Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Black History Month Spotlight: African American Farmers of California

In the Fresno area lies a legacy of determination and farming rooted in the African American community. The African American Farmers of California is helping to preserve the rich tradition of Black farmers for future generations. The organization received a $100,000 grant from CDFA’s 2022 Beginning Farmer and Farmworker Training and Workforce Development (BFFTP) Grant Program.

With these resources, the organization is working to expand its support for Black farmers throughout the state with a year-round training program and a demonstration farm site.

Michael Snell, a retired US Marine now involved in farming, serves as secretary of the African American Farmers of California and joins other farmers in demonstrating and teaching the cultivation of crops as well as nurturing the next generation of agricultural leaders. Mentorship plays a key role in the program

“This organization was started out of necessity some 30 years ago, and now that I’m deeply involved, I can see the importance of maintaining African American and Black farmers in California,” said Snell. “If not, farming in our community will go away—but farming is one of those things that you learn from people. My ambition is not profit, it’s an investment in learning and mentorship.”

The roots of the organization go back to 1997, in response to discrimination faced by Black farmers, as outlines in a class-action lawsuit against the USDA (Pigford v. Glickman). With the settlement of the lawsuit, Black farmers needed sustainable pathways to thrive in the agricultural sector. Therefore, the African American Farmers of California emerged to provide training, access to land, and ongoing support for Black farmers.

Rasheed Hislop, a Senior Manager of the Farm to Market Program at the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), works closely with the organization. He was motivated by a desire for racial equity, particularly after the tragic murder of George Floyd. Hislop recognizes that beyond addressing past injustices, there is a need to provide Black farmers with resources and knowledge.

“We know that Black farmers don’t need handouts, we need hand-ups,” said Hislop. “Training and access to land is necessary for Black farmers, along with knowledge, which is a barrier. While a lot of people want to get away from farming because of the stigma, many others want to come back to it, and it’s a very viable way of life, healthy, and it could be profitable.”

Through community engagement initiatives, the African American Farmers of California aims to be a source of information and inspiration for aspiring Black farmers. By demystifying the agricultural industry and providing opportunities for skill development, the organization is laying the groundwork for a more inclusive and equitable future in farming.

The journey ahead includes some challenges, from navigating lease agreements to securing access to resources like water and electricity. Nonetheless, with nearly thirty members, the organization is determined to ensure future generations of African Americans continue in the farming profession. “Our hopes are to grow and be a source of information for people,” said Snell. “Our organization is working hard to link older farmers—there’s a lot of mentorships.”

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