Friday, January 27, 2012

USDA Avoids Discrimination Litigation and Offers Cash

Since its inception in 1862, the USDA has systematically discriminated against farmers of color and women farmers throughout the U.S. denying them access to grants, programs, and support staff services. It wasn't until 1996 that the USDA created a Civil Action Team to eradicate racism and address the flaws in the system that have mostly benefitted agribusiness. But this committee's formation proved a little too late. By the mid-nineties farmers of color especially, had largely eroded from our rural landscapes. "In 1920, one in every seven farms was African American owned. Today, only 1 in 100 farms is African American owned (USDA 1998, at 16). The decline of the African American farmer has taken place at a rate that is three times that of white farmers (USDA 1998, at 16-17)." This is why in 1997 African American farmers filed a class action suit against the agency which they eventually won. (Read more about it here.) Now is the time for reciprocity for women and Latino farmers too.

This week on January 25, the administration preempted the same sort of class-action suit involving Latino and women farmers saying, " "The Obama Administration has made it a priority to resolve all claims of past discrimination at USDA, and we are committed to closing this sad chapter in USDA's history," said Vilsack. "Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who allege past discrimination are encouraged to participate in an improved claims process in which they have the opportunity to recover up to $250,000 in damages." After posting this announcement on the Farmer Jane Facebook page, one woman farmer quickly replied, "Trouble being a lot of us were denied 'applying' for said loans, and therefore there is no paper trail." I recommend that even if you were denied during the application process and there is no paper trail, you should still pursue! We need to hold the USDA accountable even if they don't know how many employees they have (hopefully this isn't still the case!).

Here's the information from the press release for contacting USDA, or read the full release here.
"Individuals interested in participating in the claims process may register to receive a claims package, or may obtain more information, by visiting Individuals can also register to receive a claims package by calling the Farmer and Rancher Call Center at 1-888-508-4429."

And if you're not too keen on calling up USDA right away and you're a woman farmer that has been denied funding I would recommend that you call Leigh Adcock at the Women Food and Agriculture Network at (515) 460-2477. They have your best interests in mind!

Good luck!