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Female and Minority Farmers Demand Equality

Female and Minority Farmers Demand Equality

Earlier this year, the USDA updated the process by which female and Hispanic farmers may file discrimination claims. This was largely a response to a number of claims over the last decade filed by farmers claiming they had been denied farm loans due to their gender or ethnicity. One significant case is Love v. Vilsack, a class action lawsuit filed by a group of female farmers against the USDA. The case was filed in 2000 and has yet to be finally resolved. Another class action case, Pigford v. Glickman, claimed that the USDA discriminated against African-American farmers in a similar fashion. In 2010, after some confusion regarding farm bill funds that could be made available as compensation for the farmers involved, the claimants were ultimately awarded $1.15 billion. Similar claims have been filed by Native American farmers, as well.

The updated claims process increases the maximum compensation for female and Hispanic farmers from $50,000 to $250,000 and provides a streamlined litigation process. This is a step in the right direction, but does not address the root of the problem.

In the United States, farming is predominantly the province of white men. In the corporate, corporate organic, and small-scale organic food systems, white men run the show. As a result, female and minority farmers are often not taken seriously.

Why does it matter who grows our food? There are many reasons. The most obvious is that, as with any profession, no one should be discriminated against on the basis of gender or ethnicity. It is simply unconstitutional.

But it goes deeper than that. Food is one of the most basic necessities of life. Knowing how to grow food gives a person or group considerable independence. That is one reason that many people enjoy gardening – it is satisfying to know how to grow one’s own food and know that it is not absolutely necessary to rely upon the grocery store, or even the farmers’ market.

Giving power over this basic, life-giving necessity to one group is an act based – at least partially – in a desire for control and an attempt to maintain the status quo. By making it difficult for women and minorities to do something as fundamentally important as growing and selling food, the USDA is making a powerful statement about where it feels the power in this country lies.

What’s more, granting control of farming primarily to white men leads to a groupthink mentality. There is much that needs to be reformed in our food system. We need to promote the effective methods of farming without chemicals and in concert with nature that are found on small, organic farms. We need to support local farming and strengthen local food systems. Perhaps, if the nation’s farming population were more diverse, we would enjoy a more productive conversation on how to accomplish these goals. That is not to assume that all white men think alike. But surely opening a dialog with individuals whose experiences are more varied would be more likely to produce new ideas.

Organizations like the National Black Farmers Association are working to address this problem. The non-profit community organization works to educate the public about the discrimination experienced by minority farmers and to mobilize African-American farmers with the goal of increasing awareness about the issue. Similarly, non-profits like People’s Grocery in Oakland, California are educating urban residents about discrimination against female and minority farmers.

With the work of non-profits like the National Black Farmers Association and People’s Grocery, as well as the efforts of the USDA to redress discrimination claims, it appears that progress is being made. However, there is still much that needs to be done if attitudes toward female and minority farmers are going to truly change.

 

 

Related:
Ecuador Farmers Organize ‘Illegal’ Community Food Fairs
Local, Organic Produce at Your Doorstep
Discrimination Hurts Everyone

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Sarah Cooke

Sarah Cooke is a writer living in California. She is interested in organic food and green living. Sarah holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University, an M.A. in Humanities from NYU, and a B.A. in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University. She has written for a number of publications, and she studied Pastry Arts at the Institute for Culinary Education. Her interests include running, yoga, baking, and poetry. Read more on her blog.

16 comments

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10:22AM PST on Dec 1, 2013

I think it's strange that this is even an issue. Do the plants care what demographic a human is when it's planted? if nature doesn't care, why is this even an issue? That's nuts. Thanks.

10:13AM PDT on Apr 30, 2013

Power to the women of our world and "minorities" (what a ghastly term...).

In fact, given who has screwed this world up in recent years, the "minorities" are the bankers, politicians and power-possessors...

9:57PM PDT on Apr 7, 2013

These were the ways of our Ancesters! Farming and growing their own and more.
We respect the farmers that feed us all! Don't need the big corporations farming.

6:44PM PST on Dec 26, 2012

And they deserve equality. They work as hard as other farmers and are just as human.

6:59PM PST on Nov 5, 2012

This type of inequality reflects a mentality which believes that neither blacks nor females can handle the responsibilities of a farm sufficiently to stay afloat and repay the loan. How sad!

12:48AM PDT on Oct 28, 2012

We are all equal and should be treated so.

1:36PM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

Definitely a step in the right direction.

6:30AM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

thanks.

12:50AM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

About time!~

3:21AM PDT on Oct 7, 2012

Thankyou

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