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Federal funding relief opportunities for BIPOC and undocumented farmers

On March 11, 2021, Congress approved the $1.9 trillion dollar emergency COVID relief package known as the American Rescue Plan, designed to fund vaccinations and provide immediate relief to families and communities who have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

At the center of those communities are farmers and agricultural workers who have been risking their lives daily to put food on our tables. We are also thrilled to see that the federal package includes $4 billion in debt relief specifically for Black farmers and other farmers of color, who in addition to being disproportionally impacted by COVID-19, have faced decades of discrimination through the USDA loan program. 

An important down payment to repair harms of the past

As recent as 2018 and 2019, 99% of the $23 billion in bailout payments went only to white farmers. The inequities in our food system run deep, and although there is a long road ahead to achieve true justice for the mistreatment of BIPOC farmers, we agree with House Agriculture Chairman David Scott that “it is a small but important down payment” toward repairing the harms of the past. 

Grassroots efforts support equitable relief funding

Though the federal relief funding is a meaningful step in the right direction, we know that an estimated half of the nation’s farmworkers are undocumented. This means that thousands of members of the agricultural workforce cannot access these funds, even as they face significant discrimination from lenders, ineligibility for loans, lack of access to USDA resources, and other barriers such as language inaccessibility.  

We are inspired by our colleagues at the National Young Farmers Coalition who are teaming up with Michigan Food and Farming Systems and Rural Advancement Foundation International to launch the Farmer Solidarity Fund — a crowdfunded, pandemic relief effort to support undocumented farmers nationwide with direct financial assistance. We see this effort as key to filling an important gap in serving the farming communities most in need of support during the pandemic. 

Helping historically underserved farmers access resources

Washington Farmland Trust is committed to doing our own work to dismantle the systemic racism and inequities that underlie American agriculture and have shaped our local food system. We are working hard as an organization to reflect on our own biases, create a more inclusive organization, and evolve our programs so that they can serve more BIPOC farmers in finding land and accessing resources in the years to come. In addition, we aim to use our voice and influence to hold institutions accountable that have perpetuated the systemic racism that has kept BIPOC farmers off the land, including the USDA. 

Currently, we help farmers access land opportunities, understand financing options, navigate the lending process, identify equitable farmland leases, and access education, training, and funding opportunities through our Farm to Farmer program. As we continue to grow the program, we aim to center the experiences and barriers of Black, Indigenous and farmers of color and build more culturally relevant assistance for those communities. 

Learn more about our land access work through Farm to Farmer.

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