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Forest Stewardship Keeps Georgia Grandmother Independent

Posted by Jarrett Caston, State and Private Forestry, US Forest Service in Forestry
Aug 22, 2018
Sandra Cummings
Sandra Cummings. (Courtesy photo Sandra Cummings)

Sandra Cummings is an African American woman who is a part owner of two forested landscapes in Georgia. Her first property, 325 acres of land with a home in the city of Madison, was passed down by her maternal great-grandmother, who was born a slave. The second property consists of 165 acres of land in the town of Portal, which was passed down by her paternal grandfather.

To ensure that the family’s ancestral land remains intact, Mrs. Cummings and her family decided to put it into an irrevocable trust to prevent their children and grandchildren from dividing and selling it. “You see, they didn’t grow up in the dirt like we did,” she said. “We grew up working those farmlands, picking cotton, tobacco, planting watermelon. We were able to see the benefits of having this land. My children and grandchildren did not.”

Mrs. Cummings wanted to encourage long-term stewardship of her land, and sought out resources to help achieve this goal. Amadou Diop, an Atlanta-based outreach liaison for the US Forest Service, helped Mrs. Cummings find information about forest management and stewardship plans.

“If it wasn’t for Amadou’s wealth of knowledge, willingness to help people, and putting me in touch with the resources directly, I would have never been able to get any of this done,” said Mrs. Cummings. “He made sure that I was taken care of, and he deserves a lot of credit.”

The Forest Service’s Forest Stewardship Program encourages long-term stewardship of important state and private forest landscapes by assisting landowners to more actively manage their forests and related resources. The Forest Service helped Mrs. Cummings through a forest management and stewardship plan created by the Georgia Forestry Commission, which laid out a 10-year plan for managing the land.

Under the plan’s guidance, Mrs. Cummings now uses the land in Madison for timber management, grazing for cattle, and wildlife habitat. She manages the land in Portal for forestry, wildlife, silvopasture (with assistance from the NRCS), and a pine straw operation. As a result, she obtains additional earnings from her land by leasing it out for deer hunting and harvesting pine straw.

She is enjoying the benefits of being a forest landowner.

“One of the benefits for me is the extra income from the pine straw operation —extra income is always good, you know,” she said.

“It also gives you some self-sufficiency,” she continued. “I will say this: if something were to happen in Atlanta—where we are living now, then we always have a place to go. If we needed to build another house or something….we can do it! So both lands give us some stability.”

Mrs. Cummings intends for her family’s legacy to continue. She hopes to renovate her parents’ home into a historic site and to build a walking trail for guests, and she is exploring the potential for solar power generation on her property in Portal.

Cattle like these graze Mrs. Cummings property in Portal, Georgia
Cattle like these graze Mrs. Cummings property in Portal, Georgia. (USDA Photo by Lance Cheung)
Category/Topic: Forestry

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Aug 10, 2017

What a wonderful and informative story, my family owns land that was handed down from our great-great grandfather (1881). Like Mrs. Cummings our children doesn't like the country or doesn't know anything about farming. We would love to get assistance on some of these great available USDA programs. We have gone to our local FSA office, and filled out forms but have not received any acknowledgement from them.

Aug 15, 2017

Question on why the photo of a malnourished beef cow (body condition score of probably 2-3)would be used for this article? It would have made more sense to show a photo of Mrs. Cummings woodlot which was discussed extensively in the article. Although understandably not the fault of Mrs. Cummings, I should hope the livestock owner would improve their feeding operation, or at the very least, the photographer should not be promoting animals in this condition to gain national attention unless it's to bring awareness to the fact that these animals are being underfed. Or, to give the benefit of the doubt here, maybe this cow is very old, or sick? There are many possible valid reasons why she is so thin. However, this photo was not a good choice for the article written and if the entire herd is in this condition someone should be investigating their situation.