News From the Farm | July 10, 2017

Do the farmers in our country reflect the astonishing cultural diversity of our country? What do you think? Well, every Census cycle gives us a deep look into who is farming our food domestically, and more than 86% of those farm operators are men. More than 92% of the country’s 2.1 million farmers are non-Hispanic whites. In addition, in 2012, the average farmer was 58.3 years old, up from 57.1 years in 2007. The trends point to an undeniable truth about who is growing our food – an aging white male-dominated demographic. This leads me to ask, as a young white twenty year old woman, who is our next generation of farmers?

I hope that our next generation of farmers and rural landowners reflect the diversity of this country and our US census is starting to show trends reflecting the reality of my dreams for the future. The total number of farmers in the United States fell by 95,000 since the 2007 Census of Agriculture, but at the same time, the total number of minority farmers grew – nearly 97,000 of them checked a race box other than “white” on their census forms. That’s a 6.9% increase from 2007. The population of Asian farmers grew by 21.9%, the fastest rate of any minority group, up from 11,214 in 2007 to 13,699 in 2012. More than one-third of Asian farmers are located here in California. In addition, California ranks third in the nation for Hispanic farmers.

Racism towards farmers of color should not come as a shock, just as discrimination towards women farmers should not surprise. Overcoming this obstacle is what I see as key to creating a rich and vibrant food system teeming with young farmers bent on reversing our aging farmer trend (something that has not happened since the early 1980s). The first step is admitting we have a problem. 

Let’s turn our attention to the policies at work to achieve this goal. California AB 1348, or the Farmer Equity Act of 2017, is a bill that would formally introduce a definition for socially disadvantaged farmers and thus acknowledge the historic and current experiences of farmers of color as distinct from their white counterparts. This recognition opens the door to technical assistance resources, and programs for farmers of color. At this time, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has been siphoning resources into grants and cost assistance programs to support farmers across the state. This bill will ensure that all farmers have fair access to these important resources because despite the significant growth of farmers of color in our state, they tend to earn less money on average and receive 36% less in government funding than their white counterparts.

The bill would also ensure greater coordination of programs and policies for farmers of color by requiring CDFA to consult with other state agencies, and enabling the Department to hire a position dedicated to integrating Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers into the department programs and policies. Additionally, AB 1348 requires CDFA to prepare a report to identify the barriers and opportunities that farmers face, for greater engagement and support. In short, this bill is an exciting leap forward.  

I wanted to share the stirring development of this bill with you, our CSA community, those who also have a strong stake in creating a sustainable food system. While young farmers develop as stewards, producers, and business owners, we as a society can advocate for equity so all young people have a chance to become successful farmers and flourishing land owners.

—Jesse Honniker, Full Belly Farm Intern