Vickie Roberts-Ratliff is using personal experiences as a sixth-generation Mississippi landowner to assist small property owners in Georgia’s Fulton and Cobb counties. She serves as a program assistant for the Georgia Association of Conservation Districts (GACD).
Roberts-Ratliff left a successful career in pharmaceutical sales to return home to her parents’ 500-acre farm in Montgomery County, Miss. Purchased in 1927, the property has seen a variety of land uses. In 2001, her father died, and the farm responsibilities fell to her and her mother. The following year, they transitioned from row crop acreage to timber and began working on a timber management plan. In 2008, the land was certified by American Tree Farm System and shortly thereafter, she joined the Montgomery County (MS) Forestry Association. Since then, she has been assisting other property owners, specifically with female and African-American landowners, in navigating processes and helping them understand the importance of having a forest and conservation activity management plans.
“Mississippi has the second highest percentage of landowners that are female and African-American,” Roberts-Ratliff said. “I want to do everything I can to help those landowners keep their land in family.”
Roberts-Ratliff’s Mississippi property was deemed an agroforestry demonstration site in April 2014. She and her mother offer tours and will meet property owners to discuss how to go through the process of creating management plans. Roberts-Ratliff currently is utilizing nine acres to install a retention pond and plant pecan trees, organic medicinal and produce fields, a blueberry field, wellness cottages, a peach orchard and a vineyard as part of her future goals with agroforestry.
The agroforestry demonstration site serves as a catalyst for sustainable economic development in a USDA StrikeForce recognized as a persistent poverty community.
“That’s where GACD comes into play,” Roberts-Ratliff said. “Being in a metro area with urban farming, again with my two-acre agroforestry demonstration site, I relate that to the urban farming and how it can be seen from my perspective. That’s why I really enjoy every day at GACD. I get to see things, and the development I see here used to be farmland, now it’s controlled environment agriculture.”
Roberts-Ratliff is involved in metro Atlanta and urban farming, visiting on a seven-acre food forest project, Brown’s Mill Food Forest, similar to the management on her own property, including trees, nature, medicinal plants and other items integrated into the surrounding lots.
She also is involved in a project with an urban farm for a power line egress. Fulton County Soil and Water Conservation District (FCSWCD) secured a grant with GACD to do the easement, and Roberts-Ratliff is implementing some of her farm suggestions in that project.
Roberts-Ratliff said the fruit-based alley cropping agroforestry demonstration site is part of the future. The succession plans for the farm, the selection of the products and the fruit trees—it all goes back to research she did with her great-grandfather, grandfather and father, who all did a combination of these practices.
“I’m being strategic about the future sustainable economic development plans for the land,” Roberts-Ratliff said. “I’m tying in my rural background, using my future plans and vision for the farm. I’m able to see hands on everyday dealings with Fulton and Cobb Counties with urban and commercial land issues.
“I got into agroforestry for the small acreage and the small landowners that aren’t interested in the large lands,” she said.
On her Mississippi property, she is using nine acres for test marketing and future projects, and two are dedicated to the agroforestry site with more concentrated growing plans.
Along with conservation districts in Georgia, Roberts-Ratliff has met with landowners in more than 20 counties in southeastern Mississippi and has been a speaker and presenter at several national conferences, including the recent “Enhancing Rural Economies through Agroforestry: Assessing Emerging Opportunities” event hosted in March by the National Agroforestry Center and Interagency Agroforestry Team.
In 2011, she was named the first female president of the Montgomery County Forestry Association. One year later, she became one of 21 leaders appointed by former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to the U.S. Forestry Systems Planning Rule Advisory Committee.
She recently became a Sustainability Ambassador with the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency, including training on recycling, energy and water efficiency, urban agriculture and community greening. And she is writing a guidebook: “Probate – Roberts’ Rules for Land Retention: Using Your Land to Create Generational Wealth.”
All her efforts are working toward empowering landowners and helping them identify and implement long-range plans that fully utilize agroforestry and land management practices.
“I do things in a real concentrated environment and focus in on one parcel,” Roberts-Ratliff said. “As it keeps growing, I think about it from a female aesthetic point of view. I want it to have a continuous cue of products, and it can provide exercise for me as I’m getting older.”
“I’m very solution-oriented,” she said. “So, I want it to be done the right way, and I want to make sure we’re being good stewards for future development.”