Tag Archives: black farmers

America’s Farms: African American Women Principal Operators Increase, But Not Enough


By William A. Foster, IV

Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field. – President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

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Typically, I abhor the term people of color, women of color, men of color, and well you get the idea. It lumps a bunch of different groups – and more importantly their interest – into this false sense of PoC (us) versus the evil Europeans (them). Diaspora groups of all ancestry have vied for resources against each other for thousands of years. People of color have waged wars against each other well before Europeans ascended to the top of the power pile over the past thousand or so years. However, in this case there actually is a stark trend developing between women of color and women of European descent and it is going to impact America’s food plates in livings rooms and restaurants across the country and around the world. 

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Men lie, women lie, and sometimes numbers can be misleading. A look at the state of women principal operators from 2007 to 2012 in the latest USDA Agricultural Census would suggest that their is an crisis in farming among women. In 2007, there were 306 209 women principal operators, but as of 2012 there was a reported 288 264 or a drop of almost 6 percent. However, this is where the numbers are a bit misleading. African, Asian, Latina, and Native American women all saw increases in their women principal operators of 4.5 percent, 32.8 percent, 19.4 percent, and 13 percent, respectively. European American women principal operators saw a drop of 7 percent and despite the drop in their ranks they still constitute 93 percent of all women principal operators. In other words, women of color just do not constitute a large enough of the farming population to move the needle – yet. In a generation however, their importance to the health of the communities they represent could have echoing effects on economic and political power going forward.

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In an article from the LSU Agriculture Center they reported, “There are 239 counties in the U.S. where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps. In over 750 counties, SNAP is helping to feed one-third of African Americans.” Just for clarity there are 3 141 counties in the United States according to the United States Geological Survey. Part of the problem is that still in our community it remains difficult to access quality food at an affordable price. This is especially important given our lack of institutional wealth (see decline in African American land ownership) has resulted in our tendency towards unhealthy foods and being able to predominantly afford sugar and salt laden products that fill us, but damages our quality of health or health capital in the long-term. Quality of life naturally impacts an ability to earn a living and for how long, being engaged in civic discourse, and be an active primer in the social molding of family and community.  The CDC reports that almost 15 percent of African Americans are in poor health. Even more disturbing is the African American obesity rate, which for African American men over 20 is 37.9 percent and for African American women over 20 is an astounding 57.6 percent. Lastly, hypertension among African American men over 20 is at 40 percent and women over 20 is at almost 50 percent just to further drive the health point home. Given the importance of African American women to the economics of African American households (African America is the only group where the women outnumber the men in employment) their long-term health both in relation to their ability to work and birth healthy children is paramount to the community. There is also the anthropological assumption that since women have long been the leadership of nutrition in all households that they have a significant psychological vested interest in improving the quality of food to their families if given the means to do so. Having more African American women engaged in the production of the food at the beginning could lead to a significant change in the eating habits of the entire community at the end of the value chain.

The question then is how can we build upon numbers for African American women farmers and understanding its importance to the African American family and community. As it is, if current trends hold, Asian American women will outnumber African American women as principal operators within ten years. The answer could lay in a private-pubic approach between 1890 HBCUs and existing African American owned agricultural businesses. Each 1890 HBCU, the 20 HBCU schools excluding West Virginia State University because of demographics, through the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities could add to its list of initiatives a means of engaging young girls about the agricultural and farming process. Private HBCU owned companies that are involved in farming like Chestnut Hollow Farms, LLC run by Norfolk State University alum Harold Blackwell would add the private component with 1890 HBCUs to especially target girls and introduce them to help them understand the business side of farming.

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Health is wealth, but unfortunately our health is not in our own hands and especially not in the hands of our nurturers beyond the preparation of it at the end of the value chain. Sometimes it is intangibles or the qualitative factors that can not be measured (peppered with quantitative data) that can be the key to changing our behavior from the farm to the plate where African American women innately are filled with data from generations of their mothers and grandmothers stories. It is true, there is nothing quite like a woman’s touch and that may be the very thing that brings African American owned farm back to prominence.

