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WHERE ARE THE BLACK FARMERS?

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Many years ago, while driving down the road, I observed a bumper sticker on a pick-up truck.  It read, “No Farmers, No Food”.  The single moment became very thought provoking, as I missed my turns thinking about it.  No farmers mean no farmland.  No farmland means no food, less food, or more expensive food.  Many of these new real estate developments, or commercial zones were once vast acreages of farmland.  I often thought about the lack of fresh produce in the Black community and its effects, both directly and indirectly.  Low earning farmers often opted for lucrative land sales to developers.  The Black farmers who have managed to hold on to their farms eke out a living today. They make less than $40,000 annually, compared with over $190,000 by white farmers, which is probably because their average acreage is about one-quarter that of white farmers. (Sewell, 2019) 

 

Fast forward to the present.  House of Otem, LLC and its media website, houseofotem.com, promotes all aspects of Black culture, and life.  The company planned to host a farmer’s market to promote local businesses, while bringing healthy options to the surrounding Black communities, with priority given to Black farmers.  The search for an available Black owned farm led to some disappointing revelations.

In 2017, the United States had 48,697 producers who identified as black, either alone or in combination with another race. They accounted for 1.4 percent of the country’s 3.4 million producers, and they lived and farmed primarily in southeastern and mid-Atlantic states. Black producers were older and more likely to have served, or to be serving in the military than U.S. producers overall. Their farms were smaller, and the value of their agriculture sales was less than 1 percent of the U.S. total. (United States Department of Agriculture, 2019)

 

In 1910, rural African American farm families held between 16 million and 19 million acres of farmland, but the latest Census of Agriculture shows the amount of land held by African American farmers with active farms has dropped to just over 2.5 million acres. (Simpson, 2019)

According to the Department of Agriculture, 12 states accounted for 88% of Black producers.  These top states for Black producers are Texas (11,741), Mississippi (7,028), Alabama (4,208), Louisiana (3,222), Georgia (2,870), S. Carolina (2,634), Florida (2,448), N. Carolina (2,099), Oklahoma (2,074), Virginia (1,767), Arkansas (1,525), and Tennessee (1,422).  In Texas, Black producers were 3 percent of the state’s total producers. Black producers made up a larger share of total producers in Mississippi (13 percent), Louisiana (7 percent), South Carolina (7 percent), Alabama (6 percent), and Georgia (4 percent).

According to the Agriculture report, Black-operated farms, which account for only 0.5 percent of the total farmland in the U.S., sold $1.4 billion in agricultural products in 2017.  These farms only accounted for 0.4 percent of total U.S. agriculture sales, livestock and produce.  Regarding farm ownership, 67 percent of Black-operated farms were operated by farmers who own all the land they farm, 9 percent by farmers who rent all the land.

 

In 1920, there were 949,889 Black farmers. Today, only 45,508 are Black, according to recent figures from the US Department of Agriculture.  That is a measly 0.52 percent of America’s farmland as compared to white farmers calculated at 95 percent.  Although the trend appears to be changing for the better, the disparities seem insurmountable.  Black Farmers groups have popped up on popular social media platforms such as Facebook and has gained large memberships.  There is support for Black farmers.  The non-profit organization, National Black Farmers Association represent Black Farmers and Families Across the United States.  According to its website, the National Black Farmers Association’s education and advocacy efforts have been focused on civil rights, land retention, access to public and private loans, education and agricultural training, and rural economic development for Black and other small farmers.

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References:


Sewell, S. (2019, April 29). There were nearly a million black farmers in 1920. Why have they disappeared? Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/29/why-have-americas-black-farmers-disappeared


Simpson, A. (2019, June 18). New Laws Help Rural Black Families Fight for Their Land. Retrieved from Pewtrusts.org: https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2019/06/18/new-laws-help-rural-black-families-fight-for-their-land
 

United States Department of Agriculture. (2019, October). Black Farmers. Retrieved from 2017 Census of Agriculture: https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/Highlights/2019/2017Census_Black_Producers.pdf#:~:text=In%202017%2C%20the%20United%20States%20had%2048%2C697%20producers,and%20farmed%20primarily%20in%20southeastern%20and%20mid-Atlantic%20states.