Publisher’s Note:  In 2021, this website made a deliberate attempt to get closer the Black Farmer movement and educate our staff and the people who visit this website on the plight of the Black farmers.  Personally speaking, this has been an emotional roller coaster.  I’ve felt sad, disgusted, angry, perplexed, baffled and hurt.  Are any of those words and feelings positive?  The answer is NO!  I can only imagine how Black farmers and their families and supporters feel.  If you are new to this issue, or thought that the USDA had already “done the right thing,” scroll down and watch the video below.  “I’m Just a Layman in Pursuit of Justice,” is a documentary that chronicles the injustices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, also known as ‘the last plantation,’ and the lived experiences of Black farmers who chose to fight against discrimination.

This website is committed to sharing as much information as we can in the pursuit of justice for Black farmers.  We have a section on the site dedicated to the sharing information on the plight of the Black Farmers and we sponsor the website

Gary A. Johnson, Founder & Publisher (Black Men In

Farmer Facts

The number of black farmers in America peaked in 1920, when there were 949,889. Today, of the country’s 3.4 million total farmers, only 1.3%, or 45,508, are black, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture in 2019.  By comparison, 95% of US farmers are white. 

A Name and a Face (In Support of the Black Farmer)

Black farmers and their families have endured a different kind of suffering than other farmers. 

It’s not that people don’t care about the plight of Black farmers.  They can’t make a connection.  How many of us know a full-time Black farmer?  Someone who farms for a living?  Unless you personally know a Black farmer, you don’t have a link or emotional connection…until NOW!

Welcome to “A Name and a Face (in support of a Black Farmer).”  Watch the videos below and get connected and help the Black farmers get the justice that they have earned and long deserved.


For several months now, the trailer for “I’m Just a Layman in Pursuit of Justice: Black Farmers Fight Against USDA ,” written and directed by Shoun A. Hill and Dr. Waymon Hinson, has been shown on our site, specifically on the “Speak The Truth,” segment of our site featuring Harold Bell.  The trailer highlights some of the stories of injustices that Black farmers experienced at the hands of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its Farm Service Agency (FSA).


You can now view the entire film virtually for FREE at the Food Justice Film Festival sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity on September 15-18.  Click on this link Film Festival Plus – Film ( and register.  For those of you who have not seen the trailer, you can watch it below.
About Dr. Waymon Hinson

Waymon Hinson is a retired storyteller after 26 years in academics and 8 years with an Indian tribe. He has been involved with the Black Farmer Movement since 1994 as a consultant, author, writer, BFAA board member, and advocate. He currently serves as an advisor for the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees and has participated in efforts to shape “The Justice for Black Farmers Act of 2020.” He has spoken at numerous state, regional, national, and international conferences on matters related to justice. He is also a frequent interviewee on radio broadcasts related to the documentary and the plight of the Black farmer.

About Shoun A. Hill

Shoun Hill is a photographer based in New York City, who  is now  a visiting professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Originally from Frederick, MD., Hill began photographing professionally in 1993 for The Gleaner in Henderson, KY., after getting his Master of Arts degree from Ohio University.  He has worked as a staff photographer for newspapers in Memphis, Tenn., and Orlando, Fla., as well as, doing internships in Minneapolis, Minn., and Louisville, Ky.  While a staff photographer, Shoun photographed Super Bowls, NBA basketball games, and presidential elections. He has also been a part of gallery shows in Ohio, Florida, Illinois and New York.

Watch The Show Below and Learn From Several Black Farmers About Their Current Fight with Our Government Hosted by Harold Bell and Lawrence Lucas (President Emeritus, USDA Coalition of Minority Employees)

For more information visit the links below:

“I’m Just a Layman in Pursuit of Justice,” is a documentary that chronicles the injustices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, also known as ‘the last plantation,’ and the lived experiences of Black farmers who chose to fight against discrimination.

