EDITOR’S NOTE: Jarquita Brown wrote this story for Higher Purpose Co., a community development organization, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It is used with permission.
Ernestine and Dorfus Young Sr. have big ideas for their small farm located outside Clarksdale, Mississippi, in the northwest part of the state.
The land was in cotton production when they purchased it in 1983. Over the years, they have converted the 20-acre spread into the Young Family Farm. They grow fruits and vegetables and provide a place for event. They hope to enter homemade wine tasting and sales in the future.
“This was a cotton field when we bought this property,” said Dorfus. “After we purchased it, we let it lay here for about 17 years.” They moved onto the property in 2000.
“Nothing was here,” Ernestine said. “Just cotton. No trees, no nothing.”
When they started working the land, they became part of the 2% of the nation’s farmers who are Black.
Dorfus and Ernestine found the land while looking in the Yellow Pages in a Clarksdale hotel room.
“We did not come here to buy 20 acres of land,” Dorfus said. “We only came here to build a house and buy about three to five acres. There was a whole 49 acres, so we bought 10. I later decided that I wanted another 10, not sure what I was going to do with it, so we settled for 20 acres.”
Today, their farm consists of a two-acre pond, a pavilion, an event venue, playground, vegetable garden, orchard, herb garden, and more.
Ernestine and Dorfus are from Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, one county to the east. They met as teenagers and married in 1964 – 55 years ago.
Soon after exchanging vows, they moved to St. Louis, Missouri. After four years there, they moved to Minnesota, eventually winding up in Apple Valley, east of Minneapolis, where they lived for 21 years before returning to Mississippi.
When they relocated to the farm, their new house was still under construction. “So when we moved in, we had a big room upstairs, almost like a studio apartment,” Ernestine said. “We put us a microwave up there, we had the big bathroom and bedroom and a place to cook while the house was being finished.”
With the help of one of their sons, they built a two-acre catfish pond and Ernestine began gardening.
“As we’re getting the house built, I started working on the garden, getting the flowers beds and stuff going, in which I’m still working.”
Mrs. Young’s Garden
Ernestine was already an experienced gardener when the couple moved to their farm. She grew up tending a garden, and she also grew fruits and vegetables while living in St. Louis and Apple Valley.
“It’s a process,” she said.
Ernestine now raises beets, cabbage, onions, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips. She has a tunnel house to extend the growing season.
In the orchard, she has apple, peach, plum, redbud, and other trees, along with blackberry, blueberry, elderberry, and mulberry bushes. The farm also has about 50 chickens.
“We also have two roosters,” the Young’s granddaughter added.
Ernestine said the chickens are part of the farm experience for visitors. “On the farm we get our own eggs, and when people visit, they can make their own breakfast.”
Ernestine also has a small vineyard.
“The grapevines are about 18 years old, and I get about 150 pounds of grapes off of there, and this is where I make most of my grape wines,” she said.
Besides making wine from grapes, Ernestine also makes elderberry and watermelon wine and has experimented with flavors like strawberry banana wine.
“She’s very creative with her flavors,” said Mrs. Young’s son, Dorfus Young, Jr. “The strawberry banana wine is out of control.”
Ernestine has been making wines for about 18 years, and she’d like to host wine tastings.
“I’m trying to get my license so when people come to the farm, they can drink. I want to do wine tasting tests where people can taste my wine and decide if they want to buy it.”
A Place for Gathering
Dorfus Sr. is building an event venue. The building, which he hopes to complete by summer, has a large gathering space with a kitchen, wine cellar, bathrooms, and a laundry room.
The building will make the farm appealing to people who would like to use it for a variety of events, said Tim Lampkin, CEO of the economic justice agency Higher Purpose Co., located in Clarksdale. Higher Purpose Co has been working with the Youngs on developing expanding their farm business and build on their assets.
“There is so much we can plan to do with this space,” Ernestine said.
Once the building is complete, Dorfus said he will add two decks to make the structure more accessible.
“The deck will be open to more people for space,” he said.
The Young Family Farm Vision
While the Youngs continue to establish a more sustainable and profitable farm, their goal is to make it an authentic oasis of culture, healing, and empowerment.
“This place will be a real good country atmosphere for people,” Ernestine said. “When they come out, they will see the chickens, the garden and they will see all this stuff and think, ‘Wow, we’re way deep in the country.’”
Jarquita Brown is a consultant for Higher Purpose Co., an economic justice agency that has worked with the Youngs on business planning, funding, and partnerships. The organization seeks to use ownership of businesses, land, and homes to help Black residents across Mississippi thrive. More information about Higher Purpose Co. is included in the following video, which includes interviews with Ernestine and Dorfus Young.