Stetson Stories: Against The Odds
Southwest Black Ranchers
Meet the Stewart family. Their passion for food security and diversity in agriculture led them to Douglas, Arizona where they are financing a sustainable farming project to make good, clean food more accessible. Photography by Ivan McClellan.
Rachel and James Stewart lived a busy life in the city. James worked two jobs seven days a week and would find a few hours a day to train as a bodybuilder.
Rachael taught their 4 kids and worked as a personal trainer.
When the pandemic hit, everything changed. Work dried up, and the Stewarts had to change their living situation. Buying a house wasn’t feasible, and the kids needed space to run around.
The one thing they are most passionate about is good, clean, and natural food and access to it was becoming increasingly more difficult. They found land in southern Arizona that was affordable and made a leap of faith to start their own organic beef, pork, and poultry ranch in the desert. “We wanted to be able to give the kids something for their future. Giving them financial security and a trade so they don’t get caught up in the debt cycle is important to us.” Neither of them had any experience ranching or farming aside from a small garden they had in the city and Rachel’s one year of 4H in high school. They built a small adobe-style house, put up fences, and pens and got to work raising chickens, ducks, pigs, turkeys, goats, and steers.
“When we moved out here, we thought we were by ourselves.” But soon, neighbors from miles around came to the ranch to introduce themselves and pitch in. The Stewart ranch has been a unifying factor for the community. “It’s a barter system out here. Everybody has something that somebody else doesn’t have.” From sharing knowledge about raising crops and animals to pitch in on a community backhoe, they are all working together to build a life for themselves and succeed for the positive.
“It’s a rough life, but the good outweighs the bad.” They traded in creature comforts for fresh air and space, and their 4 kids James, Zinaye, Zenaya, and Javon, are thriving in their new environment. “They’re thinking more critically and strategically and doing different things every day. They’re not thinking outside of the box, there is no box, and everything they do in life is learning.” James and Rachel are learning as well, oftentimes from the kids. They’ve accomplished a lot in a short amount of time but still have a long way to go. Their vision is to create a sustainable framework for other black and brown ranchers to follow and sell healthy food locally and eventually nationally.