top of page
  • Writer's pictureMichelle Gill

Interview: Victor L. Harris, Minority Landowner magazine


Victor L. Harris, Minority Landowner magazine

Victor L. Harris is the publisher and editor of the Minority Landowner magazine (available in print and digital formats). He received the Society of American Foresters’ Outstanding Forestry Journalism Award for 2021. Minority Landowner is a national publication with an audience of minority, limited resource, and small farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners across the country.


I was excited to have a reason to ask Victor more about his life and his start in publishing. I maintain his website and through this project, I have been impressed with the work of the magazine, the actual layout and publication, and all the other aspects of the Minority Landowner. Check out their video collection and new podcast and you will see what I mean.


Our interview took place online.


I see that you were the first person to go to college in your family. (So was I.) You went to Tuskegee University and then to NC State. (I recently wrote a brief post about when I met Dempsey Morgan who was one of the Tuskegee airmen.)

 

Is there anything special that you remember about Tuskegee at the time you attended the University?

 

I grew up in a housing project in Georgia. At the time of my high school senior year, I knew of one person who had attended college. A sister of a good friend in the neighborhood. So, I really had no idea what I was doing when I applied to Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University. I received a letter inviting me to apply and study forestry. I never discovered how they got my name and contact information. My guess is, in high school I remember taking a test that helps identify your interests and what career fields may fit you. My results showed forest ranger, and really careers that focused on the outdoors. I always believed Tuskegee somehow got that information and identified me as a potential student. I received a letter one day inviting me to apply, early in my senior year of high school. I applied, they accepted me, and I never bothered applying anywhere else. Still, I had little knowledge of college. The first time I ever set foot on Tuskegee’s campus was the first day of freshman orientation.

 

A little backstory of how my career in forestry almost never happened. During that summer before freshman year, I had to send in a deposit for my dorm room. I tracked it throughout the summer, and Tuskegee never had a record of receiving my room deposit. My best friend was also accepted into Tuskegee. I called him the night before freshman orientation and told him I wasn’t going because I wasn’t going all the way down there and not have somewhere to stay. He persuaded me to go. Saying, if I got there they would find me a room. And he was right. So, if I had not listened to him, I never would have made the trip and never would have been on the path that led me to the career I have today. Also, the dorm assignment was the Emery Dorms, which were some of the oldest buildings on campus, built by Booker T. Washington (Tuskegee’s founder) and his students, between 1903 and 1909. Looking back years later, there was something special about living there.

 

Last thing about Tuskegee. It is as you know a historic university, an HBCU, Historically Black College and University. Dr. Booker T. Washington, Dr. George Washington Carver, the Tuskegee Airmen. Among its firsts, it was the first Black college to have a School of Veterinary Medicine, and still is the only one. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is in the process of establishing one. And Tuskegee was the first Black college to have a forestry program. So, very proud traditions at Tuskegee.

 

I love Tuskegee, then and now. Back then, as a forestry major, we didn’t actually receive our degree from Tuskegee. The program was created as a pre-forestry program. We would transfer to partner universities after 2-3 years and complete our bachelor’s degree. Relatively speaking, there aren’t many universities that offer an accredited Bachelor of Forestry degree. My plan was to complete the pre-forestry program at Tuskegee University and then transfer to one of the major universities to complete my degree. But I LOVED Tuskegee. I remember walking towards the Business School with a change of major card to change my major to business so I could remain at Tuskegee and earn a Tuskegee degree. As I made that walk, I knew that I also loved forestry. And changing my major wasn’t what I really wanted to do. No matter how much I loved Tuskegee. So, I transferred to North Carolina State University and earned my Bachelor of Science in Forestry with a concentration in economics. Once again, I came that close to a different career journey.

 

During the 25th anniversary of the Tuskegee forestry program, Tuskegee recognized all of the graduates who had completed the program and earned degrees at other universities; Tuskegee gave us honorary degrees with all rights and privileges. That was another special moment. Guess you see I could talk all day about Mother Tuskegee, as we say.

 

What was one of your favorite moments when working in forestry? 


I guess I shouldn’t assume everyone knows what a professional forester does. Many things, but in general, a forester helps a landowner manage their forestland. The largest forestland ownership group percentage wise is private landowners. You may or may not know what you want to do with your forestland. A forester will meet with you, evaluate your property, ask your objectives for owning the property, and prepare a forest management plan to provide recommendations to help you meet your objectives. It could be harvesting, it could be tree planting, it could be enhancing wildlife for hunting, it could be recreation. It could be a combination of things. Foresters also help protect forests from insects and diseases. As well as controlling wildfires. And, then there is urban forestry where we look at trees and forests within our cities and towns, or even your backyard. That’s a broad view of the life of a forester, but it paints the picture.

 

Each state has an agency responsible for managing state-owned forests, and for assisting private citizens in managing their forestland. In Virginia that agency is the Virginia Department of Forestry. My first job out of college was working as an area forester with the Virginia Department of Forestry. I learned that I was the first Black forester in the history of the Virginia Department of Forestry.

 

That isn’t a favorite moment per se, but it was and still is impactful. We are a profession that lacks diversity. In 2003 and in 2023 I conducted a survey of state forestry agencies in the 13 southern states to gather the racial demographics of their professional foresters. Then and now, the percentage of Black foresters is less than 2%. We could have a long conversation on why I believe that representation is so low. I try to increase awareness of those numbers and work to improve Black and other minority representation withing our profession.


Tell me about one of the most memorable people you met in your field.


