“The number of black farmers in America peaked in 1920, when there were 949,889. Today, of the country’s 3.4 million total farmers, only 1.3%, or 45,508, are black, according to new figures from the US Department of Agriculture released [April 2019]. They own a mere 0.52% of America’s farmland. By comparison, 95% of US farmers are white.”
This article, published in The Guardian April 29, 2019 and written by Summer Sewell, shares the history of the land and the story of the life of John Boyd Jr., victor of the first-ever discrimination law suit against the USDA in 1997.
“The successful investigation on Boyd’s behalf prompted other black farmers to come forward with their stories, and in 1995 Boyd founded the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) after meeting with many black farmers and hearing similar USDA experiences.”
Inequality ensues today:
“The NBFA grant recipient Michael Coleman, 25, runs 14 head of cattle in Mississippi and majors in animal science at Alcorn State University, a historically black school. “These white cattle farmers are so much ahead of us it’s like we’re playing catch-up. They already know how to get the grant money, they already have old money,” Coleman says. “I mean, my dad was a sharecropper who worked 40 years in a factory 12 hours a day. Growing up, my father didn’t know about these programs.” Nearly half of all black-owned farms are cattle operations, but with so few black farmers overall, the crowds at livestock markets are mostly white. “I haven’t been called out my name,” he says, using slang for a racial slur, “but I’m not too sure how they treat or price the animals once they figure out you’re a black farmer,” Coleman says.”
Taking Action to Support Black-led Organizations on the Land
How do we engage the energy of this moment? Steeped in historical, legal and social disenfranchisement, the ongoing violence against black lives calls for long term, place-based and collaborative work. What would it look like to be in solidarity with all life? What would it look like to reimagine the commons*?
We need a “commoning” of privilege and wealth, a systemic transformation that counters the great “uncommoning” of schools, land, security, and resources that have shaped America’s historical looting. Let us build equity and make reparations through redesigning the food system and land arrangements whose roots are racist, colonial, and capitalist.
This work can take the form of securing land tenure for black farmers in rural spaces and in urban food apartheid; it can take the form of policies that create healthy, equitable food systems for both farmworkers and the land; it can happen with dismantling the mass incarceration system. Whatever form it takes, success depends on the generosity of those with access to capital and privilege to use their proximity to institutions of power for the rebirth of a new commons.
This calls for great organizational acuity and lots of work – work that is already being done by Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and POC farmers, organizations, and institutions. Below we have highlighted some of the many outstanding organizations doing this work with links to support them directly, along with resources for education and sharing. This list is in no way comprehensive, and we encourage you to comment below with any other organizations that are doing this work.
* “The commons” is a multilayered theoretical concept. Within the boundaries of the commons are physical land and waters, resources, public goods, structures of governance, culture, and knowledge and theory. While the commons can simply be imagined as shared resources, they have also come to represent a framework for thinking about ideologies, community, sustainability, and governance.
P.S. We’re building out a new website with updated blog and resource sections – how can we continue this conversation and make information sharing more useful to you? What do you want to see?
Black Family Land Trust The Black Family Land Trust, Inc. (BFLT) incorporated in 2004 and based in North Carolina, is one of the nation’s only conservation land trust dedicated to the preservation and protection of African-American and other historically underserved landowners assets.
Black Farmer Fund The Black Farmer Fund supports black farmers by increasing access to capital, supporting business ownership, supporting economic democracy, and creating social and cultural changes to support black sovereignty within the food and farm economy.
Earthseed Land Cooperative Formally established in 2012 by a group of black and brown farmers and social justice organizers. Over the past decade, they have sought to establish a stable land base for their families and an equally grounded, self-sustaining, and welcoming hub for community building, particularly among farmers of color and food justice advocates, in Durham, North Carolina.
Farms to Grow Farms to Grow, Inc is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to working with Black farmers and underserved sustainable farmers around the country. Farms To Grow, Inc. is committed to sustainable farming and innovative agriculture practices which preserve the cultural and biological diversity, the agroecological balance of the local environment.
Land Loss Prevention Projec LLPP is a non-profit public interest group that has been working for almost 40 years to curtail the epidemic loss of black-owned land in North Carolina. They provide planning and legal support, succession planning, and fight legal takings of black-owned land. LLPP helps farmers function under the weight of debt and market fluctuations, while supporting sustainable ecological and economic practices.
New Communities Land Trus New Communities Land Trust is a 501(c)(4) that began as a 5700-acre farm collective, and is widely recognized as the original model for community land trusts in the United States, and has been protecting communities of color in Georgia at a grassroots level for over 40 years, working for the better of human communities, wildlife habitat, and racial justice.
Planting Justice Planting Justice is a grassroots organization with a mission to empower people impacted by mass incarceration and other social inequities with the skills and resources to cultivate food sovereignty, economic justice, and community healing. Since 2009 Planting Justice has built over 450 edible permaculture gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area, worked with five high-schools to develop food justice curricula and created 40 green jobs in the food justice movement for folks transitioning from prison.
