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Going Green – The Black Farmer Makes a Comeback

After over a century of discrimination and destruction, the nation’s black farmers are making a slow comeback. Destroyed by a combination of denial of Agricultural Loans by the Government so they could modernize, predatory zoning and land theft, and land covenants which in some areas kept them from eve being able to expand enough to be competitive – the current trend reverses that started in the Great Migration.

We are at the dawn of Urban Farming, where deserted factory buildings can be converted to support 4 story tall vertical farming racks which produce anything from lettuce to carrots. First heard about this being done in Detroit several years ago, and since then it is gradually expanding across the northeastern US urban landscape. The problem with this for prospective black farmers is the high initial costs being a barrier to entry. Setup costs run from $90-200 per square foot, and even with production per square foot being 4-8 times greater than old style farming, it still takes a while (years) to amortize that.

The comeback of black farmers is contrary to a landscape where mega-corporate farming has become the norm. By focusing on organic and naturally grown crops, and bypassing the retail middlemen, farming is profitable again. The market desire for “organic”, not tainted by pesticides or growth hormone food is also a driver. Factory farms at this point cannot meet that need. Fishing is also becoming increasingly farming, and while corporate level farms concentrate on mass production of high demand product like salmon and catfish, the ability to produce contaminant free shellfish is a fast growing industry dominated by small players because the cost to entry is fairly low.

The folks they discuss in this article are very small operators. In my part of the world I am more used to black farmers who have 40 or more acres under till, although they are using the traditional farming methods.

The new faces of farming. The Black Dirt Collective with co-founder Blain Snipstal, second from left.

After a Century In Decline, Black Farmers Are Back And On the Rise

These Black farmers don’t stop at healthy food. They’re healing trauma, instilling collective values, and changing the way their communities think about the land.
A few years ago, while clearing dried broccoli stalks from the tired soil of our land at Soul Fire Farm in upstate New York, I received a cold call from Boston. On the other end was a Black woman, unknown to me, who wanted to share her story of trying to make it as a farmer.

Through tears, she explained the discrimination and obstacles she faced in a training program she’d joined, as well as in gaining access to land and credit. She wondered whether Black farming was destined for extinction. She said she wanted to hear the voice of another African-heritage farmer so that she could believe “it was possible” and sustain hope.

The challenges she encountered are not new. For decades, the U.S. Department of Agriculture discriminated against Black farmers,excluding them from farm loans and assistance. Meanwhile, racist violence in the South targeted land-owning Black farmers, whose very existence threatened the sharecropping system. These factors led to the loss of about 14 million acres of Black-owned rural land—an area nearly the size of West Virginia.

In 1982, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights extrapolated the statistics on land loss and predicted the extinction of the Black farmer by the year 2000.

They were wrong. While the situation is still dire, with Black farmers comprising only about 1 percent of the industry, we have not disappeared. After more than a century of decline, the number of Black farmers is on the rise.

These farmers are not just growing food, either. The ones you’ll meet here rely on survival strategies inherited from their ancestors, such as collectivism and commitment to social change. They infuse popular education, activism, and collective ownership into their work.

And about that woman who called me from Boston? Years after we first spoke, I called her back. Turns out, she is still at it.

About 80 miles southeast of Baltimore, Black Dirt leases 2 acres that long have been home to the Black freedom struggle. Harriet Tubman once rescued her parents and nine other people from enslavement in this place, which was one of the first stops on the Underground Railroad.

The 10 farming-collective members who work here today revere Tubman’s example and work to continue her legacy of revolutionary social change. In addition to growing natural food for markets in D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia, they host hundreds of people each year for activist training programs. They continue the farming practices of their ancestors, such as “going through together,” a southern Black practice of working collectively in neighbors’ plots and sharing the harvest. They are also part of the North Carolina-based Seed Keepers Collective, and focus on preserving seeds of the African diaspora, including millet, sorghum, cotton, and sweet potatoes.

