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More Black Farmers Use Farm Service Agency Programs

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Monday, September 12, 2022   

Some farmers of color have been hesitant to interact with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency after a history of discrimination, but owners of one farm in Warfield say they've had a positive experience working the agency.

Herbert Brown Jr., operator of BrownTown Farms in Warfield, works the same land his great-grandfather did in the early 1900s. In 2020, his farm received a grant from the RAFI-USA Farmers of Color Network Infrastructure Fund to purchase a commercial freezer for its jam-making operation. He explained the initial step to access the resources is to get a farm number, and once registered, the agency offers a variety of programs tailored to each farmer's situation.

"Ranging from programs and involve disaster assistance if producers have crop losses, price-support assistance, organic hardship certification," Brown outlined. "Or even a farm storage-facility loan, which will allow producers to have access to capital to fund their food-storage projects."

Last year, the Agriculture Department temporarily suspended past-due debt collections and foreclosures for distressed borrowers. More than 129,000 farmers have received loans through the agency.

Ray Jeffers, farm and outreach specialist for the Rural Advancement Foundation International, said racist practices against farmers of color, including predatory lending, have led to skepticism about the agency among Black farmers. He emphasizes the program's resources can help farms grow and be profitable, and said organizations like his are available to help farmers navigate the process.

"I think the biggest challenge right now is the trust issue," Jeffers acknowledged. "Even going into the office to apply for programs that may help you your farm grow, be more profitable, or help you manage your risk."

Brown pointed out his farm has increased its fruit and vegetable production over the years and expanded its presence in the community through wholesale outlets, helping it beat the odds.

"It's all about creating a regional food system," Brown contended. "Distributing food to those who are in need and those who desire to 'eat fresh.' "

Black-operated farms accounted for around four million acres of farmland, just 0.5% of the U.S. total, according to 2019 data from the Agriculture Department.

Disclosure: The Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Environmental Justice, Rural/Farming, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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