Couple puts agricultural education to use in Newton


PORTERDALE, Ga. — Malachi and Alayjah Muhammad have seen the challenges of starting a business from scratch in the midst of a pandemic.

Even more challenging was its reliance on good weather and learning how to keep unwanted nighttime visitors from taking its merchandise.

The Nation’s Farm has operated since late 2020 on 6 acres south of Porterdale on Lower River Road.

The Muhammads grow a variety of crops while also raising sheep and chickens. They are working toward being a certified organic farm while also developing a customer base, Mr. Muhammad said.

They also will operate a farm that is one of the few Black-owned, certified organic farms in Georgia.

Mr. Muhammad said he is reminded of that fact when he sees others working in the agricultural sector in the area.

“Most of the time I meet farmers who don’t look like me,” he said.

Mr. and Mrs. Muhammad met while students at Tuskegee University in Alabama — famed for Booker T. Washington’s leadership in promoting post Civil War higher education for southern Blacks and for famed botanist and professor George Washington Carver’s work in agriculture.

The Muhammads earned undergraduate degrees in Plant and Soil Science and began operating the farm a few months after he completed a master’s degree at Tuskegee.

Muhammad said they made a business decision to begin their farm in Georgia rather than his native northern Illinois because of such factors as a longer growing season and more temperate climate.

However, the farm started with livestock while the Muhammads worked to plant crops and develop its soil.

“It’s crazy that in my first year we had animals. I majored in Plant and Soil Science. I learned just from raising them,” Muhammad said.

He said starting a new business in the midst of the pandemic was “scary for me personally.”

“I was in fear of catching the virus,” he said. “My wife caught it.”

“I couldn’t afford to get sick. I had life depending on me,” Muhammad said, in reference to his livestock.

Muhammad said the couple works jointly on the farm operation — though his wife often will take up the slack on days when he has worn himself out.

He recalled one specific instance when he was unable to keep working after a 12-hour day of planting blueberries.

“There were times when I just didn’t have it,” he said. “But she’d still be out there.”

The farm grows two acres of crops, such as blueberries, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, apricots and lettuce — though its fruit trees are in their early stages.

It also has set aside the rest of the land for its livestock to graze. A recent $3,000 grant from Food Animal Concerns Trust — a national nonprofit that seeks more humane treatment of farm animals — will allow the Muhammads to install a perimeter fence to increase access to pasture for its broiler chickens and laying hens and to sheep for grazing.

It also will be designed to keep out predators, “which has been a huge problem on our farm,” he said. Wild foxes have feasted on their chickens, he said.

The Nation’s Farm is now working on developing a network of customers, such as restaurants and grocery stores, while offering “U-Pick” services for the public to buy its blueberries and selling leftover crops at farmer’s markets, Muhammad said.

It also hopes to offer workshops on organic farming and has collected donations for construction of a steel building to host such events year-round and store supplies and materials for each workshop.

The Nation’s Farm also tries to offer community events, titled “Farm Night Out,” such as a karaoke event planned for May 21 and free movies.

The events are designed to show the public a farm can be an “enjoyable” place to live and work, he said.

He said he hoped more Black Georgians enter the agricultural sector and see it as a viable way to make a living.

WHY THEY DO IT

Mrs. Muhammad, who also works as a parapro in Newton County schools, wrote on the farm’s website, www.thenationsfarm.org, that they both “knew at early ages that we wanted to become farmers.”

“We set out to make a difference in our community and begin a cycle of generational wealth for our family.

“What began as a vision of simply providing healthy, organic, wholesome produce to families, quickly turned into a vision of also educating people, sharing what we know, and providing hands-on exposure to all things agriculture.

“We love what we do and want to share our love for agriculture with as many people as we can!”

Muhammad, a Chicago native, grew vegetables in his backyard while growing up “but the cold weather did not permit him to grow everything throughout the year.”

Mrs. Muhammad said Carver’s legacy — and her husband’s passion for agriculture — inspired Muhammad to attend Tuskegee.  

“It must have been destiny because they both majored in Plant and Soil Science with Alayjah graduating with her bachelor’s (degree) and Malachi continuing on to complete his master’s.”

She said the mission of The Nation’s Farm is growing food that is “wholesome, hearty” and certified organic.

“This extremely strict process ensures our customers that our products contain no GMOs, pesticides, herbicides or other toxic chemicals,” she said.

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