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Supporting a Brighter Future for Agriculture in America

Farming is hard work and risky for anyone. To be successful, farmers and ranchers must have viable businesses operating in a well-functioning farm and food economy. And some groups face even greater challenges in the industry due to discrimination and systemic barriers to accessing land, capital, and other resources.

Hameed Bello of Agric Organics in Massachusetts says funding like the Brighter Future Fund to small-scale farmers “means everything to us.” They purchased four high tunnels with a BFF grant, allowing them more secure, consistent crop growth for their community. “We’re dreaming big and in vivid colors.”

There is also an urgent need to help farm families transfer their farms and bring a new generation of farmers onto the land. Roughly 370 million acres (41% of U.S. agricultural land) are owned by farmers and landowners over 65 and will change hands in the near future.

Keeping farmers on the land is a central part of American Farmland Trust’s mission. For more than 40 years, AFT has used research, training programs, on-the-ground projects, public policy, and other strategies to address these short-term and long-term needs. This work has included helping to permanently protect over 6.8 million acres of farmland from development, assisting 600,000 producers and landowners, and launching special programs for farmers and landowners facing systemic barriers to opportunity, including beginning farmers and women.

In 2020, AFT adopted a Statement on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice that is in part rooted in our commitment to keeping farmers on the land. The statement acknowledges that social and racial injustices are entrenched in the history of the United States and its agricultural system.

Further, AFT recognizes that the past informs inequities that persist today, and that all marginalized agricultural producers—particularly those who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color, or BIPOC—have long been systemically denied equal opportunity to prosper. For example, Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack has identified that only 0.1% of the nearly $26 billion in funding from the recent Coronavirus Food Assistance Program was provided to Black producers – despite the fact that they make up 1.4% of producers.

We need to do more to address systemic inequities around land.

“We are grateful to American Farmland Trust and Tillamook for supporting our micro wool processing project, because making little changes in how we produce food and fiber will grow into big, important changes in our lives.” – Monica Bongue of Muddy Fork Farm in Ohio

We’ve taken steps by forging a new national partnership with Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences, elevating new state policies to support BIPOC producers, working with partners to host on-the-ground projects with BIPOC farmers, and supporting federal funding for debt relief for BIPOC producers.

Additionally, since 2020, AFT has provided roughly $2.5 million in grants directly to more than 2,000 farmers across the nation for pandemic relief, increased resilience, land access, and enhanced viability. This direct aid to farmers across the nation included grants of up to $5,000 from AFT’s Brighter Future Fund.

More than 96% of the Brighter Future Fund grantees this year were farmers identifying as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, female, and/or beginning. Please read their stories here.

However, there is much more work to be done.

With support from key partners, AFT is excited to announce that the 2021 Brighter Future Fund aims to provide grants to 150 BIPOC, LGBTQ+, or women farmers across the nation. These grants will enable participating farmers to enhance viability, access land, and increase resilience. Information on how to qualify and apply will be released by November 2021. To sign up for updates and get more details, visit our new Brighter Future Fund webpage.

Programs like the Brighter Future Fund provide resources to producers that have been shut out from other opportunities and face enduring barriers in our agricultural system. Many partners have led in this space for so long, and AFT is grateful for the opportunity to engage more deeply. Together, we can create a more just and resilient agricultural system and stronger economy for all of us.

 

The following AFT staff contributed to or reviewed this blog post: Gabrielle Roesch-McNally, Jamie Pottern, April Opatik, Olivia Fuller, Erica Goodman, Greg Plotkin, Phoebe Silag, Brennan Hafner.

About the Author
David Haight

Vice President of Programs

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