Justice for Black Farmers Act introduced in Congress

National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), Rural Coalition and Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund applauded the introduction of the Justice for Black Farmers Act in the Senate Thursday, November 19, 2020 by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
The landmark bill provides long-overdue measures to support Black farmers and other socially disadvantaged producers who have faced discrimination and disenfranchisement, often from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) itself. In a sweeping initiative to restore farmland to the Black community following centuries of land theft, the bill establishes a program of land grants of up to 160 acres to eligible individuals, along with training programs and apprenticeships. The bill also makes structural reforms within USDA, expands funding to a variety of agricultural programs, and protects contract livestock farmers from abuse by meatpacking companies.
Monica Rainge, Director of Land Retention and Advocacy of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund and NFFC Treasurer, said, “The Justice for Black Farmers Act would make real strides in correcting many of the wrongs that Black farming communities have faced for centuries. Growing the number of Black farmers and landowners through land grants, training, and credit will strengthen all of our communities.”
NFFC President and retired Wisconsin dairy farmer Jim Goodman said, “National Family Farm Coalition and our member organizations have worked for decades to address structural inequities and systemic racism that have, in many cases, made it impossible for Black farmers to maintain ownership of their land, or in the case of beginning farmers, to gain access to land. The wide-reaching measures of this new bill from Senators Booker and Warren will provide long-overdue equity and justice for Black farmers.”
Lorette Picciano, Executive Director of the Rural Coalition stated,”This is a strong proposal to redress the decades of historic discrimination and neglect by USDA agencies, commercial lenders and others against Black farmers. The Rural Coalition has been engaged in moving forward these issues on behalf of all people of color farmers and family farmers in general since 1985. We see passage of this legislation as an extension and intensification of work over the years to promote outreach, education, set-asides and other measures in Farm Bills to serve farmers who have faced racial discrimination at the hands of USDA.”
According to the 2017 Ag Census, 3.4 million U.S. farmers, only 1.3%, or 45,500, are Black, down from a peak of nearly one million in 1920. Black farmers own just one-half of one percent of U.S. farmland, and make an average of $40,000 annually. Following a brief period of post-Civil War Reconstruction and Black landownership, a white supremacist campaign of land grabs and terrorism towards Black farmers and landowners across the South drove many off of land and out of the region. In this context, the trend of corporations increasingly buying up U.S. farmland since the 2008 financial crisis, particularly in regions such as the Mississippi Delta, presents additional land access barriers for new and beginning farmers of color. As U.S. land consolidation continues, NFFC has been a vocal critic of corporate farmland ownership and long called for legislative efforts to keep land in the hands of family-scale producers.
NFFC board member Savi Horne, Executive Director of the Land Loss Prevention Project, said, “This comprehensive legislation addresses many levels of obstacles faced by Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers. From introducing large-scale programs like land grants to Black farmers to meaningful reforms clarifying important heirs property provisions, the bill levels the playing field to diversify and strengthen the farming sector and our rural communities.”
The Justice for Black Farmers Act has five components:
• USDA civil rights reforms. Establishes an independent board to oversee civil rights at USDA and an equity commission to investigate USDA’s legacy of discrimination.
• Public land grants to Black farmers. Grants 20,000 160-acre plots to eligible individuals annually from 2021 to 2031. A Farm Conservation Corps will be established to train young people from socially disadvantaged groups in agricultural skills and apprentice with socially disadvantaged, beginning, and organic farmers and ranchers.
• Increased funding for historically Black colleges and universities. Provides $500 million per year to support agricultural study as well as research on regenerative agriculture and market opportunities for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
• Land retention protections and credit assistance. Establishes further safeguards to keep minority farmers on their land, and expands access to credit and a pandemic foreclosure moratorium.
• Reforms to USDA and the farm system. These include common-sense provisions to protect contract livestock growers from unfair practices by meatpacking companies; increased funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program; and expansion of conservation and rural energy programs to help farmers and ranchers adopt new practices and respond to climate change.
More detailed information on the legislation is available from Senator Cory Booker’s office and the organizations listed in the story.

Federation honors memory of Ralph Paige at 51st Annual Meeting

Pictured above are members of the Paige family including wife Bernice, children Bernard and Kenyatta, and grandchildren on stage with Federation Executive Director, Cornelius Blanding and members of the organization’s Board of Directors. Cornelius Blanding discusses plans for cooperative development curriculum with President Quentin Ross of Alabama State University. The Rural Coalition presents a certificate to the Federation for its 50th anniversary. L to R Shirley Blakley, Chair of Federation Board, Lorette Picciano, Rural Coalition, John Zippert, Rural Coalition Board, Darnella Burkett Winston, Rural Coalition Board, Cornelius Blanding, Federation Executive Director.

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund honored the memory of its longtime Executive Director, Ralph Paige, who served for thirty yeas from 1985-2015. He was awarded its Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday night in Birmingham at the beginning of the organization’s 51st Annual Meeting. Several speakers at the Witherspoon Award banquet celebrated Ralph Paige’s 46 years of work and service to the movement for Black farmers, land and cooperative development that symbolized the work of the Federation. Paige died recently at the age of 74. The Federation’s Board of Directors met Thursday in Birmingham to review the program direction and finances of the organization. Two Roundtables one on Cooperative Development and one on Land Retention were also held in Birmingham. Quentin Ross, President of Alabama State University in Montgomery spoke at the Cooperative Roundtable of working with the Federation on developing a cooperative education curriculum for the students at ASU including internships with Federation member cooperatives and credit unions. The Federation has developed and is in the process of implementing a similar program with Tuskegee University. On Friday and Saturday the site of the meeting shifted to the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center, near Epes, in Sumter County, Alabama. Friday’s program began with a panel of USDA program experts who both presented about their programs and answered questions from the audience of farmers and landowners. There was a lively interchange of views between USDA officials and their farmer stakeholders on issues of agricultural tariffs, program eligibility, focusing resources on new and beginning farmers and other relevant issues. State Senator Hank Sanders of Selma was the lunchtime speaker and among other remarks, he introduced his daughter, Malika Sanders Fortier, who is running to fill his position as State Senator for District 24 in the November 6 General Election. Several members of Federation related cooperatives gave five-minute testimonials on their experience working with the Federation and how it helped to improve their family income and quality of life. There were more educational workshops, demonstration farm and forestry tours and a fish fry, food tasting, auction and entertainment to close out the Friday activities. The program on Saturday began with a Prayer Breakfast at which Rev. Wendell Paris, a past staff member, spoke to the importance of the work of the Federation and the “sacred ground” that the Federation’s training center was built upon. A business meeting, report from the Board and Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director, state caucus discussions on program needs and direction, and the awarding of five $1,000 scholarships to high school graduates for their first year of college rounded out the program.