In celebration of Black History Month, we will highlight the contributions and impact African Americas have made in agriculture and shine a light on local Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs every week and beyond to show support for Black communities.
At the start of the 20th century, one in seven farmers in the United States was Black. However, in the decades that followed, Black Americans were dispossessed of an estimated 13 million acres of land. Many descendants of Black farmers moved north to seek jobs in other industries, removed from familial agricultural backgrounds.
Now, nearly 100 years later, people of color are leading a resurgence of interest in farming in the Northeast, and yet for these farmers, the barriers to starting a farm remain high. Between lending discrimination and rising costs, many obstacles stand in the way of Black Americans looking to own farmland.
As a result of years of racial discrimination, Black farmers face huge setbacks from The U.S. Department of Agriculture; Black Farmers have lost their land and resources. The most significant lawsuit against the USDA was from Black farmers. The class-action lawsuit, Pigford v. Glickman, alleged racial discrimination from the USDA in its allocation of farm loans and assistance from 1981 to 1996.
Although government payouts were disbursed to the claimants over several years, Black farmers are still heavily impacted by years of discrimination. To further support and protect Black farmers, the Justice for Black Farmers Act was proposed on Nov. 19, 2020, by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and is co-sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY). The bill strives to correct the historical racial discrimination within the USDA and empower current and new generations of Black farmers.
Although the bill is not expected to become law within the current congress, portions of the bill could be incorporated in other legislation, like the 2023 Farm Bill, according to American Farmland Trust.
Here are highlights of the proposed bill:
1. End Discrimination within the USDA
An independent civil rights oversight board will be created to review appeals of civil rights complaints filed against the USDA, investigate reports of discrimination, and provide oversight of Farm Service Agency County committees. The act puts reforms in place within Farm Service Agency County committees and the USDA Office of Civil Rights.
2. Protect Remaining Black Farmers from Land Loss
Funding will increase for the USDA relending program to resolve farmland ownership and succession issues as well as funding for pro bono assistance to Black farmers will also be provided. A new bank will be created to give financing and grants to Black farmers and rancher cooperative financial institutions. As well, the debt of Black farmers who filed claims in the Pigford litigation will be forgiven.
3. Restore the Land Base Lost by Black Farmers
A new Equitable Land Access Service will be created within the USDA to acquire farmland and provide land grants of up to 160 acres to existing and aspiring Black farmers. New Black farmers will have access to USDA operating loans and mortgages on favorable terms.
4. Create a Farm Conservation Corps
A USDA program will be developed for young adults from disadvantaged communities and provide them with academic, vocational, and social skills needed for farming and ranching. Participants will be paid by the USDA and be on-farm apprentices to new or disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
5. Empower Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Black Farmers Advocates
Historic resources will be provided to nonprofits who serve Black farmers to provide pro bono assistance in identifying land for USDA to purchase, offer land grants, and provide farmer training and other assistance. Black colleges and universities will also be able to expand agriculture research and courses.
6. Assist All Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers
Funding for USDA technical assistance and other programs, like the Conservation Stewardship Program and Rural Energy for America Program, will increase to benefit all socially disadvantaged farmers.
7. Enact System Reforms to Help Farmers and Ranchers
For existing Black farmers and the new Black farmers to have a real chance to succeed, broader reforms to our broken food system must be enacted. The Justice for Black Farmers Act substantially reforms and strengthens the Packers and Stockyards Act to stop abusive practices by big multinational meatpacking companies and protect all family farmers and ranchers.
To read the full text of the bill, please click here.