Small producers can grow food in regenerative ways — but our food system works against them

Before Black Indigenous, and other People of Color even had the right to vote in this country, the government was writing rules to favor industrial agricultural production practices.  The first US Farm Bill, written in the 1930’s, calcified subsidies to increase production on monoculture farm operations – mostly dependent on chemical fertilizer inputs. Agent Orange, chemical warfare leftover from World War II, was put to use as a pesticide on farms, commonly known as DDT. Over the years, with technological and chemical investments controlled by corporations came the push to Get Big or Get Out of farming.

Today, the food and agriculture industry spends billions of dollars lobbying each year, and their influence over policy means that the rules are still largely written in their favor. We’re now left with a reality of larger farms but fewer farmers and recent political decisions like the trade war on China have pushed many remaining small farmers, and rural economies over the edge. Under this system, where large corporations control almost every aspect of farming, it is often unviable to go against the current, irrespective of who you are—even without the additional barrier of structural racism.

Most farmers now rely on government bailouts and crop insurance to offset their losses and keep themselves afloat through particularly difficult seasons, but government aid has not reached all farmers equally. The payments are based on production: the bigger the farm, the bigger the payments and loans are configured to serve large scale farmers.  According to a report by NPR, about 100,000 individuals collected 70% of the money. BIPOC farmers, on the other hand, have historically been left out of USDA programs including disaster relief, conservation grants, and loan assistance due to discriminatory lending practices and inadequate outreach and assistance to their communities. Rather than rewarding farmers who practice ecological agricultural techniques that have long lasting positive effects on soil health, and air and water quality, such programs continue to benefit megafarms that practice extractive agriculture that contributes to the climate crisis. As a result, small farms engaged in ecological agricultural practices, struggle to remain viable in a market-based economy.

For BIPOC producers, though many of them have ancestral connections to agriculture and come from communities that have stewarded land for generations, continuing those traditions as a vocational farmer is impossible for a majority. Unlike their white counterparts they are also less likely to own land and have access to intergenerational wealth that can cushion their losses.

Yet, as you’ll see in the following sections, there is a growing number of BIPOC farmers that are at the forefront of the agroecological movement.