Bucks County Farmers Face Racism, Health Barriers
Racism, land acquisition costs and health care are just a few of the serious issues facing farmers in Bucks County, with several farmers in the county raising concerns during the state Recent Virtual Roundtable on Agriculture by Senator Steve Santarsiero.
The panel discussion, co-hosted by Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, also touched on the ever-changing industry and how best to market Pennsylvania’s status as the nation’s premier organic producer.
According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there were 824 farms in Bucks County, covering 77,255 acres. In contrast, there were 990 farms in the county in 2009, when the Pennsylvania office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service conducted its survey.
Logan Davis is a first-generation African-American organic vegetable and fruit grower who specializes in no-till farming methods that help sequester carbon from the atmosphere. He said the problems he faced include historically racist policies and agreements, and not being able to acquire land.
He hopes to acquire land at Bucks
“For me in particular as a person of color, just knowing that the vast majority of farmers in Pennsylvania and the United States are white and many of them have the advantage of coming from families who have farmed the same land for generations, ”Davis said. . “And that’s something to consider, especially for new people of color who are getting into farming. There is now public information about how (generations) of black farmers have been consistently denied. agricultural loans and have been relegated to ownership of properties in urban areas; this is something that I am working to fight today.
“Suburban housing in rural areas was subsidized for whites, so I think you have to understand that race is part of the introduction of new farmers,” Davis added. “It was difficult for me because of the color of my skin in parts of Pennsylvania. But we are tackling this in several ways.
the National Association of Black Farmers is also aware of the plight of Davis and other minority farmers and called on National Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to act.
“The doors continue to be closed to many black farmers and today our members face enormous challenges – including a system that disproportionately leaves them behind,” said AFNB President John Boyd. “To level the playing field and correct these historic wrongs, Mr. Vilsack, as secretary, must expand black farmers’ access to land and credit and reform income support and insurance programs in the country. ‘USDA to End Systemic Discrimination.
“He must create awareness programs to help black farmers participate in these programs and lift the veil of secrecy that hides the true extent of racial discrimination at the USDA.”
Black Farmer Justice Act Aims To Empower Black Farmers
Legislation seems to be moving slowly in this direction.
In February, a group of Democratic senators reintroduced the Black Farmers Act, which will enact policies to end discrimination within the USDA, protect remaining black farmers from loss of their land, grant land grants to create a new generation of black farmers, and restore the land base that was lost, and will implement systemic reforms to help family farmers across the United States.
The bill was originally introduced last November, but died when Congress adjourned for the year.
“A blatantly discriminatory and unfair federal policy has deprived black families in the United States of the ability to build and pass on intergenerational wealth,” said Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, one of the co-signers of the legislation. in agriculture and farming, we know there is a direct link between discriminatory policies within the USDA and the enormous loss of land we have seen among black farmers over the past century.
The Black Farmers Justice Act will address and correct USDA discrimination and take bold steps to write off debt and restore land that has been lost to enable a new generation of black farmers to succeed and to prosper.
Davis said he came back encouraged after hearing Booker talk about this issue at the Northeast Organic Farmers Association, and said “it was very powerful” for him as a new black farmer.
New farmers can’t afford expensive farmland
Racism, however, is only one of the problems facing farmers. Accessibility of finance is one of the main concerns farmers face.
Broc Sandelin, dean of agricultural and environmental sciences at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, said that from an educational point of view, the prohibitive cost of acquiring land for farming is proving to be prohibitive. too high for new and older farmers.
Santarsiero, who sits on the state’s Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, recognized these costs and the discrimination that existed and does exist in the local agricultural industry.
“The cost of land, especially in places like Bucks County, can be extremely high,” said Santarsiero, D-10 of Lower Makefield. “And if you’re a young farmer like rookie Logan or some other person of color, obviously there’s this story of discrimination. But even for other young farmers, it is very difficult to access this capital ”.
Santarsiero said he was open to ideas and would continue to be a supporter of farmers in the region.
As a former township supervisor, Santarsiero helped lead a farmland preservation program that aimed to set aside land that was otherwise under development. The preserved land would then be leased to local farmers. He said it was a way to encourage agriculture without these farmers having to buy the land.
Secretary Redding said there were other useful land acquisition processes that farmers should be aware of, including those in the state. Farm Link Initiative.
Farm Link works with farm owners by encouraging them to develop a transition / succession plan for their farm, which in turn provides opportunities for the next generation of farmers.
“Farm Link in Pennsylvania is active. The Department of Agriculture has supported Farm Link, which attempts to connect those who are transitioning or want to transition with those who want to exit, ”Redding said. “The next generation of conversation about what we do with the assets we have preserved through conservation easements is that exact question. How to attract farmers to these lands where there was a public interest and where there is a restrictive covenant? and an act which says so must forever remain a productive agriculture.
“How can we give preferential treatment to people who want to farm this land?”
Adapt to market changes
Jonathan Snipes, executive director of the Snipes Farm family farm in Falls, said a farmer’s agility and willingness to change his business plans is what kept the family farm off Route 13 at one time. where all the farmers are struggling with financial and market problems.
“In 2000, we had to completely redesign our business. We had been growing nursery stock for generations, and this business was bottoming out and was really being taken over by Home Depot and Lowe’s, ”Snipes said. “The market has changed and for small local producers it has become practically impossible.
“So we are considering moving towards a non-profit organization; we do both education around agriculture and ecology and then we provide an active and working farm like the campus … it is crucial for us to have the funding of a local community solidarity. , in terms of donations of funds and foundations we have applied to for the work we do. “
The impact of housing and health care on farmers
Peter Crooke, farmer and agricultural educator, noted that while farmland itself is expensive, health care and housing also contribute to rising costs for farmers. Crooke said he and other farmers are not getting the company-paid health care most workers receive in other industries.
Crooke is a farmer / educator at Snipes Farm, where he runs the Seeds-to-Fork Youth Summer Camp, and is the owner / operator of Tinicum CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).
Santarserio said that “housing for agricultural workers is a big deal,” and this is an example where municipalities can change their ordinances to allow the creation of housing that would otherwise not be eligible in agricultural districts.
“But there are all kinds of issues, from setbacks to landscapes and a lot of other things that different communities have in their existing ordinances that maybe need to be changed,” Santarsiero said. “I am happy to defend this to make it happen in these discussions with our municipalities.”
He also said health care is a critical issue that poses challenges for many farm workers.
“The problem, especially for many agricultural workers who are probably people with less means and who probably don’t have access to quality health care, and what could be done about it,” Santarsiero said. . “And I don’t have the answer to that yet. But it’s something I want to think about; maybe there is maybe something that can be done at the state level. . “