By Marconja Zor

his history of Black farming begins with slavery, continues through decades of government-sponsored discrimination and even now is a fight for survival. Black farmers have faced discrimination for century and today there are fewer than 49,000 of them in the United States.

Black farmers lost 80% of their land between 1910 and 2007, in large part because of systemic racial discrimination.

Steven Helber/AP

Leah Penningman, an expert of historic farming, says that much of the world does not know that the 12 million Africans who were kidnapped from their homes were mostly rounded up because they were expert agriculturalist.

Even after the Civil War ended, the government never delivered on its promise of reparations. It said that it would give freed people a plot no larger than 40 acres and mule. It didn’t. Even though the government’s promise to Black people never happened, Black people still managed to save enough money to purchase 16 million acres of land by 1910.

Black farming hit its peak in 1920 when nearly a million Black farmers worked the land. Many Black families across the south were sharecroppers. That meant they would rent and farm small plots of land and then the landowner would receive part of the crop. But high interest rate and unpredictable harvest often left sharecroppers in debt to landowners.

John Boyd Jr. is the president of the National Black Farmers Association, and also part of the 1.4% of Black people who make up the country’s 3.4 million farmers.

 “I call the USDA the last plantation. The way they’ve treated Black farmers… we’ve been degraded and humiliated,” Boyd said.

For decades, the US Department of Agriculture systematically favored white farmers by denying loans to Black farmers. When John found himself financially struggling to keep his farm, he went to the USDA for aid where an intense conversation with the local loan officer nearly turned physical. 

“Looked at your application and we ain’t gonna be able to help you this year,” he says the loan officer would tell him. Once, Boyd says, a white farmer interrupted their meeting, exchanged quick pleasantries with the loan officer, and walked out, having not even applied, with a check for $157,000. “And I’m begging for $5,000,” Boyd recalls, shaking his head.

The Department of Agriculture is the usually the last result for farmers when they don’t qualify for loans from other sources. Local branches are largely run by all-white committees. Throughout the 1990s, it took approximately 60 days for white farmers to get their loans 

applications processed, where Black farmers showed an average of 220 days before their applications were processed.

While Black farmers are still advocating to receive equally farming rights as their white counterparts, the demand and needs for healthy fresh produce in the Black community continues to rapidly grow. 

Leah Penningman broke down the correlation of Black farmer discrimination and the health issues within the Black community.

“It comes out of a legacy of redlining and housing discrimination, of divestment from communities of color, and has resulted in a situation today where if you’re white, you’re four times as likely to have a supermarket on your block than if you’re Black,” she told TODAY Food. “The system where if you’re black or indigenous, you’re more likely to have diabetes, heart disease, and other diet-related illnesses, not ’cause you don’t know how to eat, but because there is a scarcity of affordable, culturally appropriate quality food that’s accessible.”

Black farmers are critical to the well-being and nurturing of the Black community. It is imperative that an alliance is formed and continue to help them maintain. If you and anyone you know would like to donate to the National Black Farmers Association, please click on the link below for further information.