Economic policy reform is a strong area of opportunity for Black farmers.
Under the umbrella of the agricultural community the experience of Black farmers are the same yet uniquely different. In the first place, Black farmers in states where their numbers are far and few in between have had issues acquiring funding from the US Department of Agriculture-Farm Service Agency.
Some black farmers believe that the lack of funding is due to a form of redlining within the organizations. Others believe the lack of funding has nothing to do with race but rather the amount of land one has. Ark Republic had a chance to chat with farmers on the west coast, the Midwest and the south to get a closer look at what’s going on behind the scenes of the Black farmer landscape.
Infrastructure and the allocation of funding are critical to Black farmers across the board whether they’re just beginning or have been farming for a long time. It’s no secret that the number of black farmers in the United States is significantly low. Black Farmers Index reports that there were about 45,000 Black farmers in the United States as of 2017.
“Black farmers are like non-existent in this region,” says Iris Lee, Owner and Operator at Lee Hemp Farms, the first social equity hemp farm in the state of Wisconsin. A resident of the town of Burlington, Lee recounts being reminded repeatedly to let her neighboring farmers know if she wants to sell her land.
“My current neighbor has monopolized all of the land for farming,” says Lee. “I keep hearing my late father’s voice saying just keep it.”
Aside from being pressured to sell her land, Lee has run into issues with the USDA and the FSA. “I qualified for a lot of farming programs for socially disadvantaged people but…it depends on who you know and what you know,” says Lee, as she expresses how important it is for her to leave the farm behind for her children.
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Black Enterprise reports that the USDA has a long track record of marginalizing farmers of color by increasing tax sales, taking possession of land through eminent domain, delaying loans as well as denying them crop disaster relief funds. As per Black Enterprise, the black farmer population decreased by nearly 100 percent in the 1900’s.
Although states where the number of Black farmers are low, reek of the remnants of gentrification and segregation, Patrick Brown, a fourth generation farmer and owner of the Brown Family Farm, established in 1865, says it has less to do with race and more about acreage. Brown recounts his father’s experience. “If you farmed over 500 acres or more those big farmers were able to get more federal or state subsidies . . . if you farmed less than 100 acres of land, those were the farmers that pretty much received the pennies,” says Brown.
Brown goes on to explain that farmers with smaller amounts of land received the worst seeds. It was common for farmers with small amounts of acres to receive seeds or soy beans at a germination rate of 62 percent while a 500 acre farmer would receive a seed at 98 percent germination rate. “That’s the kind of discrimination that was going on at that time and is still going on to this day,” says Brown.
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The North Carolina Tobacco Buyout by the Golden Leaf foundation of North Carolina is what caused his father to retire. “A lot of small farms less than 100 acres sued the organization and the state,” says Brown. The state hired the North Carolina Golden Leaf Foundation to disburse funds for farmers so they couldn’t grow tobacco anymore according to Brown.
“We pretty much just got enough money to pay off the debt tied to the farm.” Since then the farm has been debt free. “And that’s how I like to keep it,” says Brown. Federal government assistance loans through the USDA, the farm bureau or farm credit are high risk because it uses the land as collateral. “If you default on those loans you have a higher chance of losing the land so I don’t participate in those types of programs.”
But for Juanita Chavarria, owner of Baby Chavs, an emerging urban farm that cultivates microgreens and herbs, farming without the aid of a loan makes business extremely difficult. “If you don’t get a loan it’s hard for you to kind of pull yourself up by the bootstraps,” says Chavarria.
Her ultimate goal is to expand the operation of her farm by supplying eggs, duck meat in addition to microgreens by April 2021 but she has found difficulty financing licenses. As per Chavarria you need a license to start selling eggs and licensing for processing meat. “I’ve been dropping hundreds of dollars for licenses,” says Chavarria.
Fortunately, there are alternative ways of acquiring funding for farming. Patrick Brown of Brown Family Farms is paying it forward by offering consultation services that help minority farmers to acquire land, create land, add value to the land they already have as well as educate them about air property.
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