Not too long after we began publishing Minority Landowner, I attended a farmers conference at Tuskegee University, and had a chance to talk with Dr. B.D. Mayberry. Dr. Mayberry was the retired dean of the College of Agriculture at Tuskegee, and in the late 1960s he led the effort to establish the Forestry and Natural Resources Program at Tuskegee. The program was established in 1968 with support from the U.S. Forest Service. It became the first forestry program at any Black college or university. It was an honor to talk with Dr. Mayberry and get a photo with him. His efforts opened doors for myself and others; at one point most of the Black foresters in the country came through the Tuskegee forestry program.


I once interviewed Helen DuBose. She became the cover story for a 2007 issue of Minority Landowner. On her cover photo, I called her “The First Lady of Black Agriculture.” Mrs. DuBose was 88 at the time of the interview and lived to be 95. She had a blueberry farm at her homeplace in Georgia. She was a fascinating woman. I call her a legend, and a trailblazer. Just a few of her lifetime accomplishments. She was the first majorette at what is now Florida A&M University. She says she was at a football game when Tuskegee came to play, and she saw the halftime performance of the Tuskegee band, and they had majorettes. She then told the band director at Florida A&M that they needed to have majorettes. And that was how it started. She was also Campus Queen for two years in the 1940s. She went on to earn a master’s degree in agricultural economics. She said she was the first Black woman in the country to earn such a degree. She was a fascinating person, first in several lifetime accomplishments. It was a pleasure meeting her.

 

How did you learn about publishing?


I always wanted to own my own business. I always felt that two things people would pay for, aside from the essentials of food, shelter and clothing, were information and convenience. As a forester, working with the public revealed that although lots of information was available, not everyone knew how to find that information and how to apply it. Which led me to the idea of creating a publishing company, producing magazines that focused on farming, forestry, and natural resources. I read about everything I could get my hands on. The first business book I read was “So You’ve Got a Great Idea” by Steve Fiffer. I subscribed to several magazines, went to the library and read magazines, picked up magazines in lobbies, offices, everywhere I went I found myself flipping through the pages and literally dissecting each page of the magazine. I would study the paper, the colors, the pictures, the length of the articles, the ratio of ads to content, the layout, the font, the number of pages. It didn’t matter the editorial focus. It could be business, it could be nature, it could be automobiles, it could be sports. If I saw it I would pick it up and study it. I didn’t have a mentor. I guess the publishing world became my mentor. There is so much more to launching a publishing company. There is the business side. But in the early days, reading and dissecting existing publications is how I fed my interest in starting a publishing company.

 

How did the magazine Minority Landowner come to be?


There were other magazines I published prior to Minority Landowner. Part of the inspiration for Minority Landowner came from my experience attending a farmers conference at North Carolina A&T State University, an HBCU, (Historically Black College and University). I remember walking into the ballroom for the luncheon, and seeing a room full of Black farmers and ranchers. Even though I had worked in the space of forest landowners and farmers for a couple of decades. I knew the lack of diversity within my profession. I guess I never fully appreciated the rarity of Black farmers and ranchers. The latest USDA Census of Agriculture shows Black farmers representing barely over one percent of all U.S. farmers. So, when I saw a ballroom full of Black farmers I was in awe. And as I learned more about the history of discrimination against Black farmers by USDA through their policies and practices, awe was matched by pride. Pride in the way I take pride in the Tuskegee Airmen. World War II fighter pilots who overcame stereotypes and discrimination to fight heroically and earn an unparalleled place in history.

 

I saw the Black farmers in the same light. Despite generations of systemic discrimination and a lack of respect and equity, they have fought and endured in the face of literal extinction. I got that same sense of pride. And I committed to do all I could to recognize their success, share their challenges, and help make them successful. Minority Landowner Magazine was born. Our mission is to help minority farmers, ranchers and forest landowners improve productivity, increase profitability and maintain ownership of their land.


What is your favorite thing to do (hobby)? 


When I’m not working, I read, enjoy science fiction movies, and listening to music from the 60s, 70s, 80s. R&B. When I was 11 or 12, I bought myself an electric bass guitar. My dream is to learn to play again and host a “concert” for family and friends. Family and friends are less likely to laugh at me.


Any future plans for Minority Landowner?


Prior to COVID we held in-person national farmers and landowners conferences and regional workshops. Once COVID hit we like many transitioned to virtual events. This year we plan to get back into the field with our national and regional events. We will post dates, locations and registration information on our website.

 

Continue to grow. Promote, educate and support minority farmers, ranchers and forest landowners. Continue developing our website, with your help. We have added a new Research page where we will share research that is ongoing within agriculture and forestry. Information that can assist farmers and landowners as they work to improve their land management operation. There is so much information that is out there. The key is helping producers sort through all the sources of information to find exactly what they need, and presenting it in a manner that they can understand and apply to their individual operations.

 

I always say farmers are researchers and scientists. Every day they touch the land. They have so many data points with the decisions they make every day. What they plant. When they plant. Monitor weather, droughts, rainfall, cold, heat, storms. To fertilize or not fertilize. When to harvest. Every time they touch the land, they make decisions and day after day, month after month, year after year, they see the results of their decisions, and the impact things like weather and nature have on their operation. They are the original researchers and scientists. We’ll use the Research page, not only to share what the “resource professionals” are doing. But to also share farmer to farmer research. We want to maximize the use of technology by building a world class website with your help.


Check out more at: www.minoritylandowner.com

1 Comment


grapeape1010
Mar 19

Great interview, Michelle & Victor! I found it fascinating. Victor, your passion really shines through.

--April Austin

Like
bottom of page