CFAES alumni spotlight: Yolanda Owens

Yolanda Owens

A love affair with agriculture

By: Tracy Turner

It was a love of food that began when a young Yolanda Owens, ’07, spent summers at her grandparent’s home in North Carolina.

Memories there of her grandmother planting in the garden and later, the delicious aroma of persimmon bread baked from scratch using persimmons her grandmother foraged and picked with her own hands, spurred Owens to begin growing food in her own backyard on Columbus’ south side. It was there that Owens formed a lasting connection with food.

Years later, that love of food and agriculture led the Columbus-native to CFAES, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural communication and international economic and social development. Owens, who is the first Black/Latinx president of the CFAES Alumni Society Board, has since translated her passion into a career that affords her the opportunity to help to grow a love of agriculture in the next generation of Black and Brown youth—by helping them reclaim their place as stewards of the land. 

“As an advocate of healthy food access, much of my career has been to connect youth to healthy food,” she said. “Whether it is teaching about how to grow food, what to eat, what career choices they have, I want to connect the dots between Black people and our food.

“I believe that we need to be sitting at the decision-making table when it comes to Ohio’s number-one economic contributor, agriculture.”

That’s significant, considering that of the nation’s 2.2 million family-owned farms, only 5% are minority owned, with 2% of those owned by Black farmers, Owens said. In Ohio, according to the 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture Ohio Census of Agriculture, there are only 136 black owners of farms across the state’s 88 counties.

Owens, who is the founder and chief cultivator of Forage + Black,, an apparel and garden consulting company, has a goal of helping change this narrative by promoting interest in agriculture careers among students of color.

“Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Ohio, so it’s important to more educate students of color in this field so that they can be a part of this huge space in our economy,” she said. “Without any knowledge of agriculture, students of color are missing out in this sector.”

Part of that could be achieved by promoting agriculture education in more schools, including districts with larger minority student populations, Owens said in a recent TEDx Talk.

“Where best to sow the seed to be able to connect our youth to food, to fiber and to fuel and understanding their food system through the science curriculum?” Owens said. “And then, using the school grounds to be able to have learning gardens to connect Black and Brown students to become and to know about the George Washington Carvers, who developed regenerative agriculture systems, or teaching them how to be profitable or to establish careers in food and agriculture.

“I mean, we all have to eat right?

Owens works to build a community hoop house