Senator Cory Booker and several of his Democratic colleagues are seeking to rectify centuries of discriminatory practices in the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) with new legislation.
The Justice for Black Farmers Act was introduced in November by Booker and co-sponsored by Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. It would allow Black farmers to reclaim up to 160 acres of farmland at no charge through an USDA grant program.
In an interview with Mother Jones, Sen. Booker said the Justice for Black Farmers Act is necessary to reverse the “destructive forces that were unleashed upon Black farmers over the past century–– one of the dark corners of shame in American history.”
He added, “When it comes to farming and agriculture, we know that there is a direct connection between discriminatory practices within the USDA and the enormous land loss we have seen among Black farmers in the past century."
Under a new USDA agency, the Equitable Land Access Service, the Act, according to America’s Farm Report, would move up to 32 million acres to Black ownership over a ten year period. The bill would also increase funding to $50 million every year to finance a re-lending program through the USDA to resolve “heirs property” issues or property that’s been passed down for generations without a title.
John Boyd, the president of the National Black Farmers Association called the Justice for Black Farmers Act "the most ambitious legislative proposal ever developed to address historic and ongoing discrimination against Black farmers.”
Kamal Bell, a 29-year-old farmer in Durham, North Carolina told ABC News that this type of legislation is only a start in the efforts to undo the impact of racist policies and to help Black owned farms to generate revenue and remain sustainable.
“I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” he said, “but we need to create pipelines for African Americans to be educated on a 21st-century farm.The production aspect of how to stay in business isn’t taught to you. We learned this on our own and from other Black farmers we ended up meeting.”
Bell is the CEO of Sankofa Farms, a family farm he purchased after saving up during college. Sankofa Farms seeks to be a sustainable food resource in urban areas, especially food deserts. They also use the farm as a way to educate youth on agriculture and larger life lessons through interactive programming.
If passed, the Justice for Black Farmers Act could provide farmers like Bell an opportunity to provide Black communities with fresh farm produce, and introduce the business of farming to a new generation, while repairing the impact of centuries of oppression.
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