The following 8:00 minute slideshow is for the average American citizen who knows little or nothing about the plight of the Black Farmer. There are things that you should know about the Black farmer and there are reasons why you should care. This video tells a fraction of the story regarding the challenges of the Black farmer. Systemic and pervasive racism, incompetence, broken promises are just a few of the challenges facing Black farmers and their families. This is also an example of “Farming While Black.” Thousands of Black farmers are saddled with debt, have exhausted their savings and lost their farms, eliminating any chance of generational wealth.

For more information visit

Click here to visit the Pigford Legacy Farmer Ancestry Scroll.

Situation:  The debt relief program that was in the American Rescue Plan Act last year is on hold.  Some farmers say that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack deliberately took too long to implement the program, allowing opposition groups to organize and file lawsuits. This appears to be another example of the ways in which USDA continues to fail Black farmers.

“Speak The Truth” Special: Challenges and Opportunities Facing The Black Farmers (June 18, 2022)

For this “Speak The Truth” special on the challenges and opportunities facing the Black farmers in America, Host Harold Bell and Moderator Lawrence Lucas as they welcome our special guest Corey Lea, Executive Director of The Cowtown Foundation, Inc. and several Black Farmers including Eddie Slaughter, Andrew Douglas, Michael Stovall, Carl Parker, Rod Bradshaw, and Chris Hilderbrandt. Featured news clips include Sen. Raphael Warnock and Sen. Corey Booker (the Addendum at the end of the video) question US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the May 26, 2022, Senate Committee Meeting on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry/Opportunities and Challenges Facing Farmers.

An interview with John Boyd, President of the National Black Farmers Association, by FOX News host Sean Hannity from May 2022, is shown as part of the Addendum toward the end of the video.

Farming While Black (FWB)

Book Description

Some of our most cherished sustainable farming practices have roots in African wisdom. Yet, discrimination and violence against African-American farmers has led to their decline from 14 percent of all growers in 1920 to less than 2 percent today, with a corresponding loss of over 14 million acres of land.  Further, Black communities suffer disproportionately from illnesses related to lack of access to fresh food and healthy natural ecosystems. Soul Fire Farm, co-founded by author, activist, and farmer Leah Penniman, is committed to ending racism and injustice in our food system. Through innovative programs such as the Black-Latinx Farmers Immersion, a sliding-scale farm share CSA, and Youth Food Justice leadership training, Penniman is part of a global network of farmers working to increase farmland stewardship by people of color, restore Afro-indigenous farming practices, and end food apartheid.  

And now, with Farming While Black, Penniman extends that work by offering the first comprehensive manual for African-heritage people ready to reclaim their rightful place of dignified agency in the food system. This one-of-a-kind guide provides readers with a concise “how-to” for all aspects of small-scale farming, including:

  • Finding Land and Resources
  • Writing a Farm Business Plan
  • Honoring the Spirits of the Land with Planting and Harvesting Rituals
  • Restoring Degraded Land through No-Till and Biological Tillage
  • Crop Planning for Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs
  • Preserving the Harvest and Saving Seed
  • Raising Animals Sustainably and Humanely
  • Urban Farming, including a guide to laws and land access
  • Movement Building through education, direct action, & policy change

Throughout, Penniman includes “Uplift” sidebars to elevate the wisdom of the African Diasporic farmers and activists whose work informs the techniques described, as well as an honest and transparent look at the real work being done at Soul Fire Farm every day.

 “Stewarding our own land, growing our own food, educating our own youth, participating in our own healthcare and justice systems,” Penniman writes, “this is the source of real power and dignity.”

