Profile of a Sumter Farm Family
Azeez and Fathiyyah Mustafa are people who believe in the ability of individuals to make their world a better place through small and consistent changes in their own lives. Their personal farming story depicts a gradual movement from growing for the family, to giving away extras to friends, to selling vegetables at the farm, to becoming the only certified organic African American farmers in the Southeast.
Azeez and Fathiyyah Mustafa provide living proof that sustainable farming offers a way to protect our state’s scenic landscapes while strengthening rural economies. They have been practicing sustainable agriculture in Sumter for 30 years, growing herbs and specialty crops for a variety of local restaurants and markets. In 2006, Azeez received the Carolina Farm Stewards Association Sustainable Agriculture Farmer of the Year award.
Born and raised in Sumter, Azeez has over 30 years of farming experience. What began as a modest market garden focused on traditional Southern foods like okra and watermelon has now grown into an operation featuring over 25 kinds of herbs, vegetables and fruits, many of which are heirloom varieties. The Mustafas also raise free-range Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red and White Rock chickens for the dinner table.
The Mustafas sell the “fruits” of their labor directly to consumers at the farm, to top restaurants around the state, and at the All-Local Market in Columbia. “People who get our food can taste the difference,” Azeez explains. “They come back with testimonials of how they like the food and how they are benefiting health-wise.” Azeez and Fathiyyah believe in the ability of both producers and consumers to make their world a better place through modest but important changes in a basic but essential human activity: growing and eating food.
How is business? Like their food, it’s growing. In 2003, Azeez sought official organic certification and founded a cooperative farm association, Sumter Cooperative Farms. Since then, 11 farmers have joined the organization, and most of them are pursuing the sustainable, organic farming practices that have made the Mustafa farm so successful. They pool resources and generate networks to promote locally-grown – and therefore locally-owned – meat, poultry and produce.
“There are a lot of subsidies handed out to big conventional farming operations,” says Azeez. “We don’t want or need subsidies, but our state should take an interest in helping to promote local food producers. We’re not just good for the environment, we’re good for the economy.”
What is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It is a partnership between families and farms that is bringing small family farms back to life by linking consumers directly with the people who grow their food. At the beginning of each season, individuals purchase a share of the upcoming garden. Customers receive the freshest possible produce, and have the satisfaction of knowing their food was grown without harming the environment or using unfair labor practices. Farmers are paid in advance and are freed from the brutal economics of the commodity markets.
For information on CSA’s, community gardens, local markets and initiatives by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, visit these websites or call:
www.localharvest.org or www.communitygarden.org
Alan Moore,Lowcountry Local First, 843-740-5444, www.lowcountrylocalfirst.org
Ansley Rast, South Carolina Department of Agriculture, 803-734-2200, www.certifiedscgrown.com
Emile DeFelice, Columbia’s All-Local Market, 803-917-0794