Ali Anderson and Arthur Levine | Feed Black Futures
Southern California Mutual-aid organization works to support Black families with fresh produce but has its eyes on a bigger prize:
As food justice workers and collaborators, “Our greatest need is food. All of our families need food,” were Betty McKay’s words when a group of advocates who would later launch Feed Black Futures (FBF) came to her with a desire to see fresh produce get into the hands and stomachs of Black people.
After a summer witnessing the concerted attack on Black Lives, from the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black communities, to the state sanctioned police violence and killings of Black people, including trans folx and Black women, a group of food justice advocates started strategizing alongside organizers at National Bailout to fill a gap that should have been filled by the state: to get food to families pushed to the margins of society.
What began as an effort to raise $10,000 to feed a handful of families for a few weeks quickly accumulated to $90,000. With this financial support, that dream developed into FBF.
The mutual aid effort delivers weekly or bi-monthly bags from produce, eggs, and chicken from small-scale Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) farmers and food distributors to Black mamas and caregivers on probation, parole, or caring for incarcerated or formerly incarcerated loved ones. FBF also supports these families in growing their own food by installing garden beds, conducting food justice political education, and funding farmer training programs and skills building around land stewardship.
Building partnerships for success
During our first 3 months, FBF built partnerships with Huerta del Valle Farm in Ontario, CA, Essie Justice Group – an organization that supports women with experiences of incarceration or incarcerated loved ones, A New Way of Life Reentry Project, farmers markets andBlack farmers in Southern California.
From providing weekly boxes of organic produce to Black families living in areas of food apartheid, to financially investing in Black farmers, we have grown into our power. FBF fosters strategies of resistance and pathways to divest from those state systems that harm Black folks by modeling support for Black mamas, caregivers, and their families.
One of the biggest challenges and biggest opportunities at FBF is finding Black farmers. There are only a handful in all of California. The prospect of getting Black folks land to start growing food would greatly increase our efforts to Feed Black Futures.
The Biden/Harris administration and its programs
The Biden/Harris moment is supposed to be a moment of healing, a reckoning on racial justice, climate, and issues of wealth inequality. They’ve already passed a $1.9 trillion aid bill that could cut child poverty in half and with $5 billion dollars for farmers of Color. A week ago, the White House began work on what will likely be a legacy $3 trillion infrastructure bill and jobs program.
The administration also proclaimed March 22nd 2021 to be National Agriculture Day. President Biden’s determination to “address racial inequity and create an equitable space for all to participate in the great American enterprise of agriculture” is part of his same “commitment to tackle the climate crisis.”
But systemic racism is deeply rooted in America’s food system. The USDA and even this liberal administration is failing to deal with the root of the problem: land. So much of the benefit from loans, to aid, to incentive plans for climate-smart farming – something the Biden administration is really trying to push – are only available to you if you own land.
While Biden and Vilsack have already passed more aid specifically directed to Black farmers and farmers of color through the $1.9trillion American Rescue plan, this is only designed to help Black folks who still own or lease their farmland. It does nothing to address a more fundamental issue: giving land to Black people.
Aspiring Black farmers need land
Black people currently only cultivate 2% of America’s farmland and make up only 1.3% of American farmers according to the USDA and have lost an estimated 36million acres of land between 1920 to 1978. The American rescue act will help slow the ongoing loss of Black-owned and operated farmland in the US by undoing farmer debt, but it is not going achieve what we think is a reasonable goal: Black people are 13.4% of the US population so Black farms should make up at least 13.4% of farmers and farmed acres.
Black folks represent 13.4% of the US population yet are overrepresented as 33% of the prison population. Black folks were 37% more likely to succumb from COVID-19 in 2020. Why is harm doled out at such a high rate when benefits are doled out at such a low rate for Black people and Black farmers?
Federal farm programs rarely benefit Black farmers
In an age where agriculture is viewed as a way to fight climate change, and when programs like the USDA CRP program or California’s Healthy Soils program will pay farmers for conservation, those who own the land will bring home the most benefits. Black farmers will yet again be locked out of a system of benefits that prioritizes land owning farmers 96% percent of whom are white.
In order to do this the Biden/Harris and Vilsack agriculture and infrastructure approach should focus on getting Black people land. They should work on getting all BIPOC people land for that matter. Specifically they can do three things.
First, start by urging Congress and especially House and Senate Democratsto pass the Justice in Farming Act, which would enable Black farmers to acquire up to 160 acres apiece, at no charge, through a USDA system of land grants, and establish an Equity Commission would study the legacy of discrimination at the USDA and suggest reforms.
Second, urge Congress to pass HR 40, which has been introduced every year since 1989. The resolution would acknowledge the fundamental injustice and inhumanity of slavery, establish a commission to study slavery, its subsequent racial and economic discrimination against the formerly enslaved, study the impact of those forces on today’s living African Americans; and then make recommendations to Congress on appropriate remedies to redress the harm inflicted on living African Americans.
Third, replicate President Lincoln’s Homestead act which transferred over 270 million acres to private individuals and allowed thousands of white settlers to move across the United States and settle Indigenous prairie land. The Biden/Harris administration can develop a similar program to connect BIPOC stewards to the land. The Federal Government can give the land, federal investment, tools, technical assistance, and training to the most marginalized communities not only healing centuries old racial harm, but also building America’s regenerative agriculture base, an intervention that can tackle climate change. This could even be part of a federal jobs program or part of the looming $3trillion infrastructure plan.
Making farmland available for Blacks
If we assume that Black farms and farmers should be representative of the population percentage, we would be able to know how much land should be given to Black folks who want to steward it. There are 897,400,000 farmland acres in the US, meaning. 13.4% of that would mean Black farmers should be farming 120.2 million acres. This means that according to 2017 census data, Black farmers are only farming 4.7million acres–there is a lot of ground to be made up.
These ideas are already knocking at Congress’s door and at the local level. In fact, the city of Evanston, Il is already committing to a test run of a reparations program to address housing discrimination. Undoing centuries of systemic oppression will require systemic solutions. Today, the tools to address these solutions are within Congress’ reach