On Nov. 30, 2020, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Justice for Black Farmers Act of 2020. He says this bill will address the history of discrimination towards Black farmers and prevent future discrimination. If enacted, the bill would transfer 32 million acres to black farmers within 20 years, with each eligible Black farmer receiving up to 160 acres through grants provided by the USDA.
The drafting of the resolution was in response to the notion that America has been a proponent of systemic racism, and agriculture has been at the forefront of exploiting African Americans in the industry. According to the USDA, only owning 4.7 million acres of farmland in the U.S., Black farmers only make up 1.7% of the U.S. total producers. Upon its introduction, Sen. Booker says this resolution would correct disparities within the agricultural industry, believing that the USDA has served as a direct proponent to the discrimination of black farmers.
“Overtly discriminatory and unjust federal policy has robbed Black families in the United States of the ability to build and pass on intergenerational wealth,” said Senator Booker. “When it comes to farming and agriculture, we know that there is a direct connection between discriminatory policies within the USDA and the enormous land loss we have seen among Black farmers over the past century.”
Booker said that it would empower young farmers who have a passion for the industry and want to succeed. “The Justice for Black Farmers Act will work to correct this historic injustice by addressing and correcting USDA discrimination and taking bold steps to restore the land that has been lost in order to empower a new generation of Black farmers to succeed and thrive,” he said.
The bill is also co-sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
In a phone interview, DeShawn Blanding openly expressed his support for the Justice for Black Farmers Act. Like Booker, he believes it addresses years that USDA put barriers and roadblocks in front of Black farmers, saying it’s an opportunity for Black Americans to reenter the agricultural industry through farming.
“I think it is a start, but I don’t think it will be enough,” he said, referring to eligible farmers to receive 160 acres each. “It requires comprehensive investment. I don’t think it is enough right now, but it is an initiative to put us in the right direction.”
DeShawn is the Policy and Advocacy Coordinator at Rural Coalition in Washington D.C. He focuses on policies that have historically put African Americans at a disadvantage. He also served as a Vice-President of the National FFA Organization, inspiring young adults to serve their communities and strive for personal growth. I had met DeShawn 4 years ago at a small event that my local FFA chapter attended.
DeShawn said he thinks the bill is a positive step towards localizing agriculture. “We have a distribution of food that is not locally or rurally based… [Black Farmers] do not have access to the land to invest in their community. It does not help [them] economically, and investment in those [communities] would bring equity to marginalized communities.”
When asked about Sen. Booker’s credibility for introducing the legislation despite not having an agricultural background and being a vegan, DeShawn said Booker could still be a worthy champion.
“Cory Booker is about equity. [He always asks], ‘How do we provide racial equity?’ Doing so, he realized agriculture and food is where it starts. He is learning about agriculture and farming, and food. He is using his equity background and bringing it to an industry that is not as equitable,” he said.
DeShawn is hoping that the bill will become law. There may not be barriers keeping the resolution from being passed with a Democratic-led Congress and White House after the 2020 presidential and congressional elections. Despite the unlikelihood of any objections, the bill could go through Congress without the proper discussions that it would require, but DeShawn believes legislatures will take enough time to ensure the bills effectiveness.
“I can see it being a cause of concern,” He said. But there is a lot more focusing on climate, equity, and local. I am optimistic that a positive would come out of it to address issues that have been ignored. What is important is for us to remember where we are as a nation. We have to address the problems of exploitation [derivative in agriculture]. I am optimistic that a positive would come out of it where we can address issues that have been ignored.”
Since its introduction, the Justice for Black Farmers Act has been read twice and referred to the finance committee. It has yet to be brought forth to the 117th Congress for review.
DeShawn studied agricultural and environmental systems at North Carolina and A&T State University. Wanting to stay involved in agriculture, DeShawn joined Rural Coalition to do his part to help Black individuals succeed in the industry. He said the coalition starts from the bottom up and believes it is essential to focus on their community, bringing issues to legislators with the main focus on civil rights and equity.