Farming While Black teaches us the fundamental acts of growing food and growing community.”—Karen Washington, from the foreword

About the Author: Leah Penniman
Founding Co-Director of Soul Fire Farm

Leah Penniman is a Black Kreyol educator, farmer/peyizan, author, and food justice activist from Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY.  She co-founded Soul Fire Farm in 2011 with the mission to end racism in the food system and reclaim our ancestral connection to land. As co-Executive Director, Leah is part of a team that facilitates powerful food sovereignty programs – including farmer trainings for Black & Brown people, a subsidized farm food distribution program for people living under food apartheid, and domestic and international organizing toward equity in the food system. Leah holds an MA in Science Education and BA in Environmental Science and International Development from Clark University, and is a Manye (Queen Mother) in Vodun. Leah has been farming since 1996 and teaching since 2002. The work of Leah and Soul Fire Farm has been recognized by the Soros Racial Justice Fellowship, Fulbright Program, Omega Sustainability Leadership Award, Presidential Award for Science Teaching, NYS Health Emerging Innovator Awards, and Andrew Goodman Foundation, among others. Her book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide is a love song to the land and her people. 

More info on the Farming While Black website.

For more information visit, and

Publisher’s Note:  This article was written by April Simpson and originally published by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization based in Washington, D.C.

April Simpson reports on rural issues at Stateline. Before joining Pew, April was associate editor of Current, where she covered public broadcasting and nonprofit media. April was a Fulbright fellow in Botswana and Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation. She has written for the Seattle Times and the Boston Globe, among other publications. April is a graduate of Smith College and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

After amassing more than $100,000 in debt over more than two decades of farming, a Georgia-based farmer named Denver got welcome news last year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmers like him would be eligible for a new debt relief program. USDA would pay off certain loans and give him a little extra for tax liabilities.

Denver did not receive a payment. But almost a year later, he received another letter: A notice that USDA intends to take legal action to collect the money he owes the agency. Denver asked the Center for Public Integrity not to use his last name out of fear of retaliation.

“We know that institutional discrimination is systemic within USDA,” said Tracy Lloyd McCurty, Executive Director of the Black Belt Justice Center. “So then the question is, how many other Black farmers around the country are experiencing this and they just don’t know who to reach out to about it?”

How Denver and other farmers like him got here is a confusing mix of bureaucracy, policy choices and litigation. Farmers and advocates fear massive land loss and foreclosures if this legal muddle doesn’t get straightened out. Data the Center for Public Integrity received through a Freedom of Information Act request also suggests that the USDA violated its own promise to suspend debt collections during the pandemic.

But we’ll start from the beginning.

In January 2021, USDA promised it would suspend debt collections, foreclosures and other adverse actions on borrowers with direct farm loans, made between the Farm Service Agency and the borrower, given the economic hardship posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That decision was followed up by the American Rescue Plan Act. The new law included a $4 billion program to cancel certain farm loan debts farmers of color owe the Farm Service Agency, a USDA sub-agency that provides loans to agricultural producers. The law energized Black and other farmers of color who have long faced discrimination by the department, which has approved access to credit at lower rates and provided inequitable program payments than white farmers received.

Eligible farmers such as Denver received notices from USDA that spelled out exactly how much it would pay to wipe out their debts, including 20% to cover tax liabilities.

As USDA prepared to implement the new law last year, eligible farmers were told they wouldn’t be punished for failing to make payments. So Denver stopped.

But legal challenges from white farmers claiming reverse discrimination were filed in several states. Eventually a federal judge stopped USDA from implementing the program and allowed a class action lawsuit to proceed.

“That’s one of the most heartbreaking situations that I’ve observed in my 30-plus years as a lawyer working with farmers,” said Susan Schneider, director of the LL.M. Program in Agricultural and Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law. “The USDA’s enjoined. They can’t really do anything.”

Gary A. Johnson, Publisher (Black Men In

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Eddie Slaughter, a proud Black farmer about the plight of Black farm owners in America.  I don’t know how to describe my emotions after talking with him.  Every time I engage any  Black farmer, I ask myself, “Why is our government, including our elected officials, the Congressional Black Caucus and other advocates who claim to speak for those  allowing this systemic debilitating and negative treatment to exist?”

