A picture tells a thousand words.
What do the photos of small scale farmers, organic growers, sustainable farmers, and regenerative agriculture growers show us?
A sea of almost all white faces holding up their prized crops or hauling hay. Sure, once in a while we see a more colorful face, usually in an article about urban farming, but overall the face of farming in the USA is white. Over 95% of farmers are Caucasian (full disclosure, I am one of them and you can see me in the photo). Now, there is nothing wrong with white farmers, but why don't we see more diversity in this area?
Everyone has to eat so where are the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) that farm?
According to the 2017 USDA census there are:
- 32,910 Black or African American farmers
- 35,470 Black or African American alone or combination with other races farmers
- 15,826 Asian farmers
- 18,338 Asian alone or Asian with in combination with other races farmers
- 42,705 American Native or Alaskan Native farmers
- 60,083 American Native or Alaskan Native alone or in combination with other races farmers
- 2,537 Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Island farmers
- 4,341 Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Island alone or in combination with other races farmers
- For more see the 2017 USDA publication
In contrast there are 1,963,286 white farmers and 1,973,306 white alone or with combination of other races farmers.
Why is there such a disparity?
It hasn't always been like this. In 1920 there were 949,889 Black farmers. As of 2017 there were only 35,470 Black farmers. Where did they all go?
To answer this we need to ask ourselves some hard questions.
- Why are people of color so under represented in most areas of growing?
- What has been the historic mistreatment of BIPOC farmers and how did this contribute to their decline?
- Why don't BIPOC feel welcome in current small scale farming revolutions such as regenerative agriculture?
- Is there anything you or I can do or become aware of to help combat this problem? I think the more farmers the merrier and I would love to have more recruits to farming!
To address the problem you need to understand the problem. Start with a little research. I'm not going to tell you how to think about this issue but you might want to check out some interesting articles on it.
Here are some articles to read that address race and agriculture. I really recommend the article on John Boyd Jr. if you like to read about a small farmer taking on the government and then helping out his neighbors!
Does regenerative agriculture have a race problem? Is the regenerative agricultural movement a false narrative that fails to address racial inequality?
Read about John Boyd Jr., the great grandson of a slave and a 4th generational Virginia farmer. He raises soybeans and cattle on his 210 acre farm. In the 1990's Boyd took on the USDA and won the first ever discrimination suit against the agency.
He founded the National Black Farmers Association and eventually found justice for over 80,000 Black farmers. This man is an inspiration to farmers. He is still fighting and helping farmers today.
Susan Fluegel, PHD