“It’s like jazz music in a sense,” Snipstal explains, referring to Black Dirt’s collaborations with like-minded farmers around the country. “We are always riffing off each other, even if we don’t tell one another.” …Read Other Stories of Black Farmers Here...

 
 

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Bachman and Steve King (R-Ia) Attack Black Farmers

First – black people were better off under slavery. Now – black farmers are frauds, and ill deserving of “Reparations” for generations of discriminatory practices by the US Agriculture Department which all too often cost them their livelihoods and farms while subsidizing white farmers to the tune of hundreds of billions, if not several trillion…

We already knew Steve King is a bigot – turns out Bachman is “one” too.

You got your mule - now you want a loan to buy a tractor?

Bachmann: Settlement with black farmers would be better used for Missouri River flooding

Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann pointed to one program in particular Monday when talking about wasteful government spending: a multibillion dollar settlement paid to black farmers, who claim the federal government discriminated against them for decades in awarding loans and other aid.

The issue came up after Bachmann and Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa toured flooded areas along the Missouri River. During a news conference, they fielded a question about whether farmers affected by the flooding also should be worried by proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture cuts.

The two responded by criticizing a 1999 settlement in what is known as the Pigford case, after the original plaintiff, North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford. Late last year, President Barack Obama signed legislation authorizing a new, nearly $1.2 billion settlement for people who were denied payments in the earlier one because they missed deadlines for filing.

King has likened the Pigford settlement to “modern-day reparations” for African-Americans. He said Monday a large percentage of the settlement “was just paid out in fraudulent claims” and criticized the Obama administration’s plan to resolve separate lawsuits filed by Hispanic and female farmers.

“That’s another at least $1.3 billion,” King said “I’d like to apply that money to the people that are under water right now.”

Bachmann seconded King’s criticism, saying, “When money is diverted to inefficient projects, like the Pigford project, where there seems to be proof-positive of fraud, we can’t afford $2 billion in potentially fraudulent claims when that money can be used to benefit the people along the Mississippi River and the Missouri River.”

John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, which represented black farmers in the Pigford settlement, called the criticism unfair.

“Why continue to take from those people who haven’t taken part in federal programs equally and give to another group of farmers who have taken part in federal programs?” Boyd asked. “I think taking resources from a group of people who have been historically denied any relief at the Department of Agriculture is a bad idea. For the flood victims that deserve redress … they should provide those people with relief, too.”

Boyd said he and others worked to put anti-fraud provisions in the legislation signed last year. They require each claim of discrimination to be judged individually to determine its merit _ a process that Boyd said has not yet even begun.

“We worked with Republicans … to get those issues addressed,” he said. “Even after we got them addressed, Ms. Bachmann and Mr. King have continued to look at black farmers in a very negative way.

 

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Republicans Block Black Farmer Settlement… Again

Your name is big brotherYou say that you're watching me on the tele,Seeing me go nowhere,Your name is big brother,You say that you're tired of me protesting,Children dying everyday,My name is nobodyBut I can't wait to see your face inside my door...You've killed all our leaders,I don't even have to do nothin' to you, You'll cause your own country to fall

Senate leaves without funding black farmers suit

A Republican senator blocked a measure on Thursday that would have compensated black farmers in one of the largest civil rights settlements in U.S. history, again delaying action on a decades-old bias lawsuit.

The settlement, agreed to in February, would provide $1.25 billion to compensate black farmers who were left out of federal farm loan and assistance programs for years due to racism.

Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan requested unanimous consent to approve funding for the settlement but an objection from Republican Senator John Barrasso scuttled the attempt.

This was the last opportunity to finalize the settlement before the Senate breaks for the August recess.

While the 2008 farm bill earmarked $100 million for the farmers, the remaining $1.15 billion to uphold the deal requires approval from Congress.

The U.S. House of Representatives twice passed legislation that would appropriate the funds, but equivalent action stalled in the Senate.

