Being a small farmer is hard work, but discrimination makes it even harder. Black farmers are more likely to be denied USDA support and private bank loans. Racism has pushed Black farmers into debt and forced many to give up farming entirely. When these farms close, giant monopolies may reap profit from consolidation; however, most people in the community suffer. The loss of farms also leads to the loss of farmland, weakening of local economies, and disruption of supply chains. To ensure small farmers have the opportunity to continue, we need to create protections for Black, Indigenous, and people of color farmers.
Champion Farmer Equity & Justice for Black Farmers
The U.S. is built on a long history of disenfranchisement and land theft, which continues to have significant repercussions today. The legalized enslavement of Black people built the U.S. economy, and yet, with few exceptions, formerly enslaved people and their descendants have seen little of the country’s wealth. In fact, gains in land ownership by Black Southerners following the Civil War were erased over the following century, mostly through threats, violence, and systemic discrimination, including by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) itself. In 1910, Black farmers accounted for 20 percent of farmers; by 2017, that number had dropped to 1.3 percent. Black land ownership has plummeted by 98 percent in the last century, with most of the loss occurring not in the late 1800s, but just since the 1950s.
In the last few years, policy efforts have been introduced at the federal and state levels to address this long legacy of harm. The federal Justice for Black Farmers Act is a landmark proposal that would address access to land, training, credit, and much more for Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers, along with systemic changes to level the playing field for all farmers. State policymakers across the country have drawn on parts of this legislation to craft a variety of state-level reforms. Working toward restorative justice is important in all legislative decisions.
- Federal: Pass the Justice for Black Farmers Act, a bill that would establish a federal land grant program to create a new generation of Black farmers, expand access to credit, direct the USDA to end historic discrimination, and create systematic reforms to make farming a profitable opportunity.
In the historic American Rescue Act, congress recognized the long history of discrimination in USDA lending. Nearly $5 Billion was appropriated to forgive loans for BIPOC farmers, launch an equity commission and ramp up outreach to historically underserved communities. Unfortunately, conservative activist organizations have thus far blocked the implementation of debt forgiveness through litigation.
- State: The Partition of Heirs Property Act can be an important protection for Black landowners against a forced or predatory sale.
- State: Farmer equity legislation.
- State: Black farmer and Black land ownership restoration.
- Nineteen states have enacted the Partition of Heirs Property Act. Kentucky (2021 KY SB 43) is one of several other states considering passage.
- North Carolina (2021 NC SB 694) and South Carolina (2021 SC HB 3543) lawmakers have proposed legislation to restore agricultural land to Black farmers.
- Washington (2021 WA HB 1395) passed a law directing state agencies to ensure inclusion of historically underrepresented and socially disadvantaged farmers in programming.
- California (2019 CA AB 986) created a program to provide grants to socially disadvantaged farmers, including Native tribes, to acquire agricultural land.
- Maine passed a law (2021 ME HP 5) to ensure the inclusion of racial impact statements in the legislative process.
- Illinois (2021 IL HB 3089) lawmakers are considering a proposal to require that 20 percent of food purchased by state agencies be produced by socially disadvantaged farmers.