Black farmers say $ 5 billion in aid ‘goes in the right direction’
ZEELAND, Michigan – Currently, Bruce Michael Wilson grows garlic, yellow and red onions, bunched onions, eggplants, peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, kale, cabbage, parsley, broccoli, bok choy and cabbage.
“You can get 200 varieties of 40 different vegetables,” Wilson said in an interview with FOX 17 at the end of March. “That’s what we grow here on this farm. I mean, pretty much any veg you can think of – we grow them here on this farm.
Wilson owns Groundswell Community Farm off 64th Avenue in Zeeland. He said it was one of 12 black-owned farms in the state and one of three USDA certified organic farms.
He grew up on a 160-acre farm 35 minutes south of Groundswell, he said. This is where his passion for agriculture began.
“I used to milk cows for neighboring farmers; up to 120 cows per day, twice a day. It’s a feat in itself, ”Wilson said. “I believe that agriculture has been part of my DNA, since my ancestors. I have a whole farming lineage from my father, who was a sharecropper in Mississippi. Much of my family owned farms. “
🧅 + 🍆 + 🫑 + 🌶 + 🍅 … Groundswell Farm has 200 varieties of 40 dif. vegetables. @JWBoydNBFA says farming is one of the oldest professions in the black community. In the 1900s, there was 1M Black 👩🏽🌾👨🏿🌾. Now there is 50K. But, Biden is donating $ 5 billion to help keep them afloat. 🚜 @ FOX17 pic.twitter.com/sODNRkY0MV
– Lauren Edwards (@LaurenEdwardsTV) April 27, 2021
Farming was a generational activity for many black families, he said. Now, many of those who remain will collectively receive $ 5,000,000,000 from President Biden’s US bailout.
“For me personally and for black farmers and farmers of color across the country, this is a big deal,” said National Association of Black Farmers President John Boyd in a Zoom interview with FOX 17 in mid-April. “It is also a step in the right direction on the part of the Biden presidency.”
Boyd said the $ 5 billion would go specifically to black, Hispanic and Native farmers, anyone who meets the USDA’s definition of “socially disadvantaged.” Most of the money will be used for debt relief.
Boyd said the measure was long overdue, especially for black farmers.
“At the turn of the century, we owned 20 million acres of land and we were cultivating 40 million acres. So that means 20 million acres were sharecroppers, ”Boyd said of the condition of black farmers in the early 1900s.“ We represented 1,000,000 black farming families at the turn of the century. Today we are down to about 50,000 black farmers making a living from agriculture, which means we are essentially threatened with extinction. “
READ MORE: Black farmers remember farming achievements of their ancestors
Boyd said the reason for the reduction was due to years of systemic racism and racial discrimination, from the highest national offices to local offices.
He said black farmers were discouraged from getting loans and in some cases were told there was no money at all.
“We have been designated by racial epithets and [subject to] unfair lending practices where it took an average of 387 days to process a black farmer’s loan application and less than 30 days for a white farmer’s loan application, ”Boyd recalled. “Those kind of startling statistics are what made our numbers drop.”
So for 30 years Boyd has “rung the bells”, calling attention to the growing problem. He said he has met with all the agricultural presidents and secretaries, Democrats and Republicans, since former President Jimmy Carter.
He added that his organization had had two agreements with the USDA in recent years, one in 1999 and the other in 2010. Both measures, he said, included debt relief, but this was not the case for the farmers.
However, he feels a new energy with this last bar.
“President Biden said if that doesn’t work, you have to contact him. So I’m reaching out to President Biden as we speak, ”Boyd said. “I just had to reach out to the White House before I got this call with you to let them know that the NBFA does not support the funding relief mechanism that goes through local offices which we found discriminatory in the first place. But it is a big problem.
Wilson agreed the $ 5 billion was significant. However, he called it bittersweet because some of the farmers who needed it most were gone.
“I’m worried about how long is it going to be effective. Is somebody else going to come and take it away and say, “Nothing more,” like a lot of things that happen with people of color? Wilson said. “So that’s what concerns me a bit. But hopefully it will have some resistance so that we can keep going and keep increasing. “
Wilson and Boyd thank Democratic Senators Cory Booker (NJ), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Raphael Warnock (GA) and Ben Ray Lujan (NM) for leading efforts to raise money for black farmers. They are also working on the Black Farmer Justice Act, which will help new farmers enter the field and fund agricultural education programs at historically black colleges and universities.
Wilson believes that helping young people get excited about farming is the key to keeping the industry afloat.
“This pandemic is showing people that ‘Hey, we’re viable. We’re worth it, ”Wilson said. “We’re kind of that umbilical cord for the nation because without us and without our supply line the nation doesn’t survive.”
READ MORE: Kalamazoo Farmer’s Market gets $ 4.2 million in renovations