Sandra Cummings' Incredible Story

Cattle grazing in a field next to a forest. Courtesy of Jeff Vanuga/NRCS.

by Jarrett Caston, Forest Service Program Specialist

Sandra Cummings is an African-American woman who is a part owner of two forested landscapes. Her first property is in Madison, Georgia, passed down by Mrs. Cumming’s great-grandmother on her mother’s side, who was born a slave. The second property is in Portal, Georgia, given to Mrs. Cummings by her grandfather on her father’s side. Mrs. Cummings owns these lands along with multiple family members, who also live in Georgia. Mrs. Cummings owns 38 acres alone of the 165 total acres in Portal, Georgia and 66 acres alone of the 325 total acres in Madison. The land in Madison has been in her family since 1889 and the one in Portal since 1902, so there is a lot of important history with her land.

“Both lands are so important to me and my family that we decided to put an irrevocable trust on the land, so my children and grandchildren can’t sell it. You see, they didn’t grow up in the dirt like we did. We grew up working those farmlands, picking cotton, tobacco, planting watermelon, etc. So we were able to see the benefits of having this land. My children and grandchildren did not,” explained Mrs. Cummings.

Sandra Cummings continues her family's legacy.
Sandra Cummings continues her family's legacy. 

Mrs. Cummings’ is currently using the land in Madison for timber management, pasture management to raise cattle and wildlife management (leasing it out for deer hunting). The land in Portal is used for forestry management, wildlife management, silvopasture, with assistance from the NRCS, and a pine straw operation. The US Forest Service (USFS) has helped her through a forest management/stewardship plan created by the Georgia Forestry Commission.

The Forest Stewardship Program encourages long-term stewardship of important State and private forest landscapes, by assisting landowners to more actively manage their forest and related resources. (Source - USFS Forest Stewardship Website)

“Our forestry consultant laid out a 10 year plan on how to best manage our land and we have been following this guideline ever since then,” remarked Mrs. Cummings.

The person who helped Mrs. Cummings find information about USFS forest management/stewardship plans was Amadou Diop, who is an Outreach Liaison for the USFS in Atlanta, Georgia. Amadous’ relationship with Mrs. Cummings goes back to 2012, when they first met at a forestry workshop. Amadou was working for the US Fish and Wildlife Service at that time.

“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. He made sure that I was taken care of and deserves a lot of credit,” remarked Mrs. Cummings.

Mrs. Cummings’ future plans for her land in Madison are to continue what she is doing now from generation to generation, renovate her parents’ home including making it an historic site and building a walking trail for guests. She is exploring the potential use for solar power generation on her property in Portal.

“The only issue we have is if my generation don’t do it then it will not get done, because my children and grandchildren will not do this. So that’s why we are trying to work on this now,” explained Mrs. Cummings.

Mrs. Cummings has enjoyed the benefits of being a forest landowner.

“Some of the benefits for me of being a landowner is the extra income from the pine straw operation —extra income is always good you know. Another thing is it increases your status when people know you own land, because back in the days of my great grandmother, if you owned land then you were looked at as “high cotton”. It also, gives you some self-sufficiency. 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,” remarked Mrs. Campbell.

In closing, Mrs. Cummings wants her land legacy to be continue. She wants most of her land to be used for agriculture purposes and some parts for forestry. Mrs. Cummings has made her great grandmother and grandfather very proud as she proceeds to work on both lands.