Slaughter, who comes from a long line of Black farm owners and was determined to not let discriminatory lending practices make him the last.

To learn more about the plight of the Black farmers via the “Acres of Ancestry” video series click here.

Justice For Black Website

Subject: September 2, 2021 Letter to Tom Vilsack and Team

September 2, 2021

  • Secretary Thomas Vilsack
  • Attention: Chief of Staff, Katherine Ferguson
  • Director, FSA, Zach Ducheneaux
  • Senior Advisor, Dewayne Goldmon
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • 1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
  • Washington, DC 20250

Secretary Vilsack:

As a follow-up to our recent correspondence with you and our meeting with you on May 28, we request another face to face, Zoom-type meeting with you.

While we remain vigilant about things related to debt relief for Black farmers and other socially disadvantaged farmers, our greater concerns lie with the structure of the USDA that continues to perpetuate acts of discrimination against employees of USDA and recipients of programs and services of USDA as well as the ominous threat of foreclosure of family farms. The eradication of any vestiges of racism and the structure that perpetuates racism are concerns at the top of our list.

As has been chronicled in numerous places now for decades, as we all know, both within USDA and on the outside looking in, the system continues to function in the same manner that it did in previous generations. Black farmers in particular continue to bear the brunt of discrimination on the one hand and failure of USDA on the other to compensate them for their loss of land and livelihood. We remain of the opinion that you have the authority to bring about 90% of the administrative changes from The Justice for Black Farmers Act of 2021, and that you could do so with the stroke of a pen. We encourage you to do so.

Our other concerns remain in place as we have previously indicated. These are included in the list of fifteen that we lined out for you in our July 23, 2021 letter. They range from the historical mistreatment of Black farmers, to the failures of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), to the absence of a firewall between OCR and the Office of General Counsel (OGC), to the use of Commodity Credit Corporation, and to the absence of accountability, transparency, and independent oversight, and many, many more.

Please have your office contact us to set up the next meeting. We respectfully request that it involve you and your team as well as our representatives, and that it be scheduled for at least one hour.


  • Lawrence Lucas, President Emeritus
  • USDA Coalition of Minority Employees
  • Representative, Justice for Black Farmers Group
  • 856-910-2399

CC: Justice for Black Farmer Group

Senator Warnock Continues to Battle for Black Farmers

Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock may have found a provision in President Biden’s Build Back Better plan that would provide $12 billion in debt relief.

In a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Senator Warnock is trying to find a way to protect Black farmers and all economically distressed farmers from losing their farms by ensuring debt relief.  Black farmers are suffering because of systemic discrimination by the USDA.

Zoe Willingham is co-author of a 2019 report on Black farmers for the Center for American Progress. The government’s documented history of denying federal loans to Black farmers led to the loss of about 90 percent of their land between 1910 and 1997, while white farmers lost only about 2 percent. “The first meaningful action for Black farmers is in the federal financial loan forgiveness in the American Rescue Plan,” says Willingham, who credits grassroots farmer groups and strong progressive leaders like Warnock for generating the support in Congress. “It’s been thrilling to see the leadership he’s taken on.”

Almost immediately upon arriving in the Senate, Warnock proposed a stand-alone bill, Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act. Its central component is loan forgiveness, and working with his Democratic colleagues Cory Booker and Ben Ray Lujan, he got the first meaningful action on this long and deep-seated problem of financial relief for Black farmers. “I do hope this is lifted up by Biden as a huge victory,” Willingham told The Daily Beast. “He has highlighted a forgotten segment of rural America, and that is rural communities of color.”

1983, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights described in detail the discrimination against Black farmers, the USDA (Department of Agriculture) settled a lawsuit with Black farmers to pay damages.

 Click here to read Sen. Warnock’s letter to Sec. Vilsack.

