Monday, September 20, 2010

Rural black youth may not see a future in farming

Just 1.4 percent of the nation's 2.2 million farms are operated by African Americans and some fear that number may be on the decline. "At the turn of the last century, there were probably hundreds of thousands of black farmers, mostly sharecroppers in the South, federal agriculture experts say," Deborah Barfield Berry reports for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. "For economic reasons, many moved elsewhere and left farming behind." The number of black farmers actually increased by 5.2 percent between 2002 and 2007, in part because of outreach efforts aimed at better tracking of black farmers.

In addition to the problems all farmers face, black farmers point to discrimination in applying for federal aid as an additional challenge. Willie James Brown, a black farmer who has spent 60 years farming in Marbury, Ala., said he doesn't see a future in agriculture for his 18 grandchildren. "They're not thinking about no farming," Brown, 77, told Berry. "They see us go to the banks and get turned away." Black farmers who missed a deadline to file claims as part of the 1999 settlement in the class-action lawsuit claiming discrimination by agriculture officials have reached a separate $1.2 million settlement. Congress has yet to make the money available.

Census data shows "about 27 percent of all black farmers received government subsidies in 2007 compared to 39 percent of whites," Berry writes. Subsidies include aid and conservation payments. "If I'm not getting those funds, I can't compete," John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, told Berry. Still Robert Binion, a 61-year-old black farmer from Canton, Ala., hopes to attract black youths to farming. His pitch is that growing your own food is rewarding, even if  "you don't do nothing but plant two rows by your house." (Read more)

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