounds of seeds are needed using the SRI method.

The SRI method is also a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way of growing rice that farmers in Asia and Africa use. The method much better suited for small farmers and is linked to what is known as "regenerative agriculture."

Linda Rhodes (left), Catherine McCrory Pears and Linda Jones try dishes made with rice at grand opening of the new Jubilee Justice Specialty Foods and Rice Mill.

The release states that another benefit of the SRI method is that it reduces methane gas emissions.

"When you think of rice, you think of a lot of water," said Mason explained in a 2020 Town Talk article. "Within that water, there are microbes. And those microbes off-gas methane."

The off-gassing of methane contributes to climate change.

"And so, in agriculture - agriculture is a big contributor to climate change," said Mason. "And one of the biggest parts of that is the production of rice. So the growing of rice has a very negative impact on the climate and on us."

Using this method, Mason said they are doing what humans are supposed to do. That is to be good stewards of the land by protecting it, the soil and everything that grows in it.  

Roy Mosley, a farmer from Georgia, is one of their newest farmers. 

He told the audience that he was skeptical when Mason first told him about the SRI method. But it was her strong belief in it that really encouraged him to try it. 

"Our first year with our test plots and all, it went very well,” he said. “We wound up doing a completely dry land spot with nothing but rainfall, and it wound up doing pretty good,” he said. “We're pushing forward this year with two acres. I'm excited about this journey and we're just excited to see where everything goes.” 

Donna Isaacs, a farmer from Eros, said they didn’t have any idea if the rice project was the right fit for their small farm. Mason was able to convince them to try rice farming using the SRI method explaining they wouldn’t have to flood the fields and that it was more regenerative and was about building soil. 

They put in a no-till patch that was their “Hail Mary” patch that saved them that year. 

In addition to helping Black farmers, Mason said they want to promote healthy living. 

“As consumers, we must demand nutrient-dense food, organic food. I know that's something that's not as prevalent in this part of the country and we have to make it so,” she said. “Our bodies are the same bodies that live in California, that live in New York where there’s lots of organic food. We have that same body and so we need healthy food.” 

Jubilee Justice is reimagining health, justice and now agriculture said board member Fania Davis. 

“In addition to thinking about fresh food options for all communities and communities who have not had that opportunity, I want you to think about this opportunity on the grander scale of bringing justice to farming and allowing this to occur,” said Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy. “It's really sustainability on the community level because we're all here together. Righting wrongs and creating something that goes forward that’s kind of metaphorically about farming itself, farming in this community.”