Letter to Secretary Tom Vilsack, November 22, 2021

  • November 22, 2021
  • Secretary Thomas Vilsack
  • Attention: Chief of Staff, Katherine Ferguson                 
  •  Deputy Secretary, Jewel Bronaugh                                                   
  • Director, FSA, Zach Ducheneaux
  • Senior Advisor, Dewayne Goldmon
  • Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Margo Schlanger, U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • 1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
  • Washington, DC 20250

Secretary Thomas Vilsack:

The numbers are harsh and compelling. Whichever way you look at it, land was stolen from Black farmers. In the early 1900s, there were approximately 950,000 Black farmers working approximately 19,000,000 acres. Between 1910 and 1997 we lost 90% of our farm land worth anywhere from $250/350 billion to upwards of $1 trillion dollars. White farmers lost only 2% of their land during that time. Ninety-eight percent of Black agrarians have been dispossessed. Now there are approximately 38,000 Black farmers farming approximately 4.6 million acres. Our farms are smaller than white farmers and our farms produce much smaller income than do white farms. Our people have been victimized by systematic racism and land theft since the days of Reconstruction. There is absolutely no excuse to be had for what US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and others have done to our Black farmers. And now we want immediate systemic fixes to this centuries old problem.

USDA faces a reckoning regarding its long history of discrimination against Black farmers and others. Investigative journalism continues to expose the racist mistreatment of minority farmers, especially Black farmers. Unfortunately, your history as administrator over these complaints remains extremely troubling. Whether as Governor of the State of Iowa (Pippen v. Vilsack, 6,000 Iowa state Black employees file class action) or Secretary, USDA, many of these trends occurred on your watch and they are very revealing.

The most recent articles in Mother Jones ( and The Nation (  plus numerous radio talk shows and podcasts from such celebrities as Roland Martin ( and Yvette Carnell ( come together. They speak to our opinion that Black farmers continue to experience racism and other wide-spread abuses even though there are false assertions about fixing the civil rights problems at USDA.

We have watched with disbelief and discouragement as a sequence of events played out in a “self-fulfilling prophesy:” a member of the Vilsack agriculture transition team declared that what we wanted, debt relief for Black farmers was “unconstitutional.” We contend that there was an unnecessary length of time spent from Senator Warnock’s two bills, voted into the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, and the decision by a Florida judge to issue a temporary restraining order against you…..which stopped relief for Black farmers. Our contention is that you “slow-walked” the processing of these claims with a “process” that went beyond 100 days. We are fully aware that you with the stroke of your pen could have removed the debt that these farmers have suffered because of USDA’s long history of discrimination, not a “process”….but debt relief. Instead, we have white privilege that continues to be a part of USDA landscape at the pain and suffering of Black farmers and others. Trump paid out $16B in allotments to white farmers in a very speedy fashion, and Black farmers received only a very small fraction of those funds. Why for them and not us?

The word of USDA’s maltreatment of Black farmers is now being spread coast to coast, and north and south, via the award-winning documentary, “I’m Just a Layman in Pursuit of Justice: Black Farmers Fight Against USDA.” It is being seen in California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Texas, and Washington, DC, to name a few. People around the country are rightly alarmed that pre-Pigford farmers faced discrimination at the hands of USDA and that it is still ongoing. The trailer for that documentary can be found at: We invite you to view it.

The Equity Commission will only reveal truths that many of us already know….farmers and USDA employees included. This is another method of side-stepping and not dealing with the culture of systemic racism, sexism, and other civil rights abuses that have haunted USDA for decades. This is discrimination within and of itself.

The evidence resides in the history of internal and external reviews of USDA and the Office of Civil Rights in particular:

  • 1965 document by the US Commission on Civil Rights;
  • 1982 document by the US Commission on Civil Rights;
  • D. J. Miller Report, 1996;
  • Civil Rights Action Team Report, February, 1997;
  • Civil Rights Implementation Team Report (One Year of Change), March, 1998;
  • Commitment to Civil Rights, 2000;
  • Jackson Lewis Report, “Civil Rights Assessment,” 2011;
  • Harvard Studies and Reports, 2015 and 2021;
  • GAO and OIG reports, especially the latest OIG report, September, 2021, which contained “sensitive information that has been redacted for public release due to concerns about the risk of circumvention of the law,” and
  • More.

