When Ray Williams first heard about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s multibillion dollar loan forgiveness program for farmers of color meant “to remedy centuries of government discrimination,” the managing director of the Black Farmers Collective and urban farmer at Yes Farm thought it was a long time coming.
The collective’s board treasurer James King Jr., however, automatically wondered about what was going to happen next.
“Will they really truly cover the United States? [The] majority of the Black farmers are in the South and East Coast. Who in Black farming will be supported out towards the west?” asked King. “I really wanted to know what would the outreach process be, and not just saying ‘you have to fill out the paperwork.’”
But within weeks of the federal relief plan’s announcement, white farmers claimed, in so many words, reverse racism. As recently as June 23, another judge (this time in Florida) temporarily stopped any potential life-changing funds from President Biden’s COVID relief package aimed at “socially disadvantaged farmers” from ever being distributed to those who need the aid the most.
“There are always going to be people that are gonna try to fight any sort of progressive move toward reparations at all,” said Williams.
Black farmers make up less than 2 percent of the overall farming population in the United States and have been stripped of millions of acres of land within the last century. These upsetting statistics paired with how even the USDA itself played a major role in oppressing and financially bankrupted Black farming families is one of the main driving forces behind why the Black Farmers Collective does its work.
The food activists envision Black liberation through food sovereignty in spaces built on cooperation and interconnectedness with the environment and the community, where “our knowledge and creativity are boundless.”
“Yes Farm in Seattle is really concentrating on growing food for mutual aid networks and small Black-owned restaurants and businesses in the greater Seattle area,” said Williams. And according to him, land acquisition is the collective’s next big effort.
“Getting it into the hands of Black folks, guaranteeing it in this ever-urbanizing world, [and] guaranteeing the space to grow,” said Williams.
Watch in the video above as James King Jr. and Ray Williams of the Black Farmers Collective discuss everything from the discrimination faced by Black farmers to how that very same group went above and beyond to support their communities without aid during the pandemic, plus the future of the collective, and more.