Changing the narrative one tea at a time

by | Feb 24, 2022

Growing up in the Black Belt region of Alabama on her maternal grandparents’ farm, Clarenda “Farmer Cee” Stanley was exposed to agriculture but never saw it as a viable career path until later in life. “Part of my childhood was spent on a farm where my family raised cattle and grew a variety of food crops,” she said, “but I was never really encouraged to pursue farming or a lifestyle in agriculture. It was all about obtaining a degree.” Upon graduating college with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and later, a master’s degree in education, she eventually became an awarded marketing and fundraising professional. Currently, she is a senior global fundraiser at The Nature Conservancy’s World Office, the first Black person to serve in this capacity. She maintains this position even as she builds her farm and its emerging brand, Green Heffa Farms.

Sometimes life has a funny way of bringing us back to our roots, which is exactly what happened for Clarenda in 2019. Upon moving to North Carolina, she married a man who developed a passion for farming, specifically growing hemp. Clarenda, who grew up being taught that land is at the core of a farm, purchased nearly 15 acres of farm land in the Liberty area of our state. However, when life happened and that marriage came to an end, Farmer Cee was ultimately responsible for the property which at the time had “a failed hemp crop and a well that I had paid to have dug, not knowing I needed electricity to make it actually work.”  She continues, “farming is the first endeavor I have had in my life where I was able to truly make it mine,” she said. “I had this piece of land that I could do whatever I wanted with. I could grow what I wanted and run things how I saw fit.” In 2019 after attending farm school through Person County’s Ag Extension office, the nearest program she could find that required a two hour roundtrip twice a week, Clarenda expanded Green Heffa Farms production to not only include cannabis, but also hibiscus, three varieties of holy basil and lemon balm in her first year of production.

Today, Green Heffa Farms grows sixteen medicinal plants and herbs that are used for its proprietary line of herbal teas and steams. Other crops such as peppermint, butterfly pea flower, lemongrass, and true tea plants have been added, with a plan to add six new crops in 2022. “I determine what we grow by first making sure that it has traditional medicinal value,” Farmer Cee said, “then, after making sure it is something I have a desire to grow, I develop tea recipes that taste good and steam formulas that yield results, all with the goal of enhancing my customers’ wellbeing programs.”

On the farm, Farmer Cee and her family produce both tea and steam products. According to her, the only difference between a tea and a steam is that one contains hemp and the other does not. “Everything is grown with the same care. “Technically, our steams are our tea recipes with the addition of high quality hemp flower. Because of the flower, we offer the steams as a beauty product but what you do with the product at home is your own business,” she said. “Whether for a pour or your pores, we have you covered.”

The very first tea that she ever created is still one of her best sellers, called Brenda’s Balm. “This tea was named after my mother, Brenda, and contains holy basil, hemp flower and self heal,” Farmer Cee said. Although she loves the Rich Auntea blend because of its benefits and because of its rich deep shade of purple, her favorite color, Farmer Cee vibes with all of her tea blends based on her needs each day.

A typical day in Clarenda’s life is always moving and never the same. “Full of adventure is the best way to describe my day,” she joked. “Sometimes I am managing social media and marketing for the farm and other times I am physically working in the dirt.” Each morning starts around 5 a.m. by driving out to the farm, which is an hour from her house, to take care of the morning activities and chores. Once complete, she heads back to her tea cabin to shower and start her other full-time job in environmental fundraising. “Basically I work two jobs every day. When I am not working my hours for my fundraising job, I am working on my farm. And of course, I have a family that needs time as well.” she said.

Additionally, Farmer Cee works with over a dozen Black women farmers who are starting out in their agricultural journeys.  She meets with them each week to help them navigate the waters of brand development, growing awareness, marketing, farming and more. “We have to level the planting field,” she said. “It is important to me to help others navigate the path that I have already journeyed. If I can help people, especially Black women who have to overcome so many more challenges, start their own farm or agribusiness and avoid the potholes that I fell into starting out, then I know I have done my part.”

In 2021, Green Heffa Farms became the first Black farm in the United States to become a Certified B Corporation, which means that they represent a higher-level of accountability, transparency and performance in the way that they operate. “Being a woman farmer in this age presents a whole set of challenges on its own, but add in the factors of being a Black woman farmer growing medicinal plants and suddenly there are a plethora of judgmental eyes on you,” Farmer Cee said. “I just had to make it spicy when I started out by combining all of these issues together! However, that is one of the reasons that being a Certified B Corporation is so important to us.” The farm is also currently pursuing USDA organic certification.

Green Heffa Farms is centered on four main values, or in Farmer Cee’s words, “the four E’s: Economic Empowerment, Equity, Environment, and Education.” Everything that is done on the farm, from the way that products are organically raised, to customer education, to sustainable packaging, has these values at the core. “If these values were standards of the business world, we would be a better place,” she said. “At Green Heffa Farms, we function around these principles because we believe that each one of them has the capability to change and impact the world around us through agriculture and farming.”

Farmer Cee even strives to educate customers through the eye-catching packaging of her products! “All our packaging patterns are inspired by tapestry’s of my upbringing in Wilcox County, Alabama, home to the famous Gee’s Bends Quilters, inspired by the rich hues of our African ancestry,” she said. “Our branding pays homage to our heritage but also connects to each product’s respective ingredients. The colors used are influenced by the botanical ingredients contained within.” For example, the pink and red packaging for the Fixitea blend are reflective of the rose petals and hibiscus. The farm recently purchased a tea bagging machine and will be upgrading its packaging even more to expand its customer base.

Not only is farming a source of peace and pride for Farmer Cee, but it is also a way that she seeks to build her family’s generational wealth. “When many people think of a farmer, they do not think of an entrepreneur but that is exactly what I am. We are a vertically scaled business enterprise, from seed to sip,” she said. It is her goal to continue growing their farm’s brand and outreach. In addition to purchasing directly from their website, their products are also available at all Weaver Street Market locations and online at Thrive Market.

“Our motto is that we grow slow so that we don’t owe – financially, spiritually, or environmentally'” she said, “so I am just excited to be building our capacity, serving our customers, and adding my voice to the agricultural arena. Everything that comes from our farm comes from genuine love.” Be sure to check out her website and try some of her tea and steam products for yourself or reach out and visit her on the farm!