Historically, farmers and ranchers who are Black, Indigenous or people of color have faced systemic discrimination from state and federal agriculture institutions.
Racist policies have resulted in farmers of color being denied access to capital and ultimately losing land while historically being underserved by government agencies. These policies have created a ripple impact over the decades and have resulted in farmers of color not receiving the same resources as their white counterparts. In the 1990s, the United States Department of Agriculture recognized socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers as an officially distinct category. While this effort was a step in the right direction, for many farmers of color state agency resources remain unobtainable. In an effort to better serve their farmers of color, advocates and legislators partnered in California to pass the Farmer Equity Act, which created policies at the State Department of Food and Agriculture to ensure that their state agricultural agencies are accounting for farmer equity throughout the agency.
Now, three years after the bill was enacted into law a new department has been developed to ensure its implementation. Along the way there have been some challenges, some successes and a lot of lessons learned that may be of interest to other states considering similar action.
Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, California State Assembly
Representative Sonya Harper, Illinois General Assembly
Thea Rittenhouse, Farm Equity Adviser, California Department of Food and Agriculture
Chanowk Yisrael, Chief Seed Starter, The Yisrael Urban Family Farm