Measures for the funding have come to the Senate floor seven times, and each time failed to pass due to partisan squabbles, said John Boyd Jr, head of the National Black Farmers Association.

Boyd likened the delays in funding the settlement to the discrimination experienced by black farmers involved in the lawsuit.

“It shows that some of the same treatment that happened to the black farmers at the Department of Agriculture is transpiring with the Senate’s inaction to help black farmers,” he said.

The unanimous consent request also sought to appropriate funds for American Indians in the Cobell class-action lawsuit against the Interior Department over the mismanagement of Indian trust fund accounts.

Previous objections to the funding requests have centered on the mega-spending bills they were attached to, as well as a lack of clarity on how the compensation would be paid for.

The measure brought to the floor on Thursday was solely about the settlements, and included offsets required under congressional ‘pay-as-you-go’ rules mandating new spending be offset with cuts elsewhere so not to add to the deficit.

Barrasso objected to portions of the Cobell settlement and called for a full chamber vote when the Senate returns from the August recess in September.

With an August 13 deadline for the black farmers settlement looming, Boyd said he would seek an extension from the Obama administration as well as more engagement in speeding up the funding process.

“This is a shameful situation,” Boyd said. “(Senators) can’t put aside their political bickering and pass a bill so that the black farmers can get on with their lives.”

Boyd said the pressure is on President Barack Obama to step forward with more concrete plans to help since “the Senate dropped the ball.”

The original Pigford class-action lawsuit, named after North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford, was settled in 1999.

The first case awarded more than $1 billion in payments and debt relief to black farmers, but tens of thousands of farmers missed the filing deadline. The new settlement allows these farmers to pursue their claims.

Boyd said earlier in the week that black farmers would turn their attention to midterm elections and look to oust the senators not supporting the measure, especially in southern states where they represent a large portion of the voting block.

“Why do we want to send somebody back to the Senate that won’t help us at a time of need?” he said.

This is a real picture of Mary, a Circus Elephant which was lynched by an angry mob in 1916.

 

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The USDA’s Long Racist History

This article doesn’t talk about but the whole racist attack on former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy by Republicans was based on race which was thrown out of court in 1997 after Rethugs s[pent $20 million prosecuting him on bogus charges.

The Real Story of Racism at the USDA

It’s an astonishing development given the history of race relations at the USDA, an agency whose own Commission on Small Farms admitted in 1998 that “the history of discrimination at the U.S. Department of Agriculture … is well-documented” — not against white farmers, but African-American, Native American and other minorities who were pushed off their land by decades of racially-biased laws and practices.

It’s also a black eye for President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who signaled a desire to atone for the USDA’s checkered past, including pushing for funding of a historic $1.15 billion settlement that would help thousands of African American farmers but now faces bitter resistance from Senate Republicans.

Forced Off the Land

Any discussion about race and the USDA has to start with the crisis of black land loss. Although the U.S. government never followed through on its promise to freed slaves of “40 acres and a mule,” African-Americans were able to establish a foothold in Southern agriculture. Black land ownership peaked in 1910, when 218,000 African-American farmers had an ownership stake in 15 million acres of land.

By 1992, those numbers had dwindled to 2.3 million acres held by 18,000 black farmers. And that wasn’t just because farming was declining as a way of life: Blacks were being pushed off the land in vastly disproportionate numbers. In 1920, one of out seven U.S. farms were black-run; by 1992, African-Americans operated one out of 100 farms.

The USDA isn’t to blame for all of that decline, but the agency created by President Lincoln in 1862 as the “people’s department” did little to stem the tide — and in many cases, made the situation worse.