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HBCU Money™ Histronomics: 1920 Agricultural Census Of Colored Farms & Land Ownership


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HIGHLIGHTS

  • Total American Farm Acres in 1920 – 956 million acres
  • Economic value of Total American Farm Acres – $66 billion
  • Total Colored Acres in 1920 – 45 million acres
  • Economic value of Total Colored Farm Acres – $2.5 billion
  • % of Total Farm Land Owned by Colored in 1920 – 4.7%
  • Average Colored Farm Acreage in 1920 – 47.3 acres
  • Average Economic Value of African American Farms in 1920 – $2 063

*Colored in the census encompasses African, Native, Japanese, and Chinese Americans. African Americans comprised 97.5% of the colored farm operators in 1920.

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42 Million African Americans Own Only 0.33 Percent Of America’s Lands


By William A. Foster, IV

A nation may be said to consist of its territory, its people and its laws. The territory is the only part which is of certain durability. Laws change, people die, the land remains. — Abraham Lincoln

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The Land Report recently released its annual 100 largest landowners in America. To no one’s surprise there was not one African American individual or family present on the list.  The apex of African American land ownership was over 100 years ago in 1910 when African America owned almost 20 million acres. A far cry from the 160 million acres that should have been owned had Special Order 15 been honored by the U.S. government which is also known as “40 acres and a mule” to most African Americans. By the numbers we have lost over 50 percent of our land ownership the past 100 years and the number continues to drop at an alarming rate for a myriad of reasons. Given that land is the foundation for all social, economic, and political development it could be argued that you can measure a group’s power based on their land ownership. This has been true no matter the economic system in place throughout history. If this is the case then African America is seeing itself getting weaker and weaker generation after generation.

The largest landowner in the country is John Malone, owner of Liberty Media and something few know is he was the second largest shareholder in Black Entertainment Television behind the founders Bob and Sheila Johnson. His initial investment in the company was $180 000 in equity and a $320 000 loan. Eventually, the loan would be paid back but he retained his equity stake, which by the time of the company’s sale would see him receive a return of $700 million. Yes, the man made $700 million on a $180 000 investment. Needless to say, that can buy you a lot of land. In 2010, it allowed him to purchase the Bell Ranch, 290 000 acres of land in New Mexico, and as a result jumping Ted Turner as America’s largest landowner. Just between John Malone and Ted Turner they own over 50 percent of the amount of land that African America owns as a whole.

HBCU business schools have a unique opportunity to change the paradigm of African American land ownership for future generations. This is even more so true at HBCU 1890 schools where agriculture still comprises a major component within the institutions. A class designed around African American land ownership would go a long way to educating graduates, who will typically be in a much better financial position to accumulate land than those with less education. The classes themselves could teach among others things but not limited to; how to implement “poison pills” into their community to prevent gentrification, how to finance land, history of land ownership, timberland investments, and a myriad of other land-related subjects.

Gentrification alone is a problem plaguing a number of African American communities across the nation. This has been especially true for African American neighborhoods located near city centers as many in the suburbs are starting to move back inward. There is also the issue facing African American farmers in this country. Healthy Solutions reports that less than 2 percent of farms today are operated by African Americans in comparison to 14 percent in 1920. There is no doubt that if one examines African America as a nation that its food security and food dependence would have alarm bells ringing for decades now as this situation grows more dire. The USDA in 2010 settled an almost $1.3 billion discrimination lawsuit with 70 000 African American farmers. However, land ownership and African American farms continue to decline further compounding African America capability to have access to quality food options and increasing long-term health issues. I could go into how land ownership influences rezoning of political lines but then I might need to turn this into a book.

Unfortunately, it begs the question as many HBCUs move to a focus on “diversity” whether or not African American economic issues are even on the minds of many HBCU business school leadership. Our situation can not be handled as a “minority” situation. It requires a more targeted strategy to our social, economic, and political state. We can not continue to be the group who has the least but shares the most unless we are content with perpetually being in last and institutionally dependent on others. Land, it remains kind of a big deal.