Welcome, February! It’s Black history month, and I am on a quest to ‘Buy Black’, specifically black-grown food. Since black culture has a strong agricultural heritage spanning thousands of years, this should be a cinch. Wrong. There is not one black farm business near me. I even Googled it. They don’t exist. So I did a little digging because I was intrigued and maybe a little hungry too. Here’s what I found.
Historically, the oldest agricultural paintings appear somewhere in the fertile crescent, painted (obviously) by black people in ancient times. In America, we know the simple truth is that our enslaved ancestors were the cultivators, herders, and even inventors of the tools necessary to modernize farming worldwide.
Post-Civil War, black agriculture flourished. By 1910, black-owned farms peaked in numbers to 1 million. That’s a nice increase from zero. So, where are those agribusinesses now? What happened to those farms?
I dug deeper, and well, there is no way to say this nicely. Our black landowners were systematically forced from their homes and businesses by the misuse of both local and federal power. Jim Crow laws, intimidation, extreme violence, including actual murder, and more drove people away from a heritage lasting at least tens of thousands of years. Disgraceful.
The estimated loss in income and generational wealth is truly incalculable. Still, some scholars place the amount in the range of hundreds of billions of dollars and uncountable acres of land. All of this harm was caused by the discriminatory practices resulting from white people’s greed and racism, who were not just white farmers, but also bankers, judges, elected and appointed officials. The very people hired to ensure justice in America were at fault in this dispossession of land legacy and business heritage.
It’s no secret the US Department of Agriculture has been robbing the black farmer since Reconstruction. President Biden’s administration is trying to right this wrong still today. Here are the surprising reasons we should pay attention. In 1935 a little less than 14%, or approximately 925,000 American farms, were black-owned. Fast forward, and today there are 2 million farms in the United States. Black families only own 28,000, or less than 1.5% of them. Black farms have decreased by nearly 98% since the 1935 peak. Black-owned farms are almost entirely gone.
The good news is, it’s not too late to fix this insanity. Our rich heritage and black agribusiness can be prioritized again. Assisting organizations like the National Black Farmer’s Association is an excellent place to start. Their ‘Let’s Get Growing’ program is designed to help grow farmers and farm operations. We can build organizations like New Communities of Albany, Georgia, whose vision is summed up in three words – “PRESERVE. FARM. CULTURE.” Buying land, building backyard, container, and community gardens while teaching our children to love the growing process is an essential beginning as well. We can do this.
I don’t know about you, but I’m still hungry. Personally, it’ll be the Non-GMO, certified organic, black grown veggies for me. Would you like some too?
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