The question must be…..who is looking into and implementing all these recommendations and solutions that have been offered by these very credible organizations.

We can ill afford to wait for an Equity Commission Report in year 2023 that will tell us what we already know. Farmers are losing their land, dying, losing wealth, and experiencing other abuses….not to mention all of the thousands of civil rights cases not processed….farmers and employees.

An important issue is the historical discrimination by the USDA county committee system. Another area is the Office of Civil Rights and its false assertation of no backlog of cases that we know is not to be true. The added assertion that there is a “firewall” separating the Office of Civil Rights and the Office of General Counsel continues to undermine the fair administration and processing of civil rights at USDA. We want to see the Commodity Credit Corporation used to benefit Black farmers. We want to see accountability, transparency, independent oversight, and justice over the entire civil rights process.

The Democratic party is facing a bold reckoning. We saw it in Virginia and other places around the country.  Blacks come out and vote when they have causes they can support. A decrease in recent Black support puts President Biden, and perhaps Senator Reverend Warnock, and others at risk as well. Black farmers, their extended families around the country, and their supporters are watching very closely what is being played out in USDA and Washington, DC.

The taking for granted the Black vote is a failed and false assumption. Yes, our vote matters. Washington is paying more attention to its own drum beat….as flawed as it may be. The wishful thinking that we will go away because you ignore us is another false assumption. And for those who applaud your civil rights success have their heads in the sand…..for the sake of favors from USDA.

We will not be silent this time around. The cost is too great. This is no game with us. This is not time to continue sugar-coating the dysfunctional civil rights administration and processing at USDA.

President Biden has spoken of justice, that it will be deferred no longer. You have admitted that racism has existed within USDA for decades, if not longer. We want the speed of your efforts at bringing about solutions that work.

A hug will not replace the pain and suffering, loss of a way of life, generational wealth, and more…..and, yes, lives being destroyed and lost. This is what we have asked of you and your administration. We are sorry to say that “systemic discrimination” solutions have been ignored.  Instead, we are offered up an equity commission that will investigate what we already know. That is unacceptable. We want to see results now……not later in 2022 or in 2023.

Farmers in the Black farmer documentary referenced above told the truth. A farmer grieves at his loss, “I lost my livelihood in farming. I couldn’t farm. They took away the one thing I really love, and that’s farming. That’s what the USDA did.” Another farm reflects, “The lack of people, by too many people, not really caring whether we get justice or not.” A third farmer says, “We’ve experienced discrimination for a very long time. Most people would have given up. To this date, I haven’t given up and I never will give up until justice is served.” A fourth farmer defiantly says, “[My father] says, ‘Don’t let USDA take my land.’ It was like anybody else, but just don’t you let them have it. We’ve done that. Nobody else has taken it either, but for sure the USDA will never get it. Quite frankly, I say the United States Department of Agriculture murdered my mother and father, and my brother.” Listen to their words, see their faces, and respect and understand their pain and suffering.

We continue to wait for a call from you and/or your office regarding working with us to address the ongoing culture of systemic racism, sexism, and other longstanding abuses at USDA. We will set up a Zoom call with you, our group, and farmers from around the country. It will include plenty of time for questions and answers. We want a minimum of at least an hour in length with a commitment to further engagement.


