Agricultural economics (AgEcon) “is an applied field of economics concerned with applying economic theory in making the most out of land usage and the production and distribution of food and resources obtained from the land.” Semuel (November 27, 2019) mentions that small American farmers (of all races) have had financial hardship and decline. The decline is primarily due to globalization, technology, and weather. Unfortunately, the fall has hit Black and small farmers even harder.
Even with this being a reality, the historical oppression of the Black (watermelon)farmer in the United States may have weakened America’s true farming capabilities. Historically, the Black Farming (watermelon) business economic model upset some former enslavers and white farmers in the South since former enslaved Blacks had carved out a lucrative business niche for themselves. Cheyenne (2022) references Howard University Afro-American Studies lecturer Dr. Jo Von McCalester, who eloquently points out, “The sheer audacity for Freed Africans to persevere despite their deplorable conditions received political and economic backlash from some Southern whites. A political effort to create a racist trope associated with watermelon and Blacks escalated.
Dr. Gerald Patton, a professor of History, inspired me to research and write about this topic and delve more deeply into the origins of the smear campaign. He touched on this subject on social media, so I wanted to know more. According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, they were degrading Black Americans through watermelon-eating images throughout the Jim Crow era, partially as a form of bigotry but also as “an attempt to squash African American businesses. Ads, cartoons, and artwork used images of African Americans “stealing, fighting over, or sitting in streets eating watermelon and depicting laziness and uncleanliness in appearance” to “shame Black watermelon merchants.”
Land Lost and Justice Deferred
According to USDA data, Scott and Associates (May 2, 2023) mention that over the last century, “Black farmers have lost more than 12 million acres of land. In 1920, 14 percent of all farms were operated by Black farmers, owning more than 16 million acres. But by 2017, that figure had plummeted to 1.7 percent – just half a percent of the country’s 4.7 million acres of farmland, according to the USDA.” Given our current conditions of globalization of farming, I wonder if there had been the opportunity of full participation by all farmers would our farming industry be even more potent than what it is today? China now controls 60% of the world’s watermelon supply and imports watermelon to the United States to make up for the demand for watermelon in the United States.
Why can’t the produce watermelon industry gap be supplemented and funded in the United States by Black Farmers? Unfortunately, the decline has hit the small Black Farmer even harder. With suitable irrigation and climate, the American watermelon and produce enterprise could help many farmers’ economies and the need for more capital overall. Farmers have sued the government for support. Think of how Black farming economics could have strengthened America beyond measure over the last 150 years.