By Maleeka Manurasada, National Organizer, HEAL Food Alliance
For many Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in the US, land and water stewardship play a central role in our culture, way of life, economic livelihoods, and the sustainability of our communities.
However, due to white settler colonialism, the opportunity to farm has been unjustly stripped from the majority of BIPOC communities in the US through many avenues, including government policies and programs.
Now, it is time to ensure that government policies and programs not only correct these racist practices that have led to massive land loss, but also help return land stewardship to BIPOC communities.
One critical place we can do so is the farm bill, a massive piece of federal legislation that dramatically shapes our food and farm system through the investment of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.
Historically, the farm bill has been used to aid the forced removal of Black and Indigenous farmers from their lands – agencies like the USDA intentionally gave loans to white farmers while discriminating against Black farmers. This racist practice has led to huge loss of land, wealth, and opportunity for BIPOC producers and their families.
As National Organizer at HEAL Food Alliance, I helped organize a roundtable discussion with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, RAFI-USA, and the Midwest Farmers of Color Collective, where Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color shared the mistreatment and discrimination they’ve faced from banks while applying for loans.
Access to credit and loans are vital resources for producers and growers to sustain their farms. Over a dozen farmers of color participated, and we quickly saw many questionable practices were commonplace, such as loan officers changing the requirements to receive a loan or denying loans outright despite applicants having decent credit and debt-to-income ratios.
Ed Hunt, a member of the Lumbee Tribe in North Carolina, shared at the roundtable how both he and his father have struggled to receive loans for their farms, despite good credit and high down payments.
“If you don’t inherit land, you’re in trouble, you’re not farming. So for a person of color, it’s not gonna happen, ” said Ed Hunt to Civil Eats reporter Lisa Held.
Recently, the USDA has made efforts to address its own discriminatory lending practices with debt relief programs for farmers of color – but there’s still so much more that should be done.
USDA technical assistance programs, trainings and grants should also be more accessible to BIPOC farmers. Oftentimes there is little outreach to communities of color – especially those that are non English speaking. Including culturally-appropriate outreach and assistance in the farm bill would make USDA opportunities in reach for more growers of color.
Including the Justice for Black Farmers Act, introduced by Senator Booker and Representative Adams (with input from some HEAL members and partners) in the farm bill could help restore and prevent land loss for generations of Black farmers.
Justice for Black and Indigenous Farmers is long overdue — it’s time for a farm bill that centers and prioritizes Black, Indigenous and other farmers of color. This week, HEAL is calling on Congress and the Senate and House Ag committees to support the Justice for Black Farmers Act. Join us by calling your Congress members in support of a farm bill for thriving futures for us all!
HEAL’s vision is for a 2023 Farm Bill that transforms our destructive food and farm systems, our health, our planet, and our communities, and prioritizes the well-being of BIPOC and rural communities and human and environmental health. Learn more about the opportunities for all producers HEAL policy priority for the 2023 Farm Bill.
Maleeka is HEAL’s National Organizer, where she builds the people power we need to create food systems that are good for our communities, good for our health, and good for the planet. Prior to working at HEAL, Maleeka mobilized coalitions to advance equitable climate policy as Co-Director of Policy at Climate Action Campaign and Chair of the San Diego Green New Deal Alliance. Maleeka has served as Director of Membership for the San Diego Democrats for Environmental Action and Assembly District Delegate to the California Democratic Party. Maleeka has also served on the Steering Committee for the California Green New Deal Coalition, the Stewardship Committee for the San Diego Food Systems Alliance 2030 Food Vision, and County Board of Supervisor Nathan Fletcher’s COVID-19 Equity Task Force. Maleeka has lived and worked in South Korea, Thailand, and Brazil, and has a B.A. from Colorado College. Maleeka currently lives in San Diego on Kumeyaay land and enjoys playing in the ocean and walking dogs in her free time.