Lawrence Lucas, President Emeritus

USDA Coalition of Minority Employees

Representative, Justice for Black Farmers Group



November 22, 2021

California Reparations Task Force Presentation by Lawrence Lucas:

Spoken testimony:

Written testimony (p. 307):

Carnell (Yvette) Podcast, September 13, 2021:

Civil Rights Action Team Report, February 1997 (CRAT):

Civil Rights Implementation Team Report, September 1997 CRIT):

Commitment to Civil Rights Progress, 2000:

The Counter article:

The D. J. Miller Report:

General Accounting Office, 2008:

General Accounting Office, 2008:

General Accounting Office, 2016:

The Harvard Report:

The Harvard Study:

“I’m Just a Layman in Pursuit of Justice: Black Farmers Fight Against USDA:”

The Jackson-Lewis “Civil Rights Assessment,” 2011:

Mother Jones, 2021:

The Nation:

Office of Inspector General, 2021:

Pippen v. Vilsack (May, 2006):

Roland Martin, “Still Getting Screwed: Black Farmers Fight Back Amid Texas Lawsuit Over $5B In Debt Relief,” October 15, 2021:

Senator Warren’s Plan, 2019:

US Commission on Civil Rights, 1965:

US Commission on Civil Rights, 1982:

US General Accounting Office. (1998). Report to the Honorable Edolphus “Ed” Towns, Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives. U. S. Department of Agriculture: Problems continue to hinder the timely processing of discrimination complaints.

The USA Today article:


Black Farmers In The US:  The Opportunity For Addressing Racial Disparities in Farming 

This article was a collaborative effort by This article was a collaborative effort by the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility and McKinsey’s Global Agriculture Practice. (Daniel Aminetzah, Jane Brennan, Wesley Davis, Bekinwari Idoniboye, Nick Noel, Jake Pawlowski, and Shelley Stewart).

By Gary A. Johnson, Black Men In (November 23, 2021)

The following report, prepared by McKinsey & Company reflects the economic disparities between Black farmers and non-Black farmers.  Through what appears to me to be carefully conducted research and practical exhibits, the disparities between Black and non-Black farmers is clear to me.  However, I encourage you to review the following data and draw your own conclusion.

Several factors have contributed to the decline of Black Americans in the agriculture industry. At the federal level, several policies have prevented Black farmers from purchasing land. For example, the Homestead Act of 1862 and the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 were passed prior to the Fourteenth Amendment that recognized formerly enslaved people as American citizens. As a result, lack of legal protections have made it more difficult to transfer land from one generation to the next. Not to mention, discriminatory lending practices have made it more difficult for Black entrepreneurs to gain the capital needed to own farms. Together, it comes as no surprise that there is a lack of Black farmers across the country.

While the role of the agriculture economy has grown, the share of Black farmers in the United States has declined over the last century. Today, just 1.4 percent of farmers identify as Black or mixed race compared with about 14 percent 100 years ago. These farmers represent less than 0.5 percent of total US farm sales (Exhibit 1). Further, Black farmers operate at 70 percent of US peer-level farm revenue with a 14 percent operating margin gap versus their peers, before government payments (Exhibit 2).

Exhibit 1

The share of Black farmers has declined significantly over the last century; today just 1.4 percent of farmers identify as Black.

Exhibit 2

As a result, Black farmers' performance lags peers.

Farming may offer an economic opportunity for Black Americans, particularly in rural areas. While the median household income for all Black Americans is $45,438, the median income for farmers is nearly 25 percent greater, at $57,081. The median net worth for farmers is 43 times that of Black households, representing a potential opportunity for Black Americans to build net worth.

Exhibit 3

The median farmer has a higher annual income and significantly higher net worth than the median Black American.

There are two potential paths to address racial disparities in farming: bringing current Black farmers to parity in farm performance and increasing Black representation in farming. We estimate that addressing these opportunities could generate measurable economic and social value.

