The Pulse

Facing a legacy of discrimination, Black farmers tell NC legislators what their businesses need to thrive

By: - March 23, 2023 2:00 pm
Black farmers want obstacles that hinder their businesses removed.

Black farmers from throughout the state were in Raleigh on Wednesday to tell legislators they are shut out or left behind when government agencies distribute agricultural loans. 

Black farmers who spoke at a news conference said they needed access to capital and the lifting of administrative constraints that hinder their operations. 

For decades, the US Department of Agriculture discriminated against Black farmers by denying them access to grant programs and low-interest loans. The federal government settled a class action lawsuit brought by Black farmers in 1999. 

Farmers said this week they continue to face funding bottlenecks. Organizations through which money passes gets to them late, and untimely funding approvals make it difficult to plan for growing seasons.

Black farmers operate about 1,500 of 45,000 farms in the state. 

Loan practices are building generational wealth for white farm families and generational poverty for Black farm families, said Dorathy Barker, executive director of Operation Spring Plant, a Black and small farmer service program based in Oxford. 

White farmers receive money in the fall each year, allowing them to purchase nutrients at a discount, while Black farmers are still trying to get their loans approved, she said. 

“When resources are kept from us and we don’t have them in a timely manner, then we do not supply the food to our communities,” she said. 

Tonya Pennix was eager to highlight Black farmers’ business concerns for legislators. She has laying hens and grows produce on a family farm in Caswell County, It is important for Black farmers to stay in contact with each other and with lawmakers, she said. 

“There is a misconception when people think about what farming is,” she said. “We’re not just farmers. We are a business.”

Legislators are also asking for money from the next budget to support Black farmers. The proposed spending amounts to less than $500,000 in a state budget of about $30 billion. The money requested would go to grants to nonprofit agricultural organizations or food hubs, positions at the state Department of Agriculture to administer an internship program, and the development of marketing technology.

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Lynn Bonner
Lynn Bonner

Investigative Reporter Lynn Bonner covers the state legislature and politics, as well as elections, the state budget, public and mental health, safety net programs and issues of racial equality.