Soul Fire Farm Soul Fire Farm is a BIPOC*-centered community farm committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system. We raise and distribute life-giving food as a means to end food apartheid. With deep reverence for the land and wisdom of our ancestors, we work to reclaim our collective right to belong to the earth and to have agency in the food system. We bring diverse communities together on this healing land to share skills on sustainable agriculture, natural building, spiritual activism, health, and environmental justice. We are training the next generation of activist-farmers and strengthening the movements for food sovereignty and community self-determination. Soul Fire’s Founder, Leah Penniman, is also the author of Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land.
Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network (SAAFON) is a nonprofit based in Atlanta, GA. We are a network of Black farmers in the Southeastern United States who are committed to culturally relevant, ancestrally guided, and ecologically sustainable agricultural-based living. SAAFON’s higher calling is to seek the liberation and empowerment of Black people through agricultural, food, and land-based strategies. We promote agricultural production and land management practices that are rooted in indigenous ways of knowing that span geographies, space and time. We recognize, honor and uplift the ways of our ancestors and ask for their guidance as we show how Black agrarianism offers solutions to some of the most pressing challenges of our communities. The SAAFON network allows our members to connect with like-minded farmers, to build collective power in order to achieve our visions of land-based success, and to model alternative ways of living in the 21st century.
Huge gratitude to the National Family Farm Coalition, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, WhyHunger, FarmAid, the HEAL Food Alliance and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy for putting together these policy recommendations responding to the $2 trillion Senate stimulus bill.
These coalitions are concerned that the stimulus bill “and other existing proposals have too few protections for working families, too many corporate bailouts, and limited language on supporting food producers and food workers through this crisis.”
Their message to congress emphasiezs that “farmers, ranchers, and fishermen need (to name a few) emergency payments, debt relief, access to zero interest credit, and support to adapt their markets and distribution, and that these short-term provisions should be linked to systemic reforms. Farm, fish and food workers should also receive a range of protections including unemployment assistance, paid sick leave and access to healthcare.”
The policy recommendations are organized by three headers: (1) ENSURE A FAIR LIVELIHOOD FOR FARMERS, RANCHERS, FISHERMEN AND ALL FARM, FISH AND FOOD WORKERS, (2) BOLSTER LOCAL & REGIONAL FOOD SYSTEMS POISED TO FEED COMMUNITIES, and (3) ENACT SYSTEMIC REFORM TO BUILD RESILIENCE FOR ALL FOOD PRODUCERS, WORKERS AND EATERS.
SHARE THESE RECOMMENDATIONS WITH YOUR CONGRESS MEMBERS AND NETWORKS! Copy & paste below:
Dear ____________, Thank you for your hard work during this crisis. While some of the proposed measures in the existing stimulus packages will help to boost the economy and provide some aid to households and industries, they fall short with respect to protections for food producers and workers. Several leading organizations, including NAMA, the National Family Farm Coalition, WhyHunger, FarmAid, the HEAL Food Alliance and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy came together to address the issues that producers and workers are currently facing. Attached are policy recommendations for a stimulus package to support the food system. They include measures to:
Protect the livelihoods of food producers and workers
Bolster local & regional food systems that are poised to feed communities, and
Create systemic changes that build resilience of food producers, workers and eaters
Thanks for your consideration and please let me know if you have any questions. Sincerely, ___________________
“Fundamental change in America’s agricultural and rural policies is no longer just an option; it’s an absolute necessity. With the right support and policies, we can have rural communities that are thriving economically and ecologically.”
Major policy developments are being called for on three fronts: (1) Policies Leveling the Playing Field for Farmers and Farmworkers, (2) Policies to Empower Farmers, Foresters & Ranchers to Address Climate Change and Protect Ecosystems, and (3) Policies to Foster Investment to Revitalize Rural Communities. Yes, yes and yes!!
Reliable sources say that the DARK Act will soon be up for another vote.
Last time, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) didn’t have the votes to pass his bill to take away states’ rights to label GMOs. Many of those who voted against the bill were pro-GMO Senators who take campaign contributions (and their talking points) from companies like Monsanto. But realizing they would take a lot of heat from their constituents, they voted no in the hope that a more palatable “compromise” bill might come along.
The Senators who voted against the DARK Act last time could easily flip their votes to support a “compromise” (capitulation) to block Vermont’s law and replace it with a weak federal standard, because of—what else?—pressure from the big corporations who profit from toxic pesticides and GMO foods.
Susan A. Schneider
Professor of Law and Director, LL.M. in Agricultural & Food Law
University of Arkansas School of Law
The New York Times published an article last week titled, U.S. Opens Spigot After Farmers Claim Discrimination. I read the article with interest, as I have been teaching advanced law classes in Agricultural Finance & Credit for many years in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law. I teach a unit on USDA discrimination each year in my class.
Discrimination in the delivery of USDA programs is a painful and complex subject. I was alarmed to see errors, omissions, and misleading references in the Times article. I am very disappointed that the author appeared more interested in producing a salacious story than in treating the issue with the respect and depth that it deserved. I offer corrections and additional information. (more…)