TELLING STORIES, CHANGING THE CONVERSATION

Soiled: Black farmers work to sustain livelihood and land

in Agriculture & Urban Farming by

40 Acres and a mule is nothing compared to what blacks have lost in farmland. In 1920, blacks made up 14 percent of farmers, today, only 1 percent, reports New York Times.

Through the years, land dispossession for black farmers has been disproportionately high, and has become even more difficult in a shrinking agricultural industry. Nonetheless, the holiday season is well underway, now consider picking food directly from farms or local farmer’s markets.

We Had the Land, They Had the Bible

Green grocer selling organic fresh agricultural product at farmer market

At one point, the main agriculturalists were blacks in the United States, a direct result of slavery. The symmetrically perfect rice fields in South Carolina, the sugar cane crops in Louisiana and the tobacco rows in Virginia were planned and harvested by Africans, and still exist today.

However, after Reconstruction and at the turn of the nineteenth century, the predominate work force in the rural South changed from black to Latino. Many properties abandoned not by choice, but as a result of fear or being forced out in a system of aggressive, often violent attempts by local whites to disenfranchise and control African Americans.

For seventy years, Blacks left the South during the Great Migration and moved from rural areas to the cities. Years later, they begin to discover that they inherited land, but a little too late.

To show the level of loss, a report states the following:

In 1910 at the peak of land acquisition, African American farmers owned 15 million acres of land; in 2002 just 1,500,000 acres of land was owned by only 16,560 African American farmers.

In order to curtail losses, The Emergency Land Fund (ELF) was established in 1972 by several black institutions. ELF was a direct response to news and government reports of rapid loss of land owned by African-Americans and the lack of resources or support to maintain farms.

Cynthia Hayes who heads Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network (SAAFON), an organization working to increase viability and economic success of Black farmers by increasing their organic and sustainable farm practices, focuses on black farmers because they, in comparison to any other group, disproportionately carry higher rates of land loss.

On one hand, the lack of government assistance and a discriminatory farming network is at the core. At the same time, one of the major issues is that the heirs inherited property from a relative who did not leave a will nor a plan on how the land should be used or heirs live away from the land and were not brought up in a farming culture.

Hayes says, says heirs’ lost farmland resulted in millions of acreages since the Great Migration.

According to researcher Joe Brooks, it was estimated that in Chicago alone, blacks were heirs to a billion dollar’s worth of abandoned land in the South, specifically Mississippi, and most did not know it.

For over two decades, Hayes works fervently in reducing loss of farmland owned by blacks. She works with black farmers in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and North Carolina; and advocates for them to receive fair market value and more opportunities to sell their produce.

Photo credit: Yair Mejia

Here is a list to help keep black farmers afloat and growing:

  1. Four organizations to donate:
    1. National Black Farmers Association,
    2. Southeastern African American Farmers Network
    3. African American Farmers of California
    4. Habesha Inc
  2. Volunteer time in harvesting, assessing needs, and the recovery process
  3. Get your university or school involved in sponsoring and advocating for farmers
  4. Purchase as much of your goods as possible from producers
  5. Provide legal services especially in the following areas: land preservation assistance and remediation services
  6. If you are in the medical field, provide healthcare to farmers as most do not have health insurance or are not near medical facilities
  7. Use social media and Internet skills to provide free media services
  8. Research and implementation services needed for farmers to know the various resources available
  9. Provide the following supplies: Seeds (untreated or organic only), Seedlings (untreated or organic only, compost, hoop houses, fruit trees), tractors, wood, nails
  10. Donate remediation equipment, first aid supplies, tillers, green houses, pole buildings
  11. Field trips to visit farms with family and pick the produce
  12. Encourage local stores to purchase from producers during this week
  13. Do community events around issues in agriculture
  14. Youth outreach and engagement to encourage more children of color to go into agriculture
  15. Host a farmers market
  16. Run stories in newspapers about agriculture
  17. Advocate for more services and programs that help increase the number of black producers
  18. Help create innovative ways that allow farmers to get their produce consumed by the larger communities, especially in the cities.
  19. Donate transportation services like drivers and refrigerated trucks
  20. Seek mentorship and plant knowledge from a black farmer because the average age is 63-years
  21. Create list of farmers markets where black farmers and/or growers are featured
  22. Join an urban growers network like the urban grower’s network
  23. Create a list of farms and distribute to friends.
  24. Grow your own (cannabis does count in states that are legal)
  25. Attend conferences like the annual Black Farmers & Urban Gardeners National Conference

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