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How One Nonprofit Founded By Two Black Women Aims To Help Struggling Black Farmers

A federal government effort to assist Black farmers seeking loan forgiveness exclusively for them was met with lawsuits by white farmers who companied the program constitutes reverse racism. The lawsuits blocked help for struggling Black farmers.

When the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law this summer, it removed economic relief allocated specifically for Black farmers in the the 2021 Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act (ERFCA).

Olivia Watkins

Help Blocked

The ERFCA, proposed by President Joe Biden, was supposed to allocate $4 billion under the American Rescue Plan to forgive 120 percent of USDA loan debt for farmers of color.

However, white farmers, some of whom were given government grants, thought this proposed legislation was “racist” and sued for discrimination in an attempt to block the program.

Disadvantaged Black farmers who face unique challenges won’t be getting the debt relief that would have forgiven millions in loans.

Black Farmers Fight Back

What was disappointing for some Black farmers was that when white farmers had government grants allocated to them sometime around 2017, Black farmers were left out. At least that what two Black women in the farming industry, Karen Washington and Olivia Watkins, told Essence they experienced.

“We met at a Farmers Conference and became absolutely incensed at the information we learned there,” Watkins said.

“While we were at the conference, a question was asked; ‘how do whites show up in Black spaces’,” said Washington. “The answer drew a blank response that was dismissive.”

In response, the two created the New York-based non-profit Black Farmer Fund in 2017 with the mission of rallying investment opportunities for farmers who need financial support.

“The average income of a white farmer in the state [New York] is $48,000 a year; for a Black farmer, it’s minus $910 a year, and these inequities persist across the country,” said Washington. “This is why I’m raising hell out here, talking about injustice.”

San Jose State professor of public health and recreation Andrew Carter reports in a Newsweek editorial that since the 1920s, Black farmers have lost land 50 percent of their lands every decade, which is three times more than what white farmers have lost.

The Trump administration earmarked $26 billion in a relief fund for farmers, but less than 0.1 percent was allocated directly to Black farmers. Black farmers represent 1.4 percent of the nation’s farmers.

The Black Farmer Fund already raised its first $1 million fund last year and has disbursed about $600,000 to businesses in the American Northeast, GreenBiz reported.

“We now believe that funding is just one foot in the door,” Watkins told GreenBiz. “People will need other things along the way as their businesses grow, and we want to be working alongside them as they move on and expand, even if they experience challenges along the way.”

According to Watkins, the organization will work with Black farmers to overcome the financial challenges they face due to race.

“A lot of shady things have been happening in financial institutions, and that has informed our work,” Watkins said. Among the issues, Watkins explains, are Black farmers getting quoted higher interest rates than their white peers. 

Black Farmer Fund plans to bring these issues to light and to find solutions, said Watkins.

Watkins is a social entrepreneur and impact investor. For the past seven years, she has financed, developed, and operated environmental and social projects across the country. She currently serves as a co-founder and president of Black Farmer Fund. She also serves as a board member for Soul Fire Farm Institute, where she worked in several production roles at Soul Fire Farm Institute and Kahumana Organic Farms.

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