After decades of criticism and an upsurge in activism by African-American farmers, the USDA hosted a series of “listening sessions” in the 1990s, which added to a growing body of evidence of systematic discrimination:

Black farmers tell stories of USDA officials — especially local loan authorities in all-white county committees in the South — spitting on them, throwing their loan applications in the trash and illegally denying them loans. This happened for decades, through at least the 1990s. When the USDA’s local offices did approve loans to Black farmers, they were often supervised (farmers couldn’t spend the borrowed money without receiving item-by-item authorization from the USDA) or late (and in farming, timing is everything). Meanwhile, white farmers were receiving unsupervised, on-time loans. Many say egregious discrimination by local loan officials persists today. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Plot Thickens In Sherrod Firing!

Hmmmm… Turns out Shirley Sherrod and her husband were part of the Pigford settlement, which was the ulti-billion dollar lawsuit by black farmers against the USDA, which had denied them loans based on race.

It also appears that the reason for the quick action in firing Mrs. Sherrod may well have been in at least some part,  blowback from that settlement.

Official Ousted From Ag Department Had Taken USDA to Court, Won

The Agriculture Department has a lengthy history with the official forced to resign Monday over a controversial YouTube clip — it turns out she and a group she helped found with her husband won millions last year in a discrimination suit settlement with the federal government.

The information about the suit only thickens the plot that has evolved seemingly by the hour since Shirley Sherrod resigned late Monday as the department’s Georgia director of rural development.

She claims the video clip, which showed her telling a story about how she withheld her full assistance to a white farmer, omitted key details, and she argues she was pushed out by the Obama administration without getting a chance to tell her side. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is standing by his decision.

But it’s not the first time Sherrod faced off against the federal government. Days before she was appointed to the USDA post last year, her group reportedly won a $13 million settlement in a longstanding discrimination suit against the USDA known commonly as the Pigford case. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2010 in Great American Rip-Off

 

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Congress to Black Farmers…”The Check is in the Mail”

Looks like the black farmers got shafted again –

The USDA for decades denied black farmers loans they freely gave to white farmers.

Congress misses deadline for payments to black farmers

The federal government promised last month to pay more than $1 billion by the end of March to tens of thousands of black farmers who had filed decades-old discrimination complaints against the U.S. Agriculture Department.

But Congress headed home for a two-week recess without appropriating the money, and the farmers are frustrated that the agreement’s March 31 deadline was not met. The White House and congressional leaders say they want to pay the restitution, but farmers in the case say the government has been slow to deliver.

“The administration announced this settlement like this was all over, but we haven’t gotten a dime,” said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association. “Right now, it’s planting time, and we thought we would have the funds in time for this season.”

Boyd said he is sure the government and the farmers will be able to agree on an extension to the settlement, which compensates black farmers who were unfairly denied farm operating loans. But he is worried that with a tight budget and busy schedule, the farmers’ case — known as Pigford — will continue to be overlooked when Congress returns.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sent letters last month to congressional leaders, who have been embroiled with health care legislation, asking them to appropriate money for the settlement, and said this week that resolving cases of discrimination is a department priority.

The White House is also “working with Congress with some urgency to get this done as fast as possible,” deputy press secretary Bill Burton said.

Native American farmers, who filed an unresolved lawsuit alleging discrimination against the USDA in 1999, are watching the Pigford settlement closely. Court proceedings in the case of Native American farmers, known as Keepseagle, have been put on hold while they negotiate with the government. The deadline for a settlement in their case is April 21.

Late last week, Rep. Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich.) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) — co-chairmen of the Congressional Native American Caucus — sent a joint letter to Vilsack and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asking for an update on the case and saying Native American farmers and ranchers had “lost substantial revenues and lands that had been in their families for generations” because of years of “offensive discrimination.”

The Keepseagle case is not contingent on congressional approval, unlike Pigford, and if the settlement deadline is not met, the case could go to trial in district court.

“All our clients seek is to have their claims compensated at a level that is comparable to the settlement in the Pigford case,” said Joe Sellers, lead attorney for the Native American farmers. “There’s still several weeks before the stay is due to expire where we can make progress. I know our clients are frustrated, [but] they haven’t given up hope.”

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2010 in American Genocide, Black History

 

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