Justice Delayed, Justice Denied: Congress Passed Aid for Farmers of Color. Now, we need follow through.

For immediate release: June 17 2021

Contact: Kara Watkins-Chow, kara.watkinschow@berlinrosen.com

Justice Delayed, Justice Denied: Congress Passed Aid for Farmers of Color. Now, we need follow through.

Statement by the HEAL Food Alliance & Members & Allies

(June 17, 2021) Last week, a federal judge in Wisconsin issued a temporary restraining order preventing the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from moving forward with a program designed to relieve debt for farmers of color. 

In response, the HEAL Food Alliance — a national coalition of organizations representing over two million farmers, ranchers, fishers, food workers, farm workers, as well as environmental and public health advocates from all regions of the United States — and its members and allies issued the following statements:

Debt relief for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and other producers of color is an essential component of pandemic recovery,” said Navina Khanna, executive director of the HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor) Food Alliance. “No matter what we look like or where we come from, we all want to know that our families can thrive in the face of crises. While the debt relief provisions of the American Rescue Plan in no way right historical wrongs or compensate for hundreds of years of land theft, genocide, or enslavement that producers of color, particularly Black and Indigenous producers, have suffered, this measure is an initial step that acknowledges the current impacts of racial discrimination and will help ensure all farmers can participate in our recovery.”

Nearly 97 percent of $9.2 billion recently provided to farmers under the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program went to White farmers. Per USDA data obtained by the Land Loss and Reparations Project via the Freedom of Information Act, White farmers received an average of four times more than the average Black farmer. An even greater disparity in the distribution of federal funds to farmers occurred under the USDA’s Market Facilitation Program, per analysis of the Environmental Working Group. In that case, 99% of payments went to White farmers, who on average received 10 times more than Black farmers.

Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan Act stipulates that this debt relief is critical to “socially disadvantaged” farmers due to decades of discrimination in USDA programs, disproportionate COVID-19 impacts, and the failure of the US government to ensure adequate funding reached farmers of color in other relief efforts — even though billions reached White farmers. Efforts to halt these payments from reaching Black, Indigenous, and producers of color in a timely fashion are consistent with the systematic discrimination that this Congressional action is designed to relieve, and are part of an onslaught of attempts to undermine the democratic process. As a series of legal settlements (Pigford vs Glickman, 1999; Garcia vs Vilsack (2000); Pigford vs Vilsack, 2010; Keepseagle vs Vilsack, 2010) have confirmed, there is an urgent need to reverse the pattern and outcomes of an era in which affirmative action is practiced on behalf of the 96% of farmers who are White. The argument that provisions of the American Rescue Plan that are based on race are by definition racist is a selective, if not  outright incorrect reading of history. 

National Black Food & Justice Alliance

“As a coalition representing hundreds of Black farmers around the country who have endured decades of systemic racism and their violent separation from land and their legacies, the National Black Food & Justice Alliance recognizes this current litigation to be rooted in anti-Blackness and an outright attack on our collective progress towards Black food and land sovereignty” said Dr. Jasmine Ratliff, Self-Determining Food Economies & Policy Manager at the National Black Food and Justice Alliance. “The debt relief promised to BIPOC farmers is a small portion of the immeasurable amount that is rightfully owed, and its delay is a reminder of how we must radically shift from a white dominant power paradigm, divest from capitalist extractive practices and invest in community controlled structures that provide regenerative resources. Debt relief for Black farmers cannot be delayed any longer. We demand justice now and support the efforts of our elected officials working to push against this heinous and racially charged attack.”

Kitchen Table Advisors

“The US food system has benefitted from the tireless work and wisdom of BIPOC — especially Black and Indigenous — communities since this continent was colonized and Indigenous communities were stripped of their land, agency and lives. In California, we see that dependence and extraction perpetuated today as we rely on Latinx farmers to work our fields, while the federal government denies them paths to citizenship in addition to federally backed assistance and healthcare based on their immigration status” said Daniella Sawaya, Co-Director at Kitchen Table Advisors. “Latinx, Black, Indigenous, Asian and other producers of color have kept this nation fed and nourished for centuries, and in return it has actively harmed and oppressed them, lack of access to federal funding being just one of countless ways. Debt relief is too little too late for many, but for those still farming, and for all of us they continue to nourish, it could be a lifeline.”

Union of Concerned Scientists 

Ricardo Salvador, Director and Senior Scientist of the Food & Environment Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists said “The Union of Concerned Scientists acknowledges the pattern of historic discrimination experienced by non-white farmers, and the consequences of this in land loss, impoverishment, food insecurity and exclusion from opportunities to build community well-being. We commend the Congress, President and Secretary of Agriculture for acting to reverse these racist practices and outcomes, and we will vigorously support all efforts to counter litigation that seeks to delay or negate this long overdue initiative for racial equity in the food and farm system.”

Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA)

“Our direct work with farmers over many years at RAFI-USA has allowed us to see the many ways farmers of color have experienced discrimination. Discrimination at the USDA has a long history including farmers of color being prevented from accessing credit and other funding, subjected to predatory lending, or given bad service by agencies who are looking for a reason to deny their application rather than provide support” said Edna Rodriguez, Executive Director, RAFI-USA. “Debt relief for producers of color in the American Rescue Plan is an important first step in addressing these disparities and must not be delayed.”

Land Stewardship Project (LSP)

“As a white farmer, I’ve never had a hard time accessing credit. The bankers are friendly and helpful, and try to get us the best rates possible. It’s easy to take that for granted, but I know that my skin color is the reason for it” said Rachel Henderson, Land Stewardship Project board treasurer, certified organic farmer in Wisconsin. “In rural Wisconsin, we’ve seen so many farms lost over the last decade, and that hasn’t slowed — we need family farms on the land! We need people in our communities, and we ALL benefit from Black, immigrant, Indigenous, and other farmers of color who want to build their businesses and homes here. Folks who want to farm, but haven’t had the advantage of generational wealth, deserve the same access to financial tools that I have. Debt relief for those farmers is an important step to not only righting some historical injustice, but to revitalizing rural communities.”