MCCOOL – Teresa Springs looks out at the farmland that her husband Kevin Springs inherited in 2016.

After Kevin’s mother’s health declined, she transferred over the 73-acre farm to him. The Springses had no plans of moving from Florida to McCool, Miss., and they had no experience in farming. 

Instead of selling the property, the two decided to take on the task of bringing the farm back to life. They attended conferences, read books and conducted research online to prepare themselves as farmers. Teresa and Kevin’s Oasis, TKO Farming, was born.

“When Teresa and I came here, this wasn’t here,” Kevin said. “The land was here, but there was no one here to steward it. There was no one here to build upon it and create a blossoming future for other people, so we hit the ground running.”

On Juneteenth, they broke ground for their Southern-Agrarian Training Center under their company Ancestral Be-kin, which is located on the farmland. The goal of the center is to preserve the Black agrarian legacy by teaching sustainable agricultural and land-based skills to young Black farmers and youth. Their vision is to bridge the gap between older Black farmers and the next generation of those interested in farming and agrarian living. 

The center will be a space that merges generations of Black farmers and cultural workers. It will give student groups and interns the opportunity to have several days to be mentored and learn about food injustice and sustainable agriculture. The Springses want this to be a learning space regardless of experience levels.

“This little slice of real estate will be here to help other folks,” Kevin said.“This land has liberated us, and it has allowed us to continue to try and give that to other folks.”

In their research, the couple discovered that the farm, which had been in Kevin’s family for four generations, was a central Mississippi farm that was operated cooperatively by Black families. The families shared farming resources and expertise in the early to mid-20th century. 

In 2017, Kevin attended a Winston County Self Help Cooperative meeting and expressed to the local elder farmer that he didn’t know anything about farming and pleaded for help. The couple relied heavily on the group’s experience and wisdom for the successful development of the farm’s operations. 

“We’ve had a lot of support from a lot of people,” Kevin said. “It may seem like it’s just me and Teresa, but it’s definitely a group effort.”

Today, the Springses are growing the farm and sharing information with a younger generation, just as they learned from their elders at the start of their farming journey. 

They have created an “Education Exchange” which allows them to teach college students about Black land stewardship. They also mentor youth groups at a local church and teach them the basics of gardening and farming. 

“A lot of times I apologize to young people because I feel that we are leaving them a wounded world,” an emotional Teresa said. “That’s why TKO Farming started.”

For more information about TKO Farming and to support the build of the Southern Agrarian Training Center, visit GoFundMe.

Correction 6/29/23: This story has been updated to reflect McCool is located in Choctaw County, Mississippi.

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Eric J. Shelton was a 2018 corps member in Report for America, and joined the team as our first photojournalist. A native of Columbia, Miss., Eric earned his bachelor’s in photojournalism from the University of Southern Mississippi. He was a multimedia journalist for Abilene Reporter-News, chief photographer for the Hattiesburg American and photo editor for the Killeen Daily Herald before joining our team June 2018. He rejoined Mississippi Today as our health photojournalist in January 2022.