Thai Nguyen at a food share on October 11, 2022. Photo credit: Kaizen Food Rescue Facebook

Activated. Colorado food justice activists rally around Black ranchers who say they have been living a nightmare in a predominantly white town

9 mins read

Advocates tap into their network to support Courtney and Nicole Mallery, and also pressure state officials to investigate the case of Black ranchers alleging white residents are pushing them off of their land.

While most agriculture comes to a stop in the middle of a snow-filled Colorado winter, Thai Nguyen was divvying up the parts of two cows she purchased from Freedom Acres Ranch, owned by Courtney and Nicole Mallery. She put out a call with a simple question. “We’re getting a cow, which part do you want?” 

Nguyen laughingly admitted that being a vegetarian, she was uncertain on how to make a bovine butchering order, but the collective of immigrant communities she coordinates with, sorted it out for her. In the breakdown, the Mexican contingency asked for the tongues to make tripe, while West African members requested parts to make oxtail. “We work with a lot of Asian populations . . . [so] I told Courtney . . . don’t throw out the bones because the community wants to make broth,” said Nguyen.

Founder of Kaizen Food Rescue, the only refugee-led nonprofit for food-access in Colorado, Nguyen serves marginalized residents with food distribution events. In the past three years, since its start, the organization has given out 11 million pounds of food. Yet this time, Nguyen’s efforts were in reverse. She used her organizing savvy to rally around food producers who selflessly donated beforehand.

The Mallery’s have been flash-selling their stock in efforts to raise capital. The money goes towards their efforts to save their 1,000-acre ranch. However, the funds are for more than the average ranch operation. They must purchase drones, surveillance equipment and supplies to repair a fence that has been damaged repeatedly by unknown persons. For over two years, they allege that their business has been thwarted by the racial terror they experienced from local white residents in their section of El Paso County, Colorado. From a list of slain animals, to damaged and stolen property, their funds have been depleted, along with much of their mental health and sense of security.

| Read: Get out. Black Colorado ranchers face domestic terrorism by local whites who they say are trying to steal their land

“They [are] tormenting me and my wife,” an incensed Courtney expressed in an intense Instagram video post. In an interview with Ark Republic, the couple said that tensions with opposing townspeople in Yoder have amplified after articles reporting their troubles were released and subsequent social media posts have caused their story to go viral. In an Instagram post on February 12, 2023 by Hawk Newsome who is at Freedom Acres Ranch, Courtney shows a dead cow with blood oozing from its nose and mouth, citing that it is a probable sign of poisoning.

Video footage obtained by Ark Republic shows an uninvited white woman driving behind a running cow on the Mallery land. This is an example of the many strangers who have trespassed on or stopped at property perimeters to leer or commit other acts of intimidation. Another person who was unwelcomed entered their home while Nicole took a shower. The intruder was met with the U.S. Marine veteran’s shotgun.

Over the years, the Mallerys made countless complaints to law enforcement and local officials. Yet, they say their concerns were ignored until Courtney started a petition in December of last year. The appeal calls for the firing of Emory “Ray” Gerhart, an El Paso County Sheriff’s Department sergeant who the ranching couple claim is complicit in the racist acts of terror. It now has over 2,000 signatures.

In a press release, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department said they “responded to over 170 calls for service” involving Courtney and Nicole Mallery. Moreover, attesting to have “thoroughly investigated” a total of “19 different complaints filed by and/or involving” the Black ranchers. In an interview with Ark Republic, the sheriff’s communications director, Deborah Mynatt, said the Mallerys’ complaints were mostly trespassing and that they never filed a complaint regarding killed animals.

Many in Colorado expressed doubt about the accusations made by the couple who moved to the state from Texas in 2017. Others debated the accuracy of reports and called them “scammers.” On the other hand, some sprung into action to help one of the few Black farmers in the state once they found out about what was going on in the town of Yoder.

Food share events with Kaizen Food Rescue often service the immigrant communities in Denver. Colorado is a sanctuary state. Thai Nguyen is at the top left at a food share in 2020 in Edgewater. The large photo on the right is Nicole Mallery and Nguyen at a foodshare collaborative event on May 9, 2020 in Denver. Photo credit: Kaizen Food Rescue

When Nguyen received the petition, she said she became “activated” to do something. A fierce advocate for Black and brown farmers, who is aware of the challenges they face in the state, Nguyen is on a number of committees. Currently, she’s the policy chair for Mile High Farmers, and sits on the state’s farmer coalition. Plus, she works closely with Frontline Farming, a food and farmer advocacy group.

