In 2020, US Senator Cory Booker introduced the Justice for Black Farmers Act in an attempt to end historical and ongoing discrimination at USDA, protect remaining Black farmers and entice new Black farmers to the land. This legislation was the first of its kind to address the specific needs of Black farmers and elevate their experience into the national conversation.
At the state level, policymakers across the country have drawn on parts of the Justice for Black Farmers Act legislation over the last three years to craft a variety of state-level reforms that center farmer equity and Black farmer justice across a range of progressive policies.
While initially state level efforts closely mirrored the language of the Justice for Black Farmers act to include land granting and training programs, since 2020, state legislators have increasingly found unique ways to meet the needs of Black farmers. As the Justice for Black Farmers Act has been introduced again in 2023, state legislators continue to find new ways to incorporate Black farmer equity into not just policy but other legislator activities they undertake.
We convened a webinar with Senator Cory Booker’s office, state legislators and experts to share how state legislators can support farmer equity in their state. Here are six takeaways from the webinar to help state legislators increase Black farmer equity in their state.
#1: Black farmers have faced historical and ongoing discrimination at all levels of government. It is important for state legislators and those working on farmer equity to ground potential solutions in the historical context of discrimination and barriers that Black farmers have faced. Starting with the historical context helps to identify the ongoing and urgent needs of Black farmers and potential solutions. It also combats the narrative that Black farmers are getting something “extra” or “more” that other farmers are not getting.
#2: The Justice for Black Farmers Act was a landmark bill because it was the first time that federal policy solutions were presented to specifically meet the needs of Black farmers. Since the introduction of the Justice for Black Farmers Act in 2020, momentum has been building at the state and federal level for systemic reforms in agriculture and food policy. Reforms such as addressing consolidation in the agribusiness industry would help all small farmers to compete, and alongside policies dedicated to supporting Black farmers, would build a healthier and more equitable food system.
#3: Panelist and expert, Dania Davy from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, thinks there are many ways that state policymakers can make a real difference in the lives of Black farmers now, while the Justice for Black Farmers Act makes its way through Congress. For example, one of the successes of the Inflation Reduction Act was reauthorization of specific conservation programs. While much of the discussion on racial equity in USDA implementation looks at the federal context, most actual discrimination against Black farmers happens locally. State legislators can ensure their state agriculture departments equitably serve the needs of Black farmers. Legislators can make sure Black farmers in their communities are connected to opportunities and funding in federal conservation programs.
#4: Delaware Representative Dorsey Walker sees her work on Black farmer equity and agriculture policy as a way to build long-term power. Rep. Dorsey Walker mentioned that she requested a seat on the agriculture committee when she was first elected in 2018. She said: “Agriculture is the number one industry in Delaware and I wanted a seat at the table to make sure that the people that look like me have a voice. The only way to affect change is to be in the mix.”
#5: While the Justice for Black Farmers Act was a landmark bill at the federal level, panelist Adam Zipkin, Counsel for U.S. Senator Cory Booker, emphasized the importance of state efforts. While federal policy-making faces unprecedented levels of gridlock, states can often be more agile with their own version of federal legislation. Adam sees state progress as a feedback loop that can help Black farmers and inspire continued movement at the federal level as well.
#6: The USDA Equity Commission, a result of provisions to support Black farmers in the American Rescue Plan, just released its interim recommendations report on increasing racial equity and reducing disparity in USDA programs, policies, and systems. Some provisions may be applicable to state-level programs and policy and could be translated to the state and local level.
Though there continue to be significant barriers to getting relief directly to farmers, the principles outlined in the Justice for Black Farmers Act continue to support state legislators, advocates and farmers in shaping and building capacity for conversations, change, and more equitable policy, at the state level.
If you are a CROP member you can watch the recording of the Justice for Black Farmers Act: Where Are We Now? webinar here. Not a CROP member? As a state legislator you can join here.
For more on Black farmer equity and policies to end historic discrimination in rural communities, see the Blueprint for Rural Policy Action in the States.
If you are a state legislator interested in working on farmer equity issues, reach out to us at [email protected] —we can help!