From 1900 to 2000, more than 90% of land owned by African American farmers was lost across the US. Loss of farmland impacts intergenerational wealth transfer and threatens the conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural uses, reducing our ability to harness regenerative practices on farmland to combat climate change. Racial and gender discrimination leads women of color to experience acute disenfranchisement and exclusion. These trends are exacerbated in the US Southeast, making it a critical place to address issues of equity and justice.
American Farmland Trust (AFT) and the Women for the Land (WFL) initiative have been building momentum, fostering relationships, developing trust, and expanding our capacity to serve women farmers, particularly Black women, in the US Southeast, for six-plus years, with a current focus on North Carolina and Kentucky. Our program addresses gender and racial discrimination that women farmers and landowners often face when accessing financial, technical, and informational resources to support their farming operation.
In mid-2022, AFT will launch an NRCS-funded project, in partnership with Black Family Land Trust and NC State University, to pilot a Food and Agricultural Systems’ Resilience training for women in agriculture across North Carolina. The aim is to reach diversified farmers and resource professionals and promote a more resilient food and agricultural system. Building resilience will be fostered by a cohort training model among historically underserved women and will focus on three core competencies:
- Implementation of conservation agriculture skills to enhance the climate resilience and stewardship potential of working lands.
- Increase participants’ technical skills in diversifying agricultural production and marketing systems for greater economic viability and resilience of the food system.
- Develop participants’ leadership skills to build community resilience around food and agriculture.
The training will take place over one year, reaching approximately 30 participants. The project will focus on recruiting women who identify as socially disadvantaged per the USDA’s definition and veteran farmers and new and beginning farmers. Women technical resource providers will be recruited to train them on how to increase leadership around food and agricultural systems resilience.
Additional funds will enable the project to further engage and support participants by launching a special grant opportunity to provide two exceptional cohort participants with transformational awards of $20,000 each. Awardees would use the funds to realize their goals, such as supporting their adoption of regenerative agricultural practices like using cover crops, or no-till; hiring a lawyer to help them resolve heirs' property issues, or buying new equipment or infrastructure for their farm that would make it more viable and environmentally sound.
AFT will also need to invest in personnel to create an equitable and fair grant application and review process—and we are fortunate to be able to build upon our established Brighter Future Fund microgrant program template to do so. Further funding will support an AFT staff person to collect and disseminate the stories of the grantees and the positive outcomes the grant made possible, as well as the stories of other cohort participants.
This outreach will inspire additional Black women farmers to participate in our WFL programming. It may encourage other donors to help us make subsequent $20,000 transformational grants available to Black women farmers in the US Southeast.