Along with forwarding the petition to people in her food justice and activist circles, Nguyen sent an email of concern to Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis (D). She then followed up with an attempted talk at a recent Lunar New Year celebration they both attended. She asked the Democratic leader, “Did you get my email?” In response, he politely left her inquiry unaddressed.

“The word is out [on] every level of the state,” assured Nguyen who surmises that officials are “sitting and waiting to see what the public view is on this.”

For Nguyen, it was the least she could do to reciprocate the Mallerys’ generosity because they volunteered their resources when the world fell to its knees.

In 2020, Nguyen met the Mallery’s at a food distribution event she co-facilitated with Pam Jiner, founder of GirlTrek and Montbello Walks. The pop-up took place in the Montbello district of Denver, a northeastern neighborhood in the city that is majority African American and Latino.

“They supported us at the height of the pandemic,” Nguyen recounted in gratitude. Never once meeting Nguyen, the Mallery’s took the almost two-hour drive to Denver “with . . . coolers full of [fresh] food … their meats and eggs.”

Immediately after arriving, they asked how they could help and jumped into passing out food to community members who were some of the most impacted by the growing food availability issues during the shutdown. “[Courtney and Nicole] were so fun, just really good people,” recalled Nguyen who said Nicole was “hilarious” and “the life” of the events. “It was such an honor working with kick-ass people.”

| Read: Get out. ‘I stood naked with my shotgun.’ Black ranchers say white residents terrorize their Colorado farm to push them off of their land

Altogether, the Mallerys’ donated to and volunteered at 18 food distribution pop-ups held by Kaizen Food Rescue and other organizations in 2020. During this time, they also entered agreements to provide meat and eggs to stores in Black communities that sold dated, substandard groceries. “I just wanted my people to have fresh, healthy, good food to eat,” explained Courtney, a Houstonian who watched his grandparents farm in Texas. 

According to the Mallery’s timetable, they were already experiencing racially motivated acts of aggression in the small town where they resided. All while they helped in Denver. They also maintained that they donated food where they lived during the pandemic. While they never said anything to Nguyen about their struggles, she commended them for their dedication because they volunteered until the ad hoc food distributions ended when funding ran out.

The Mallery case is a political oxymoron for Nguyen. Colorado is a sanctuary state hosting an influx of migratory peoples, but has allowed xenophobia to fester.

“We know that there’s racism in Colorado, I just never heard of it on that type of level . . . so we’re just trying to see what we can do,” said the Vietnamese-American activist. “Once you get outside of the cities in these small rural communities, it is very different.”

Land matters

When Pam Jiner heard of the Mallerys’ predicament, she was “pissed off” and “heart-broken” that this would “happen to a couple that nice and that giving,” but far from being shocked. “There is a lot that goes on in these smaller rural communities that you do not hear about,” said Jiner.

Denver, where Jiner lives, is about a one-and-half hour drive from Yoder, the town where Freedom Acres Ranch is located. El Paso County, Colorado is the largest county in the state, amassing a variety of municipalities from the urban terrain to expansive green spaces. Yoder, where the Mallerys live, is a rural section located in the eastern part of the county.

Before Yoder, the Mallerys lived in the Denver-metro area, found a church-home and volunteered in their community. Jiner’s relationship with the Mallerys’ started before the pandemic. She said they met around 2019, in the activist space. Both were picking up food to distribute at their community food pantry, when she discovered that like her, they hosted similar events. The connection was instant, so they struck up a conversation revealing the Mallerys’ also produced meat, eggs and other produce on their land. 

In subsequent talks, the couple expressed a more expansive goal to offer opportunities to burgeoning Black farmers. “They shared with me their vision . . . they wanted to buy land and have other Black people purchase [parcels] from them to live on it,” Jiner recalled. 

The Mallerys’ mission was to provide a template that offered Black people “freedom to own your property, to raise your own food, to raise your own fruits and vegetables, and to have your own schedule [and then] to be able to share … with your community.”  

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2017 census, the average age of a U.S. farmer is 57.5 years old. Being in their 40s, Courtney and Nicole are part of an ever-increasing group of younger people who want to farm. Whether they are new to the trade, or are several generations removed from growing, the uptick in agriculture interest in by communities of color increased during the global shut down. 

