Time to Level the Farming Playing Fields for BIPOC

Systemic racism is ingrained in all of our institutions, including our farm and food system. Achieving structural change and justice begins with standing together, walking alongside each other, and lifting up voices that need to be heard to express outrage and to demand a new status quo.

In honor of "Juneteenth," the annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, the Land Stewardship Project recommends taking time to read and reflect upon "Leveling the Fields: Creating Farming Opportunities for Black People, Indigenous People, and Other People of Color," an important report from HEAL Food Alliance and the Union Of Concerned Scientists. LSP is working with our partner, Green Lands Blue Waters, to promote the report.

Here's an excerpt:

Farming offers a powerful path to build community wealth and resilience to challenges such as water pollution, droughts and floods, and lack of access to healthy food. However, US agriculture — particularly the pursuit of sustainable agriculture — is rife with obstacles for Black people, indigenous people, and other people of color (BIPOC), including immigrants, migrants, and refugees. These obstacles include difficulty securing capital, credit, land, infrastructure, and information. For these groups, such challenges are compounded by longstanding structural and institutional racism. We review opportunities for governments, the private sector, philanthropies and others to contribute to simultaneously building socioeconomic equity and sustainability in US food systems. To begin overcoming the history of racist policies and exclusion, it is our primary recommendation that solutions be developed by and with — rather than for — Black people, indigenous people, and other people of color.

A few highlights from the report:

• BIPOC represent nearly 1/4 of the U.S. population, they operate less than 5% of the nation’s farms, and cultivate less than 1% of its farmland.

• Majority of estimated 2.4 million farmworkers in the U.S. are people of color who do not own or operate farms of their own.

• BIPOC have less access to, ownership and control of key resources related to infrastructure and information for successful, sustainable farms.

• Black and indigenous farmers in particular have lower net cash incomes and fewer direct-to-consumer sales compared with their white counterparts.

• Black and indigenous farmers...receive a disproportionately small share of USDA loans.

• Institutions can help create opportunities for people of color in farming firmly rooted in the farmers’ lived experiences and leadership.

• Addressing injustice and increasing food system resilience go hand-in-hand.

• A truly sustainable food system must be both science-based and equitable.

• Also needed are continual learning and cultural shifts within institutions that have benefited from centuries of discrimination.