3 min read
J. D. Booker, owner of The Booker Farm

ALABAMA A&M UNIVERSITY, Ala. — In 2006, J. D. Booker retired and returned home to Alabama. Like other African Americans of the New Great Migration, he longed to escape the city life and return to quieter surroundings like where he was born and raised. Booker found his quiet spot, 17.5 acres of untamed land in Toney, Alabama, which he eventually named Booker Farm.

“I bought the farm three years before I retired,” Booker said. “I wanted to get out of the noise, get away and get back to streams and hear water running and relax to help me recover.”

Unfortunately, the land came with many challenges. However, with some help from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Booker Farm is now on a mission to conserve natural resources. The farm also serves as a helping hand in the community and a source of farming therapy for Booker and other military veterans who experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Early Days of Booker Farm

In earlier days, Booker Farm experienced flooding, and with flooding came problems such as soil erosion and debris.

“I knew farming but had not farmed for 25 to 30 years, 40 years really,” Booker said with a chuckle. “There were so many problems with erosion, invasive weeds and all kinds of growth. It was a really bad-shaped farm, but I wanted to do conservation. I wanted to make sure we did soil control, the plants, the trees and clean out the dry creek because it was filled with debris. It was a mountain of work, so I reached out to Alabama A&M. I knew how to farm but I had no sense of conservation.”

Booker was referred to Alabama Extension. Marcus Garner, an urban regional Extension agent, and Karnita Garner, an environmental Extension specialist, were among the first to respond. Developing gardening plots, a wildlife habitat and a research demonstration site were some of the options presented to Booker for his land and the rest is history.

“Alabama A&M (Alabama Extension) helped me with workshops and doing various types of vegetables and planting,” Booker said.

Alabama Extension also referred Booker to conservation agencies that assisted with the flooding.

“Now we have terraces (to control flooding), and our hayfield has no erosion problems,” Booker said.

Helping the Community

Today, Booker Farm is a limited liability company with a mission to preserve and conserve natural resources while maximizing farm operations. Over the years, the farm has served as an outreach venue for Alabama Extension and other community programs for youth, older adults and disabled veterans.

“I started out with just one little plot of vegetables and then the neighborhood was looking at the farm,” Booker said. “There was one lady just walking up and down the road and she said, ‘Oh that farm looks good.’ She was on a walker, and I found out she was an elderly person. So, I picked her some vegetables and took them down to her house. She was shocked and started crying because she had no idea that it was not going to cost her anything.”

Booker said the farm has helped him realize that there was a need accessing fresh vegetables in his community. He made flyers to let people know there was free produce available on his farm, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Booker’s impact on the community did not stop there.

“I am a combat veteran and I have PTSD,” Booker said. “In California, they taught us how to manage PTSD, and farming is therapy for us, so I started planning and doing workshops for veterans.”

Growth of Booker Farm

The back acreage of Booker Farm is used to grow hay, while vegetable planting is reserved for the three main garden plots that are visible to visitors as they arrive. The garden has yielded kale, cabbage, greens, okra, tomatoes, an assortment of peppers, butter beans, sweet corn and other vegetables. At Alabama Extension’s urging, Booker now sells his produce at three farmer’s markets in the area, although he has probably given away more than he sold.

Discover Alabama Extension

When the farm was first established, Booker had a lot of questions. He is grateful to Alabama Extension for answering most of them, from soil testing to keeping better business records. He encourages everyone to reach out to Extension.

“Alabama Extension is there to help people,” he said.

Like Alabama Extension, Booker and his farm are also there to help people. Booker developed Booker Farm as a quiet place of refuge. With Alabama Extension’s help, he also turned it into a community resource for therapeutic gardening and fresh vegetables.

Supporting entrepreneurs, landowners and small farmers is just one of the many ways Alabama Extension delivers solutions for life’s everyday challenges. Extension educators are strong community partners, bringing practical ways to support homes, farms, people and communities. There is more to discover at www.aces.edu/discover.