Going to the Root: Justice in Our Food System Begins in Our Farm System
by: Olivia Cheung
In order to address food justice, we must begin with food production, before food even reaches our table. Farming is a crucial part of our food production system as it provides the world’s food supply. When addressing food justice in our food system, we must also recognize the racial injustices that permeate our current farm system.
The current U.S. farm system was built through the enslavement of Black people and other people of color. Even after slavery was abolished, discriminatory policies such as the Jim Crow laws and practices like sharecropping made it impossible for Black people to own land, produce food for themselves, or to sell.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) enforced these policies and deprived Black farmers of land and resources. The USDA’s history of racial discrimination has caused the number of Black farmers to drop from 14% to 1.4% in the last one hundred years. The 2017 Census of Agriculture states that Black farmers own just 4.7 million acres, or 0.52%, of U.S. farmland compared to 20 million acres one hundred years ago. By denying Black farmers equal access to loans, assistance, and land grants, services freely given to white farmers, it became impossible for many Black farmers to generate inter-generational wealth, keep their land, and continue farming. This loss of land and livelihood has cost Black communities over $320 billion in wealth.
Systemic reform is necessary to investigate and correct discrimination by the USDA. The Justice for Black Farmers Act, first introduced to the Senate in 2020 and reintroduced this January, aims to protect current Black farmers while supporting the next generation of farmers through land grants, loans, and training. The act will also establish a USDA civil rights oversight board and provide funding to nonprofits that support Black farmers and HBCUs to increase agriculture research and education. While addressing historical injustices pertaining to Black farmers, the bill also helps other socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers who have suffered from discrimination.
While these efforts are a step in the right direction to ensure justice in our farm system, food justice organizations are actively fighting to ensure equity in access to land and power within our current food system. Equity is crucial in ensuring that BIPOC can begin to reclaim the land and economies that have depended on their exploitation.
Check out these Black-led Food Justice Organizations!
The National Black Food and Justice Alliance works to address food sovereignty, protect Black land, and develop self-determining food economies by fostering Black leadership and supporting Black communities.
Soul Fire Farm’s mission, as part of the food sovereignty movement, is to bring together activist-farmers and provide education for sustainable agriculture, health, and environmental justice on their Afro-Indigenous-centered community farm.
Black Urban Growers aims to provide networks to support Black agrarianism in urban and rural communities while fostering education and advocacy of food sovereignty and justice.
Black Yard Farm is a collective of experienced Black farmers cultivating fresh food and an educational space for Black people interested in farming and building a just food system.