First, Black-owned farms are smaller and generate less sales and profits per farm than peers. By bringing Black farmers to parity on a per-farm revenue and profit basis, there is $5 billion in economic value that can be created (Exhibit 4). Second, increasing business participation for Black farmers could create ladders of opportunity for the 66,000 Black workers employed in the agriculture sector and beyond; thus, it could serve as a path to improve representation (1.4 percent) to at least reflect the Black US population in farming counties (8 percent) or the broader US population (13 percent).7

Exhibit 4

Conversations with stakeholders across the agriculture value chain and research into Black farmer focus programs suggest barriers to realizing this potential. Capturing this value requires addressing a variety of challenges for current and aspiring Black farmers.

  • Economic: Constrained growth due to poor resource endowments, including land and capital, and hindered access to credit and business services.
  • Educational: Asymmetric access to information and knowledge. Historically black colleges and universities often do not receive adequate funding for their agricultural programs,8 so there remains an information gap with potential black farmers.
  • Social-cultural: Restricted access to networks and opportunities to access resources. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has publicly recognized historical discrimination against Black farmers,9 resulting in generational wealth loss for many former Black farmers.
  • Institutional: Lack of access, awareness, and participation in the USDA and other programs as well as limited private sector reach.

Public and private programs exist today to support Black farmers, but they vary in maturity and reach. For example, many private programs are in pilot stages and have yet to achieve their full potential scale and scope. Further, many public programs have faced challenges to scale due to historical distrust of farming support and lack of awareness among the Black farming community. Conversations with participants across the agriculture value chain suggest eight example actions stakeholders can consider.

If these disparities were addressed, researchers believe it would provide a $5 billion economic boom for society at large. How can this be achieved? According to the study, the following actions can be taken to support Black farmers:

  • Increase capital and market access for Black farmers
  • Provide estate and planning support for Black farmers
  • Launch targeted agronomic training programs
  • Invest in broadband infrastructure along the Black Belt

About This Group

The USDA Coalition of Minority Employees is a civil rights organization formed by employees of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1994 specifically focused on ending discrimination within the Department and more generally on eradicating racism in agriculture in the United States.
The organization has met with many senators across the United States to raise awareness of the land theft against African Americans and create new legislation to create racial equity within agriculture. The organization’s consistent push towards monumental change led to President Joe Biden creating a fund in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 for socially disadvantaged farmers to receive 120% of the outstanding indebtedness incurred against governmental organizations. The organization was cited as a main reason the Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic called for the USDA to reform its Civil Rights division in April of 2021.
On March 22, 2021, the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees moderated a briefing alongside Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Raphael Warnock to discuss the aid socially disadvantaged farmers will be eligible for under the American Rescue Plan.
In 1996, Lawrence Lucas held a Congressional News Conference to raise awareness on discrimination within the USDA.
In 2016, Vice President Lesa Donnelly testified to a United States House Committee on Oversight and Reform to address sexual assault issues within the United States Forest Service. On December 1, 2020, Donnelly testified at the House Oversight Committee hearing entitled “Examining Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
In 2018, the organization held Sonny Perdue accountable for sexual misconduct in the United States Forest Service, leading to the resignation of Tony Tooke.
The organization is a staunch critic of United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Lawrence Lucas cites Secretary Vilsack as being a main reason African American farmers have not received their Social Security and disability benefits. Politico highlighted the organization as being on the opposing side of Vilsack’s 2020 nomination by President Biden, parting ways from the mainstream opinion of the nomination. The organization has strong ties with Elizabeth Warren, yet criticized the senator for labeling heir property as a main reason African American farmers have lost their land.
The organization endorses the Justice for Black Farmers Act of 2020 crafted by Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren, even going so far to label it the Black Farmers Civil Rights Act of 2020. The USDA Coalition of Minority Employees believes the bill is meant to provide justice for over one million African Americans who have had their land stolen in the history of the United States.
In 2016, Lawrence Lucas protested outside the United States Supreme Court Building to address issues surrounding Pigford v. Glickman and the plight of African American farmers becoming homeless and landless.
In 2020, adviser Kordel Davis led a George Floyd protest in Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina.

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