In the US South, McIntosh S.E.E.D. protects land and a legacy for Black landowners.

February 16, 2023

In the US South, McIntosh S.E.E.D. protects land and a legacy for Black landowners.


Apple and The Conservation Fund are collaborating with neighbourhood associations in the area to increase climate resilience and sustainable land retention in Black and Brown communities.


There are memories buried in the soil all over the Deep South. Owner of the BoMax Ranch and Retreat in Crawfordville, Georgia, Junetta O’Neal sees it as a tribute to the generations of her family who worked the land before she fell in love with it when she first saw a horse.
When O’Neal first came at the BoMax, he found it to be a wonderfully peaceful setting where he could feel at one with nature. It seemed to speak to me, and I recognised that it was my ancestors who had made it possible for me to be where I am now. They are the ones who I stand on just to be here. I started giving their names to roads as a way to remember them. After having my cousins stay with me and experience a sense of connection to the land, I knew I was on the right track with this project — leaving a legacy for our family.


O’Neal is enrolled in the Sustainable Forest & Land Retention programme at McIntosh S.E.E.D. She attended a forestry class at the McIntosh S.E.E.D. Community Forest in Long County, Georgia, last December along with 20 other landowners. In order to grasp the advantages of tree thinning, the worth of clearing underbrush, and how to measure and identify different tree species in order to comprehend their economic value, O’Neal, her other landowners, and their children and grandkids attended a meeting with forestry specialists.

The 1,148-acre forest held by McIntosh S.E.E.D. was purchased in 2015 in collaboration with The Conservation Fund and is the nation’s first Black-owned community forest. The foundation seeks to elevate the voices of Black and Brown landowners in the conservation movement through the educational work it conducts on site.


Cheryl Peterson, assistant managing director of McIntosh S.E.E.D., says, “We wanted a place where we could actually bring landowners, a demonstration site where they could see conservation practises.” “It empowers the landowner,” says the speaker.

The Conservation Fund, in collaboration with Apple, is working with numerous groups in the US South to advance sustainable forestry, achieve racial justice, and develop climate resilience, including the charity from McIntosh County, Georgia. McIntosh S.E.E.D. is creating a shared approach for BIPOC land retention and improved climate practises that can be scaled up throughout the region through workshops, trainings, and community-focused programming. Utilizing the hundreds of family-run farms, woodlands, and Black institutional landowners—primarily churches and historically Black schools and universities—will encourage best practises for climate resilience and adaptation on privately owned land and contribute to the fight against climate change.

According to Lisa Jackson, vice president of Apple’s Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives, “we have to share resources and engage with groups that have real on-the-ground knowledge to promote justice and address climate change.” I’ve always thought that the most effective solutions come from putting the most disadvantaged groups at the centre of attention, not neglecting them. Families are banding together in places like McIntosh County to protect the land that supports us all.

McIntosh County, located on Georgia’s southern coast, is representative of several Southern BIPOC communities that McIntosh S.E.E.D. is fighting to protect.

According to Peterson, “the neighbourhood has very few high-paying jobs or jobs that offer a decent wage.” People in this country struggle greatly to alter the course of their families since their incomes are restricted to a particular amount. No matter where I am—in Georgia, Alabama, or Mississippi—I observe the same dynamics that go along with living in a community that is excluded.

The nonprofit organisation has established a presence in Darien, a seaside community in McIntosh County with a population of just over 1,500. Its work is concentrated on empowering and educating local families and Black landowners.


This work has included addressing climate change’s effects, from excessive heat and drought that have caused crops to fail to bigger, more frequent tropical storms and hurricanes that have forced people to flee their homes.

People who couldn’t afford to have their homes restored after a flood or after trees fell on their property “have lost their homes and have had to move,” according to Peterson. Many families are put in danger as a result of these environmental conditions since, if they must flee, many of them cannot afford to do so. It will be harmful to our area when more and more severe weather moves in, especially for those living here by the ocean.

