Black Farmers Fund launched in Washtenaw County

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From MSU extension

The Washtenaw County Black Farmers Fund (WCBFF) is an association of nonprofit organizations, farmers and community members who aim to build a fairer food system by investing in the region’s black farmers. The group hopes to raise $ 50,000 to fund five to ten black farmers to buy property, reduce debt, buy equipment, develop infrastructure, and meet other business and labor needs. The fundraiser started on Friday September 10th and will last about a month. The WCBFF was inspired by the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund, the guides of which generously provided guidance to the organizers.

Why support black farmers?

Black farmers, historically and currently, face greater challenges than their white counterparts when it comes to accessing the capital needed to start new farms or expand their current operations. The famous “Pigford v. Glickman“Class action lawsuit, which highlighted the racial discrimination black farmers faced in US Department of Agriculture (USDA) lending between 1981 and 1996 and their ability to acquire land, is one of many examples of historical discrimination that blacks Affected farmers directly. Evidence that loan officers refused to work with black farmers, threw loan applications in the trash, took longer to process loans, and offered black farmers less capital than their white counterparts all contributed to the settlement. Many black farmers lost their land through foreclosures or had to sell it to pay off their existing debts.

The work of MSU researcher Shakara Tyler, PhD, sheds light on how black farmers perceive state credit institutions in Michigan. When looking for a farm loan from the USDA, black farmers reported racial inaccessibility and lack of reach as specific barriers to accessing credit. In a community program hosted by the Ypsilanti-based nonprofit Growing Hope called Justice for Black Farmers: A Local Perspective, farmers shared their frustration over access to the capital they need to start or distribute their farms obtain. They cited mistrust of lenders, aversion to debt and a lack of collateral as the main obstacles.

In addition to overt discrimination by the USDA and other difficult aspects of access to credit, black families have eight times less wealth than a typical white family, according to new data from the Federal Reserve System’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances. A century of discriminatory housing distribution practices, inequitable access to education, and discrimination in the workplace have resulted in significant racial wealth gaps, difficult for the black farmer. Since many credit institutions, including the USDA, require three or more years of farm experience before they can borrow, access to seed capital is vital for aspiring farmers.

The History of the Black Farmers in Washtenaw County

There were 626 black-run farms in Michigan in the 1900s, most of which were owner-managed. The first black farmers to settle in Michigan were either recruited or followed the Underground Railroad north to settle in the southeast and southwest of the state. As Dorceta E. Taylor researched in her article, “Black Farmers in the USA and Michigan: Longevity, Empowerment, and Food Sovereignty,” “good quality” land advertising has been used across Michigan to attract black farmers, although the land is frequent is marginal and poor quality. In Pittsfield Township, Washtenaw County, records show that abolitionists helped black farmers settle on the Old Sweet Briar Farm in the 1820s.

Between 1920 and 1970, farmland loss accelerated for Black Michigan farmers. Much of the acreage was lost as the heirs sold the property due to high taxes and limited profits. For Michigan’s Black Farmers: Failure to participate in farming programs, low representation on agricultural committees, and reports of blatant discrimination by agricultural lenders attributed to the disproportionate rate of farm losses, as found in Shakara Tyler’s research, Michigan Black Farm Owners Perceptions about Farm Ownership is Loan Acquisition: A Critical Racial Analysis. ”Today, according to the USDA Agricultural Census, only 18 of the 2,134 farmers in Washtenaw County identify as black.

How the funds are spent

Once fundraising is complete, current or prospective black farmers living or ending up in Washtenaw, Jackson, Ingham, Livingston, Oakland, Michigan, Wayne, Monroe, and Lenawee counties can apply for the funds. The focus is on helping farmers who produce nutritious food and supply the Washtenaw County’s grocery shed. Black farmers will be considered for the fund through an application process. A dedicated committee of staff will oversee the application process to ensure that the funds are allocated to the black farmers who will benefit most from the capital.

Michigan State University Extension supports Michigan’s community food systems by providing research and resources to communities across the state, including the Washtenaw County Black Farmers Fund.

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