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‘A return to the land’: More minorities turning to agriculture, farming industries during pandemic

WASHINGTON — Farming is still a thriving industry despite setbacks from the pandemic and global supply chain issues.

One national report found the food and agricultural sectors contributed more than $3 trillion the U.S. economy last year alone.

But USDA data shows a lack of diversity among farmers across the country. It shows there were about 48,697 producers who identified as Black, either alone or along with another race in 2017, which is the most recent federal data available for farmers.

One of those farmers is Matthew Raiford. He and his family own Gilliard Farms in Brunswick, Georgia.

“We’re doing the exact same things on our farm that my grandparents and my great grandparents and great-great grandparent did,” said Raiford.

Black farmers only represent about 1% of the farming industry when compared to white farmers who make up about 95%. But Raiford says he’s noticing what he calls a return to the land with more minorities jumping into agriculture during the pandemic.

“A lot of them are coming back home to realize that land is power. Being able to feed yourself is power. Being able to take care of your community is power, taking care of the health of your community is power,” said Raiford.

In Washington D.C., the Dreaming Out Loud nonprofit works with more than a dozen Black Farmers along the East Coast in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

“We seek produce from other Black farmers, but also other socially disadvantaged farmers and people who share our values to get healthy produce into communities that don’t have equal access and see the more affluent communities,” said Chris Bradshaw, executive director for Dreaming Out Loud.

They have also provided more than $140,000 in grants to help minority farmers.

“Because farmers needed that cash flow upfront to be able to pay for seeds and equipment and other things,” said Bradshaw. “That’s still a major concern and a major need, just the capital to first seasonal startup costs.”

Farmers say other barriers are access to land and resources. Raiford wants USDA to engage more with minority communities.

“One of the things we’re talking about right now is proper insurance for small farmers. When a Black farmer goes out he’s not buying 1,000 acres right off the rift, he’s buying two, five (acres),” said Raiford.

There are some federal resources helping farmers. Under the Inflation Reduction Act, there’s more than $3 billion for USDA to help farmers struggling with loan debt.