American farmers represent less than 3% of the population, and less than 2% of American farmers are black. There are many factors that contribute to the decline of black farming careers, including the general decrease in farming jobs, the black community’s historical relationship with raising crops, and poverty that forces the sale of farmland. Post the civil war, black farm ownership peaked at 15 million acres of land by 1920. During this period, there were 926,000 black farmers spanning various regions in the country, and fewer than 10,000 were in the south. Unfortunately, fewer than 20,000, or 1% of all farmers, were black by 1997, and black farmland ownership had decreased to two million acres.
What happened? Well, the answer is complicated. For one, the USDA decreased black farmers’ loans, forcing them to miss planting opportunities, and denied them equipment grants along with other subsidies that were readily available to white farmers. While white farmers were able to grow their farms and business, black farmers were suffering from discrimination. As the rule of farming often reflects more land equaling larger profits, these unfair lending practices limited the survival of black farmers, forcing most to sell their land and choose another profession.
But there’s good news: recently, black farmers won a 1.25 billion lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While this money will provide some compensation to elderly black farmers, it still doesn’t address the disinterest of younger generations. As the technology industry has boomed and other jobs become available, it’s rare that you meet a black student that expresses a desire to go into farming. For one, the black community has experienced a tumultuous relationship with toiling land from the years of slavery. As we were held in bondage, mistreated, and then taken advantage of as sharecroppers post-slavery, our history certainly isn’t inspiring black youth to considering farming as a rewarding profession. Then, tack on contemporary discrimination practices and black farmer lawsuits. Selling a career in farming to a vibrant young person is like selling a lemon car to a knowledgeable customer.
Regardless, the dying out of black farmers is not good news as land ownership is attached to the profession. The more black farms that close their doors and sell their property to construction companies, the greater the loss of wealth for the black community. In addition, there are all sorts of politics surrounding food production and the health consequences of black food choices. If the proper infrastructure were set up, black farmers could assist in raising fresh organic crops and distributing them to the urban communities that need them most. For one, a stronger distribution network would keep black farmers in business and preserve landownership while shrinking the popularity of food deserts in urban neighborhoods. It’s unfortunate that the black farmer is near extinction. But unless we implement innovative business strategies to keep them in business, they’ll continue to be an endangered species.
The Disappearing Farmer from Brooke Minters on Vimeo.
My dad was borned in 1928 and was able to have the American dream unlike us. When I was three he had a brick home builted for us in 1973. Not only he was able to get the home but he purchased 5 arces. He had hogs, cows and crops. But that is not where it ended my dad only went to the 3rd grade.
My dad worked his land and my mom and he also had two full times jobs,
As me what has happened to my town if I wanted to go home. I am struggling but going home is not an option. No jobs and the land has been sold from the family.
American dreams are going away as the extinct animal!!!
Thank you for this. My friend blogged about needing to support local food artisans (of color). If you are fortunate to have local farmers markets near where you live, it is important to patronize them. They are an integral part of our community:
My family had 165 acres in rural GA that was lost due to family greed, poor planning, and general irresponsibility of those entrusted to care for the land. Because of this, we decided that we may have lost our land but we could help save others’. About 2 years ago we embarked on a journey to open a retail establishment (The Boxcar Grocer) behind the Morehouse campus in Atlanta that sources from black-owned, organic farms. We only just started our build-out but we’re slated to open this Fall (2011). We need more people buying from and supporting black farms so people can continue to pay the property taxes and be able to afford to farm. We also need to value farming and look at it as a cool, worthy thing to be doing with your life. It might not get you in a Mercedes but you’ll probably live a longer, healthier, and happier life while doing it. We also need to see more transition to organic farming for sustainability reasons. SoGreen Network out of Savannah is working to ensure that happens here in the Southeast.
I have been trying to get into farming for over a year and the doors just keep getting shut on me. ALL I WANT TO DO IS FARM. Where do we go for help financially to get a 35-100 acre farm? I get told over and over I dont have the experience so they wont lend the money to me. Now I am homeless trying to find a farm to rent with a wife and kid. Where is my american dream?? where do I get the experience…… HELP
Hi Brad, You may or may not be aware of the Black Urban Gardeners conference. It is attended by rural and urban gardeners. You should be able to make useful contacts that can help to get you started.
Black farmers may see their numbers rise once again once the settlement payout comes out of the Pigford II case. The farmers being discriminated against for so long finally have a settlement and now the issue is in the very last stages before it finally ends. This maybe the single biggest reason why black farmers numbers have went down and with the settlement the discriminatory practices hopefully over with, the farmers can claim what is rightfully theirs.
Hi, I’d like to know how I can patronize Black Farmers locally in Illinois as well as other local farmers