Black farmers have a long history of discrimination from the government and white landowners that has caused them to lose ownership of property, face economic troubles, and experience food insecurity. One woman fought tirelessly to feed impoverished Black communities by establishing the Freedom Farm Cooperative in 1969.
Fannie Lou Hamer established the Freedom Farm Cooperative, an organization that gave land for the Black community to own and farm collectively, through a $10,000 donation from Measure for Measure. Growing up as an underprivileged sharecropper in Missouri, Hamer understood the hardships of being a minority farmer. Thus, she dedicated her work to help Black people in agriculture.
The United States Department of Agriculture practiced unfair, racially-biased methods that decimated the population of Black farmers. Racist policies, inflexible loan terms, and lack of Black representatives on committees broke the livelihood and economic stability within many Black communities.
Freedom Farm Cooperative was dedicated to grassroots participation. Hamer wanted to empower Black farmers and sharecroppers by creating an agricultural cooperative for farmers to combine their resources. With 40 acres of land, Hamer planted cash crops like soybeans and cotton to pay for taxes and administrative fees, and the co-op grew vegetables on the rest of the land.
Over the years, the co-op grew into a multi-functioning self-help program and expanded 640 acres for cultivation in 1970. The organization eventually began a “pig bank,” funded by the National Council of Negro Women, which offered free pigs to Black farmers to breed, raise, and slaughter.
Although the Freedom Farm Cooperative only lasted until the mid-1970s, the program helped many Black community members maintain their livelihood. Fannie Lou Hamer is known for many accomplishments, including co-founding the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged the local Democratic Party’s efforts to block Black participation and helped organize Freedom Summer, a volunteer campaign that brought hundreds of college students aid in African American voter registration in the south.
For more information on Hamer and the Freedom Farm Cooperative, click here.