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Slow Food USA’s Farm and Food Policy working group responded to the US Department of Agriculture’s call for feedback on how it can enhance racial equity and justice across the department. Please read below and consider submitting your ideas before August 14, 2021.

Slow Food USA is dedicated to a food chain that is good, clean, and fair for all, where everyone has the right to enjoy ample, culturally meaningful, sustainably and humanely produced food that is good for human health, the planet, and those who work to put food on our tables.

We commend the Administration for this opportunity to provide comment on effectively addressing structural racism, inequity, exclusion, and injustice in USDA programs.

For nearly a century, challenges to heirs property ownership and unequal access to financial and technical assistance have abetted the reduction in the number of Black farmers from one million in 1920 to fewer than 50,000 today. Despite the lessons of Pigford vs. Glickman, the Black farmer suit against USDA discriminatory loan and other program practices, and the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act focus on socially disadvantaged farmers, the USDA seemingly has remained out of touch with the realities suffered by Black farmers.

Politico reports, “(USDA) granted loans to only 37 percent of Black applicants… in one program that help… pay for land, equipment and repairs but accepted 71 percent of applications from white farmers…” and “In a (pandemic relief) grant program… farmers of color received less than one percent of the payments even though they are five percent of all U.S. farmers” Further, “The total number of direct loans to Black farmers has fallen… from a peak of 945 in 2015 to a 10-year low of 460 in 2020.”

The Counter reports, USDA has distributed more than $8.5 billion to farm operations through the Market Facilitation Program to mitigate farmerslosses due to the Trump/China trade war.  Of$8 billion distributed to operations whose ownersrace could be identified 99.5 percent went to white… owners… an overwhelming share … to upper-middle class and wealthy families.”

The end of historical wrongs is within the reach of an Administration with an historic determination to right them.

Financial Relief

We applaud the enactment of the American Rescue Plan Act Section 1005 that would forgive 120 percent of qualifying loan payments to 17,000 socially disadvantaged farmers and are frustrated by litigation preventing distribution. While these payments are contested, we urge the Administration to further consider supporting the enactment of the

Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act – S.2023 – Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY)/H.R. 3782 (Rep. Maloney (D-NY)): This bill would forgive debt up to $250,000 for farmers with adjusted gross income up to $300,000, ensure that farmers maintain the ability to borrow, and eliminate forgiven debt tax liability. (Per the USDA, 95 percent of Black farmers have annual sales of less than $50,000.)

Transparency, Accountability, and Equity

We recommend that the USDA:

  • Devise enhanced methods to communicate more effectively program and service information to socially disadvantaged farmers, explaining program parameters and application success criteria and reducing application barriers.
  • Address the racial biases and resource inadequacies of FSA local offices in serving socially disadvantaged farmers by providing adequate, trained staffing, retooling loan criteria to place greater value on social capital, and providing for meaningful, community-based, stakeholder review of local office financial and technical assistance operations.

We urge the Administration to support the enactment of the Justice for Black Farmers Act (S.300 – Sen. Booker (D-NJ)/ H.R.1393 – Rep. Adams (D- NC)). This bill would provide debt forgiveness; establish the National Center for Minority Farmer Agricultural Law Research and Information; provide financial aid to resolve Black farm ownership issues and increase Black farm ownership; provide financial and technical assistance to organizations serving socially disadvantaged farmers, support research, education, and extension at historically Black colleges, and provide grants to land-grant colleges for agricultural scholarships; establish an equity commission to mitigate discrimination in the USDA; and strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act to stop large meatpackers’ abusive practices.

  • Farm Subsidy Transparency Act of 2021 – S.1980 – Sen, Booker (D-NJ)/H.R. 3794 – Rep. Rush (D-IL): This bill would direct the USDA to publicly report the distribution of farm subsidies by race, gender, and farm size.

Access to Regional and Institutional Markets

Access to regional and institutional markets is critical to small-scale BIPOC farmers. We urge the USDA to restore and increase funding of the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program, including the 2501 Program providing grants to encourage farm ownership by socially disadvantaged farmers.

We urge the Administration to support the enactment of legislation:

  • Farm to School Act S.1328 Sen, Leahy (D-VT)/H.R.1768 Del. Plaskett (D-VI): This bill would ensure that socially disadvantaged farmers have a competitive opportunity to participate in the program.
  • Kids Eat Local Act – S.1817- Sen. Brown (D-OH)/H.R.3220 – Rep. Harder (D-CA), This bill would provide flexibility in the use of local geographic preference by school districts in school meal procurement.

Thank you for this opportunity to provide recommendations to help end systemic program shortcomings that have resulted in inequitable BIPOC access to USDA financial and technical program support.