Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

Young African American woman inspecting beets just pulled from the dirt in community urban garden.

(CBM) – Last month, Lawrence Lucas, founder of the United States Department of Agriculture Coalition of Minority Employees (USDA-CME), testified before the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.

Lucas said racism is the prime reason there are just a little over 400 Black farmers in California.

“The income of Black Farmers has been drastically reduced and the amount of wealth that has been taken from Black farmers is tremendous,” Lucas said. “What you would call reparations, we call justice. It is why you must do what you have to do in California to right the wrongs suffered by Black people.”

Lucas is not the only one concerned about mounting evidence that documents a long history of race-based discrimination in American agriculture.

The United States Department of Agriculture recently created the Equity Commission (EC) to study racial discrimination and government policies that have disempowered Black farmers, depleted their wealth and nearly wiped out their presence for over 100 years.

EC will advise the Secretary of Agriculture by identifying USDA programs, policies, systems, structures, and practices that created barriers to inclusion or perpetuated racial, economic, health and social disparities.

USDA-CME was founded in 1994 to address discrimination within the USDA, which Lucas referred to as the “Last Plantation” during his testimony. The coalition also focuses its work on the historical loss of

Black land and how government policies deprived African Americans of generational wealth.

The EC is expected to issue a preliminary report and provide “actionable recommendations” within the next 12 months, and a final report to be finished within two years.

“The Equity Commission is taking important steps to dismantle barriers historically underserved communities have faced in accessing USDA programs and services,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a Sept. 24 statement.

Lucas said despite the USDA’s efforts to address decades-old discrimination practices, he does not see it “getting any better” for Black farmers. Non-Black farm producers are fighting back in the courts, Lucas said.

“You have White farmers, who own most of the land and get all the benefits from the land; they are the ones now bringing court cases around the country. They are saying that it’s discriminatory to have debt-relief for Black farmers,” Lucas said.

The CME’s biggest accomplishment is its involvement in securing debt relief for Black farmers as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The ARP package included a multi-billion-dollar fund for socially disadvantaged farmers throughout the United States.

The coalition has worked alongside U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) to create the Justice for Black Farmers Act, which will provide even more aid to socially disadvantaged farmers.

Of the approximately 70,000 farms in California, more than 90% are White-owned or White-managed and fewer than 1% are Black-owned or Black-managed, according to the 2017 federal agriculture census.

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