A Fruitful Harvest – Smiley Pete Publishing
Born into slavery in 1845, James Coleman and his parents cultivated farmland in Uttingertown, a rural hamlet beside what is now Winchester Road in Lexington, when they were enslaved. Coleman was granted his freedom in 1863 and purchased the farm in 1888 for $ 1,200 using money set aside by the Union Benevolent Society, a national initiative created by Booker T. Washington, where members of local communities have pooled their resources to provide loans so that former slaves could buy land or use the money to bury relatives.
James Coleman’s inability to read, write, obtain a commercial bank loan, or join the Lexington Chamber of Commerce did not prevent him from running a farming business and making investments that in the decades that have followed, helped create a generational wealth that enabled more than 300 of his descendants to attend university.
One of these descendants is Jim Coleman. Coleman, who grew up in what is now known as Coleman Crest Farm (colemancrestfarm.com), is a successful executive who recently returned to Lexington. He is working to write the next chapter in his family’s legacy by putting the farm back into active production, along with agritourism programs, educational offerings and a program to teach aspiring farmers to work with the land.
After his brothers left home to go to college, Coleman’s father, Sam, informed the 12-year-old that he would be responsible for looking after the family farm. Responsible for feeding livestock, maintaining farm equipment, controlling costs and minimizing waste, Coleman received informal training in economics.
“I understood we had to make a profit,” Coleman said in a recent interview. “I learned a lot about how to be resourceful.
Coleman’s mother, Cleo, encouraged her son. When she noticed his growing vocabulary, she advised him to enroll in Howard, a historically black college and university in Washington, DC She said the Kennedy boys went to Harvard, but Howard was in charge of education. of Judge Thurgood Marshall and Vernon Jordan, a civil rights activist. chief.
“Anyone who’s anyone goes to Howard,” Coleman recalls as his mother said. “This is where smart black people go and they rule the world.”
Coleman applied to Howard but was refused admission. Undeterred, his mother wrote to the president of the university, Dr. James E. Cheek, asking Coleman to have a chance to prove himself. (Coleman said he had no idea how his mother found out the president’s name or address.) Coleman received a letter in return from Cheek that overturned the admissions office’s decision. He says his mother’s faith changed the course of his life.
After taking out a loan of $ 5,000, Coleman’s father presented him with a check for $ 10,000 to attend Howard. The tuition was $ 1,800 per academic year, which Coleman paid in full. The remaining amounts were applied to his student account. Coleman majored in economics and prospered academically while taking on leadership roles in extracurricular activities.
As an undergraduate student, he met his college sweetheart, Cathy Clash, a chemical engineering student from Washington, DC. The couple got married and began to advance in their respective careers. Coleman has worked at several Fortune 500 companies in executive positions and credits his father for teaching him the principles of business economics while working at Coleman Crest Farm as a child.
Coleman’s wife died in early 2020 from breast cancer as the couple planned to return to Kentucky and restore the family farm. Coleman devoted his efforts to honoring his memory, as well as paying homage to his ancestors. He is building a house on the property and plans to erect a stone memorial to honor his deceased family members. He also established a $ 2 million scholarship in honor of Cathy at their alma mater.
“I will make the most of each day to move forward and give back and help others, and restore this family farm to do a good job on behalf of my ancestors and my dear wife, Cathy,” he said. -he declares.
In Kentucky, only 600 of 76,000 farms are operated by black farmers. As the sole owner of one of the oldest black-owned farms in Lexington, Coleman pledged to use his 13 acres to close the gap.
He is partnering with various public schools in Fayette County in hopes of shaping future black farmers and entrepreneurs. Coleman recently hosted a retreat for staff at William Wells Brown Elementary School, where 89 percent of enrollments are students of color. Principal Ebony Hutchinson hopes Coleman visits the school and teaches students about possible careers in agriculture and farming.
“He puts his heart and soul into giving back,” she said. “It brings the earth back to a good level. “
“He puts his heart and soul into giving back. He brings the earth back to a good level. —Ebony Hutchinson, Principal of William Wells Brown Elementary School, on Jim Coleman
Coleman recently installed a high-tech irrigation system on the farm with a well that pumps 400 gallons of water per minute. It is the largest well in Fayette County and named in honor of his grandmother, Mollie Coleman.
After Mollie and her husband John took out a $ 500 loan to send their son to college, they fell three months behind on their monthly payments of $ 7. When the banker came to seize the farm, Mollie fell to the ground praying in tongues, causing the banker to abruptly leave. The couple eventually made the payments and were able to keep the farm. Coleman said his grandmother’s refusal to let pride get in the way is why Coleman Crest Farm exists today.
“Mollie’s Well is all about providing new life and new hope,” Coleman said. “All that’s good, fresh, natural, aged and earthy is Mollie Coleman. “
Mollie’s Well water hydrates the organic tomatoes, cabbage and okra that Coleman currently grows. He’s partnered with Ramsey’s Diner and will supply the restaurant with two tons of okra each year.
Coleman has also started an incubator program where individuals rent out a share of his farm and receive training in growing the produce.
Ginger Watkins, an aspiring farmer, has researched programs online and within her circle. She kept running on Coleman’s name, so she scheduled a tour of the farm. In the middle of the tour, Coleman said Watkins started quoting the Coleman Crest story and was aware of facts not included on his website.
Watkins shared that his great-grandmother had lived near Coleman’s farm and took his grandmother, Mollie, to vote. Watkins’ father conducted a genealogical study and discovered that one of their relatives sold the land which is now Coleman Crest Farm to James Coleman.
“One hundred and thirty-three years later, the descendant of the previous owner is now an incubator farmer of the descendant of the new owner, who was a former slave,” Coleman said. “We have more in common than we have against each other.”