RURAL AMERICA: A Treasure of ASSETS
November 9, 2023
In rural Virginia, a millennial farmer plants seeds in education, on land, and in government
By Jennie Blizzard, Fed Communities
From 8 am to 3 pm during the week, Breyon Pierce, a high school agriculture education teacher, calls his classroom home. In the evening every first Thursday, he’s at the county government building for meetings as the town’s youngest elected official. But on most weekdays from 4 pm to sundown, and on most weekends, he’s on his tractor farming soybeans, peanuts, wheat, or corn with his dad.
“I’m a sixth-generation farmer, I was about four years old when I started riding on a tractor with my dad. He told me when to shift the gears. When I was about 6 years old, I was tall enough to reach and press the clutch. It was at that moment when I started driving tractors by myself. I feel like I was born to farm.” – Breyon Pierce
Breyon says he’s continued the family legacy for many reasons, but one stands out. As a self-proclaimed “history nerd,” he says he wants to do his part to keep Black-owned family farms alive. “In 1920, there were close to 1 million Black farmers in America. And today there are fewer than 48,000” he said. “I’m going to take the lead, pick up the torch, and do my part to keep my family’s legacy going.”
A special place with opportunities
Breyon lives in Surry County, Virginia, whose motto is “Surry’s Something Special.” And indeed, the community has a special story, as does Breyon. Located in the southeastern region of Virginia, Surry County has approximately 7,000 residents. About 40 percent of residents are Black. While many youth leave the rural communities they were born and raised in for more economic opportunities in urban areas, Breyon stayed and still contributes to the community in significant ways.
“I feel like what I’m trying to do here is bigger than me. I want to plant seeds of opportunity in the minds of the youth as an educator,” he says. “I feel like it’s my duty to serve my community in a positive light.” In 2020, Surry County Public Schools selected Breyon as Surry County High School’s Teacher of the Year and Surry County’s District Teacher of the Year.
Like many rural communities, Surry County is considered a food desert with limited access to healthy and affordable foods. The closest retail grocery store is more than 25 miles away. In 2015, Breyon was hired as one of the first farmer’s market managers for Surry County. His experience and education helped him to give input on creating a farmer’s market where local farmers and gardeners can come together on Fridays to sell goods, crafts, foods, and services. With so many roles and such engagement in his community, how does he keep up? “I just try to utilize my time the best I can within 24 hours,” Breyon says. “Plus, I consider myself young and somewhat in shape which helps. I realize I’m not going to have this youth forever, but I want to make the most of my time serving my community.”