What should happen to former slave plantations? It goes without saying that they shouldn’t be event spaces for lavish weddings and fraternity fêtes. They can be grounds for teaching the South’s brutal history, certainly. But a non-profit group in central North Carolina believes the land can do even more, and it’s showing how on a plantation once known as Snow Hill:

The property sat in disarray. Massive trees were strewn about like a giant’s abandoned pickup sticks. The only road in and out became a car-stalling mud bath after rain. A two-story stable and other outbuildings stood dangerously dilapidated or encircled by brambles.

Sellars didn’t mind — she was envisioning what the onetime plantation, founded in the late 1700s and operated well into the twentieth century, could be. A former social worker who had headed Durham County’s extension office, Sellars had spent nearly a decade managing programs that helped home gardeners and farmers grow sustainable produce. Now she imagined a farm, where people could raise their own food and she could establish an incubator for new and future farmers through the nonprofit UCAN, short for Urban Community AgriNomics, which the sisters had recently launched to encourage gardening and fight food insecurity. “I was giddy,” Sellars, who is sixty-nine, recalls. “It was gorgeous.”

Patterson — Sellars’s younger sibling by two years — saw something quite different: a nearly insurmountable cleanup job. “I looked at Delphine and said, ‘Have you bumped your head?’” UCAN had less than $300 in the bank. But they agreed on one point: They wanted land. And they’d have to persuade TLC to help them secure it.

Now the sisters are on the cusp of finally fully getting their wish — not just to lease the spread, as they have the past five years, but for their nonprofit to own and manage it, in a deal that could model for the national conservation movement how to easily redistribute land to Black institutions and individuals. In time, the sisters hope this seemingly radical move, which would be one of the nation’s largest transfers of land-conservancy property to an African American–led nonprofit, will spark other such organizations to let go of acreage they’ve stewarded, to boost land access among Black people in a country that’s benefited from their dispossession.