“We learned that living off of the land was ideal during the pandemic, especially for out here,” expressed Jiner. Unfortunately, land ownership often is the biggest hurdle for farmers of color, and especially Black agriculturalists.

Courtney and Nicole Mallery at a food share collaborative between Montbello Walks and Kaizen Food Rescue on May 9, 2020. The Mallerys donated 100 pounds of meat and 100 dozen eggs. Pam Jiner and Thai Nguyen are at the bottom center. The Mallerys are on the left. Photo credit: Montbello Walks.

Nguyen adds that there is a growing number of younger Black and brown people who are interested in farming, but experience grave disappointments in their pursuits. They go through internship programs like the Denver-based food advocacy organization, Frontline Farming. However, access is often a key stumbling block once they finish. “Everyone keeps talking about food sovereignty, but not backing it up with what’s needed for it.” 

Land is at the heart of Nguyen’s analysis. Historically and up until today, Black and brown farmers “would not get the type of loans” in comparison to white growers, explains Nguyen. “[Black and brown farmers] all want land access and water access, but there is so much barrier-entrance.”

While the Mallery family owns 1,000 acres, it was an uphill battle. Mrs. Mallery said they lost their first bid on some land. After they submitted an offer that was initially accepted, the owner rescinded when they discovered they were Black.

“Back when I met them, they would express how difficult it [was] to just file paperwork, ownership, land rights, and all the deeds and things to do,” Jiner told Ark Republic. “With the amount of land they have, I am sure that they ran into racism.I just heard about how bad it got [recently], and it is very disturbing.”

The Mallerys’ case has another layer of challenges due to the magnitude of land they own. Currently, they are one of few Blacks who own a significant amount of agricultural real estate. A 1997 USDA census showed 2,502 African Americans owning 1,000 or more acres of land. By 2012, the USDA could only document one Black-operated farm with a sole principal owner. If that person is still holding onto their property, the Mallerys’ would make one of two African Americans who own 1,000-plus acres of land in the nation.

Since Jiner learned of the Mallerys’ fight to save their ranch against what they describe as racialized terror, she has reached out to her extensive network. “We’re going to have to go out there and sit with them to let them know that we support them.”

Activists such as Nguyen and Jiner confirmed that advocates throughout the state have contacted a plethora of government, law enforcement, community and civic organizations to address what is alleged to be happening to the owners of Freedom Acres Ranch. The Sheriff’s department said that Courtney and Nicole Mallery have agreed to a private meeting with Sheriff Joseph Roybal.

This is part of the series “Get Out” which initially ran as a two-story narration about Black ranchers, Courtney and Nicole Mallery experiences in a predominantly white town in El Paso County, Colorado.

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

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  1. Rhishos disturbing on every level. I with this family the best and truly appreciate your reporting on the situation. We need as much awareness as possible.

  2. You should be commended for getting the story out and reporting, It is a shame you are not getting credited for your work and stolen from other newspapers and outlets which is disgusting, I first found out this story from your newspaper and was wondering why it wasnt national news, their little tricks to discredit your paper will not work, their mad because their racists and illegal activities are coming to light and the world will see so they can not get away with it like before, what is done in the dark always come to light, they was not expecting the Mallories to be such warriors but they were mistaken, these racists fear tactics are not working anymore, they are a dying breed and they know it.

  3. You should be commended for getting the story out and reporting, It is a shame you are not getting credited for your work and stolen from other newspapers and outlets which is disgusting, I first found out this story from your newspaper and was wondering why it wasnt national news, their little tricks to discredit your paper will not work, their mad because their racists and illegal activities are coming to light and the world will see so they can not get away with it like before, what is done in the dark always come to light, they was not expecting the Mallories to be such warriors but they were mistaken, these racists fear tactics are not working anymore, they are a dying breed and they know it. Black and brown farmers stay strong and show no fear.

  4. Don’t forget to claim your ill gotten gains on your taxes. Everyone knows the IRS are corrupt White Supremacist !

  5. Shivers you’re a blatant liar just like the Mallerys.

    You people are bloody ridiculous.

    “Another person who was unwelcomed entered their home while Nicole took a shower. ”

    LIE! Absolute LIE. The incident in question is ON VIDEO.

    (of course you’re censoring comments)

  6. Hey–Tell the Mallory family to start a Go Fund Me! I’m shocked that there isn’t one already.

    Let’s get their ranch paid off while we sort out the issues with the racists.

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