The Biden administration’s efforts to right years of wrong done to Black farmers were recently shut down by a litany of lawsuits filed by opposers who, ironically cited racism.
The debt relief plan that was originally designed to forgive millions of loans taken out specifically by Black farmers was later changed to a more wide-reaching program, which rolled out in August. Black farmers were incredibly disappointed. Among them were Karen Washington and Olivia Watkins but they weren’t surprised.
Farmers themselves, Washington and Watkins first noticed the vast disparity in government grant allocation to non-white farmers in 2017 and decided to do something about it.
“We met at a Farmers Conference and became absolutely incensed at the information we learned there,” Watkins told ESSENCE.
“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. People walked out, commandeered a space in which only people of color were allowed to convene. It was in this space that I brought up the fact that black people must pave their own way towards economic independence, challenging the group to do so, and that’s when Olivia stepped up and said she was willing to make change. We soon met after that and the rest is history.”
The two co-founded The Black Farmer Fund that same year, which aims to build Black community wealth and health by investing in Black agro-systems.
“The average income of a white farmer in the state 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.”
Their pilot cohort raised more than $1million+ and have allocated capital to 8 Black agricultural businesses.
“The importance of the Fund is to instill the concept of Social Capital and Communal Wealth in communities who for so long have been disenfranchised,” Washington told ESSENCE. “We as black people have been waiting for others to save us from an economy and food system that was not meant for us, only to see how it has exploited people of color. What we mean by social capital and communal wealth is the collective power communities of color have when we pool our resources together.Give us capital, resources and opportunities and communities you once deemed powerless now become powerful. Black Farmer Fund was founded on strength of community collaborations, and commitment towards the health and well being of a Black agrarian economy.”
This only the beginning for them.
“We’re really looking forward to expanding some of that short and medium term funding through to the Northeast. We won’t get bigger than that, but in our first year funding, we have businesses that were just over the border in Massachusetts or Connecticut that we’re aiming to support. It’s incredibly important and we’re fortunate to be in a position to foster growth and opportunity for the backbone of our country: Black agriculturalists.”