Although McIntosh S.E.E.D. began by concentrating on the unique requirements of the coastal county in 1998, Peterson and director John Littles always envisioned expanding its work to improve more communities throughout the Deep South.
We didn’t want to function according to the “crabs in a basket” theory, in which one person slips out and another reaches up while the rest pull it back down, claims Peterson. We still follow that guiding philosophy because “we wanted to link arms and bring out as many underprivileged people and communities as we could.”


Littles and Peterson ventured deeper into the South through Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama as part of their early work with agricultural producers and landowners. They began to realise how distinct the appearance of forested land was in affluent, predominately white neighbourhoods as opposed to the underdeveloped, predominately Black towns.

Littles discovered that cultural factors as well as a lack of understanding contributed to the degradation of the land in BIPOC communities while investigating the options for land management that were available for the landowners McIntosh S.E.E.D. was already assisting.
Property has traditionally been regarded as a liability rather than an asset in Littles’ community. “We also discovered that there was a great deal of injustice occurring in our neighbourhood; people would arrive and not offer the proper price for our timber or the appropriate amount of land, and they would simply devastate the environment when they chopped the timber. It didn’t reflect well on our neighbourhood or the environment.

The first step is education about the climate, including how it affects people, their land, and the community, as well as how landowners may contribute to and better manage climate change.


Director of McIntosh S.E.E.D., John Littles

McIntosh S.E.E.D. and The Conservation Fund have worked together for the past ten years to find opportunities for sustainable land management through land conservation that benefits both the environment and its surrounding communities.
According to Evan Smith, senior vice president of Conservation Ventures at The Conservation Fund, “the release of large carbon arises from the loss of forests, both to development and being converted out of forests.” This weakens the land’s capacity to react to and adapt to climate change, as well as contributing to it.


Addressing the inequality in Black and Brown communities is crucial in the South.

According to Smith, “it’s kind of a twin effect of the US South, which is one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions in the US, and because of the loss of forests, which are an extraordinarily strong instrument for slowing climate change.” In addition, these populations are more vulnerable to climate change’s effects and displacement.
The Conservation Fund acknowledged McIntosh S.E.E.D.’s efforts to focus on the intersectionality of race, environment, and community as it began looking into prospects throughout the South. The grassroots programmes of McIntosh S.E.E.D. were already created to support local communities, assist residents in understanding and addressing environmental impacts on their homes, gain access to natural resources, and provide landowners with the knowledge and tools they may require to successfully exercise their ownership rights.
Littles says that because low-income individuals face so many other difficulties, “there are many subjects they don’t take an interest in when they are low wealth.” “So, the first step is education about climate, including how it affects people, their land, and the community, as well as how landowners may contribute to climate change and become better stewards of it.”


Peterson is holding everyone’s attention at the community forest workshop as he addresses the young people in attendance directly about their duty to look after their family’s land after it has been passed down. She exhibits a sense of oneness with the forest, recognising its advantages, worth, and the necessity of preserving land for future generations.


According to Peterson, there aren’t often many Black forestry experts. We want to develop forestry, and we want to teach it to our kids so they can choose it as a career path in the future if they choose to, but for that to happen, they need to have a connection to the land.
Peterson’s forefathers, who instilled in her a natural drive to be of service to others, are the source of her devotion to elevating families and communities. She remembers her great-grandmother painstakingly breaking one stick of gum into enough pieces to share with Peterson and her 12 cousins, saying, “She talked to us about the significance of sharing.” For many years, that tale would be shared at family reunions as a lesson to always give, no matter how much the family possessed.
As Peterson points out, “I’m not going to be here forever, so being able to pass this information on assures me that future generations will preserve the land long after I’m gone. Any property my family owns today is a result of my great-labors grandfather’s in the pulpwood industry. His calluses and those of numerous other families, whose forefathers also had scars on their backs and calluses on their hands, did this so that we may possess this land. Our responsibility is to carry on their heritage.