February 6, 2017
Black Farmers are Taking Back their Place in America
The first week of black history month comes to a close. Though the pandering of the new admisitration’s approach to this commemorative month is directly at odds with the voices of the BLM protesters throughout the country and the voices of politicians continue to drown out the lived experiences of black and brown citizens in this country over the years, there is progress to celebrate. Little by little, and with the rise in popularity of the local and organic food movements, black farmers are taking back their place on America’s farmland.
Since the beginning of African American land ownership in 1865, the effects of discriminatory lending practices by the USDA (culminating in this 1990 class action suit), lack of opportunity and community support and the heir property ownership system severely limited access to land for Black Farmers around the country and particularly in the south. African Americans and their families fled rural areas for urban centers like Detroit, Chicago and New York for decades, culminating in the lowest number of black farmers on record in 1992 with 20,000. But in the 2012 the numbers of black farmers in America 44,629. These increases in 2012 represent steady increases that have continued on to the present.
In addition, farms with a black principle operator are more likely to be small to medium farms with 86% of black-operated farms being under 180 acres. This along with the alliance with the co-op system demonstrates the rising tide of Black farmers as drivers in the small farms and community agriculture movements. Organic and sustainable agriculture offer new direct markets and better profit margins for the new farmers entering the ranks as well. Important USDA programs such as the 2501 Program provide grants for land purchase or operating costs for farmers of color. While the agricultural sector has miles to go before our farmers reflect all the people they serve, these trends show that the role of the black farmer is growing in the small and sustainable farming sectors. Black Agrarianism is regaining the ground lost during years of discrimination and prejudice and that ground is being tilled with sustainability and local food in mind.