Sustaining Diverse Farms – How?

Kara and John on Tractor

Scholarship funding is available for African American farmers, their dependent children, and other African American students who plan to continue their education with a demonstrated interest in a farming or agriculture-related career. Why is this a big deal?

Farming is not the most popular career choice. It is difficult but crucial work in our society. It is even more difficult to sustain for minorities, including African American farmers.

Yet, we are all here because of a farmer – each and every one of us. We were born because our parents were fed by farmers. We grew because we ate food nurtured by farmers. We thrive as a society because of healthy, sustainable, and diverse practices by farmers. So why is diverse farming important? Is it really important to “see” color?

black and white squash pic

What do you think?

veg with squash blossom

Sometimes, differences are important. If you like to eat, you like diversity whether you think of it or not. What if we had to eat gruel every day, three times a day like they did in 18th century Victorian workhouses? Or what if everything tasted the same, no matter what shape it was? Sound yummy? No. So that’s settled. You like modern diversity! We have a wealth of flavor profiles and cultures to choose from when we are ready to fill our bellies. Of all of the items in the bowl above, only one species type actually came from the native area now known as the United States. Guess which.

The problem is that there just isn’t alot of diversity in small farms anymore.

Different people do things differently. We approach growing individually and value many varieties of produce from our respective cultures. So we all lose big when entire segments of our society are shut out, limited, or undersupported in endeavors so crucial to our existence as the growing of food. It is really that simple.

John Sr and Jr with tractor at Boyd Farms
Pictured – Dr.John Boyd (r) with father John Boyd Sr. (l)

What seems to be the problem? Consider a grave point from grist.org in their article, The Disturbing Lack of Black Organic Farmers:

In 1910, black farmers owned 15.6 million acres of farmland in the U.S.; by 1982, they owned just 3.1 million acres, and were recipients of only 1 percent of USDA farm loans. In an interview with Grist last year, John Boyd, a Virginia farmer and founder of the National Black Farmers Association, described discrimination in the ’80s: Loan applications were “torn up and put in the trash can,” and farmers “were spit on, they were humiliated, they were spoken [down to] by these racist agents.”

 

Oh.

See, here’s the issue. Like any other endeavor, farming is a business. In small business banking, one learns in depth that businesses have various growth cycles and life cycles. Access to capital and equitable loans are part and parcel of doing any business in our economy, but they are vital to small businesses like farms.

Unfortunately, minority farmers have gotten the shaft when it comes to funding their farms, as well as subsequent resources like access to educational programs, timely updates and deadlines for applications, equipment, tools of the trade, and subsidies for losses due to acts of nature or disasters. For instance, if the ground is too wet from floods or excess rains, some farms can file a claim and receive compensation for not being able to harvest. All of these things can cost money, and that money often requires approval of paperwork.

Here are the numbers from the 2012 USDA report on minority farms vs. all farms in the U.S.:

  • Total number of operators on farms nationally: 3,180,074
  • Total number of farms nationally:                          2,109,303
  • Total national farmland acreage:                      914,527,657
  • Size of each farm – national average:                            434
  • Average government payout to farms nationally:  $9,925.oo

Analyzing mainly the funding issue, it is clear that USDA payments were irrationally parsimonious to specific minority or ethnic groups, as recently as 2012.

All minority-operated farms received less on average, but some signficantly less.

  • Women operators received $6329.00
  • Latino operators received $9670.00
  • American Indian or Alaska Natives received $6698.00
  • Asian operators received $9490.00
  • Native Hawaian and Pacific Islanders received $9,111.00
  • Black or African American farms received the least funding of all ethnic/minority groups: $5,509.00

Black or African American farms also held the smallest acreage amounts of all farms on average, with a paltry 125 acres per farm, compared to the national average of 434 acres per farm.

But are minorities really discriminated against? Do they really lack access to information, or is it just the fact that their numbers are smaller? Let’s look at similar factors per farm.

White or Caucasian principal operators received more than the national average government funding each, at $10,023.00 per farm on average. They also held onto more of their farm acreage with a whopping 424 acres per farm on average next to the national figure of 434 acres.

Considering that many farms are multi-generational, there has clearly been a difference in funding, education, resources, and legal structure/support  to protect minority farms for the last few generations, as recently as 2012. These profiles were released online by the USDA as late as August of 2014.

Justin Simmons with John and Kara
Dr. John Boyd and wife Kara Boyd of NBFA with 2015 Scholarship Recipient Justin Walker

We must consider that everyone wants to make a productive living doing what they love with dignity, appropriate education, and the tools to be successful. This is a fundamental human right of every being on earth, but especially so of every American.

Dr. John Boyd is a 4th-generation farmer in Virginia, and president of the National Black Farmer’s Association (NBFA). He has been working for over two decades now to see equal access, funding, and social justice for diversity farmers. He and wife Kara Brewer Boyd work tirelessly with policymakers, civil servants, and political figures to see sustainable equality for African American and minority farmers. See video The Color of Land for more on Dr. Boyd and his fight for black farmers in the face of landloss.

I talked with Kara and learned a bit more about their background:

H: “Tell me more about where you come from, and what makes you so passionate about minority farming.”

Kara: “As a young girl, I worked in the tobacco fields and on the family farms of my great uncles to help them. I have always loved growing food and raising animals.”

H: So then, “specifically, what got you into working with NBFA, American Indian Farming, and Women’s Farming?”

Kara: “As a long time social justice advocate, it seems that I have come full circle and returned to the fields to help farm families while protecting Mother Earth. The NBFA provides outreach and technical assistance to encourage and support new, beginning, and experienced farmers. We work in collaboration with our sister organizations – Association of American Indian Farmers and National Womens Farming Association.

The NBFA Scholarship program has been a long-time goal of Dr. Boyd. He wants to help Black farmers gain access to educational opportunities that will further the advancement of family farm operations as students (undergraduate and graduate) pursue ag-related degrees.”

 

Their goal is to be a community organization that is “culturally sensitive to minorities, promotes agriculture, identifies gaps in services and resource allocations, and commits to initiating and providing culturally proficient programs.”

Kristen Stigger with John and Kara
The Boyds with 2015 NBFA Scholarship Recipient Kristen Stigger

Funding is of extreme importance for those looking to pursue education in agriculture. Farm scholarships are not always plentiful. It is heartbreaking to see minority farmers struggling at market stalls next to better-educated individuals because they did not have the same access to funding, education, and development. Yet, it is lower-income minorities in the same communities who need to see that farm-fresh, healthy foods are accessible, and not just part of a cultural or economic divide.

Michael Deion Coleman NBFA presenter
Michael Deion Coleman – 2015 NBFA Scholarship Presenter with Family

US Ag.net discussed the 2015 scholarship program and winners. “Empowering young people with access to knowledge is transformational,” said Lesley Slavitt, head of civic engagement — external affairs, FCA US LLC. “Supporting entry to higher education will ensure that these future leaders galvanize the tools, skills and passion necessary to make meaningful change in the world and provide access to food security for generations.”

Apply below or share this wonderful opportunity at equal access and community development:

FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) Foundation and the National Black Farmers Association have established a scholarship program to assist African American farmers, their dependent children and other African American students who plan to continue their education in college or vocational school programs….

100 applications will be accepted. https://scholarsapply.org/blackfarmersassociation/

The application site will close on May 2, 2016, or when 100 applications have been received, whichever occurs first.

Writer: Hadassah Patterson

 

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