African-American farmers in the Black Belt Region have fought an uphill battle to secure and sustain their land. Since emancipation, approximately 14 million acres have been lost due to policies that have kept African-American farmers from getting bank loans. Yet, these dedicated agricultural experts have continued to preserve their culture, crops and community. Despite the circumstances, I want to ensure black farmers that they do have regional leaders, co-ops, organizations and institutions of higher learning backing their efforts to promote and grow their land-based businesses.
They also have me. My goal is to help change these difficult farming circumstances and the negative connotations associated with them. I want young adults to know they can stay and build rural communities through entrepreneurship opportunities such as cultivating and selling organic food. I want them to know funding can become tangible as well.
Dr. Veronica Womack enjoying fresh watermelon at farmer Howard James’ vineyard. | Photo by Suhyoon Cho
I’ve contributed to a campus-to-community initiative to establish meaningful conversations about putting farmers of the Black Belt region into the forefront — and move agriculture in the South up and onward. Last year, the 2018 International Comparative Rural Policy Studies (ICRPS) Summer Institute took place in Tuskegee, Alabama. The 15th annual event’s discussion: “Social Justice, Rural and Natural Resource Policy.” I joined nearly 30 graduate students and many faculty members from universities around the globe. I talked about the importance of regional commissions, and if structured right, these commissions can do so much beneficial work for the rural South.
The panel I served on connects to the Farm Bill because the rural development piece to the bill impacts rural power. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture is instrumental in rural development; therefore, any type of policy from rural America is in some way going to touch the Farm Bill. I participate on these kinds of panels to remind community influencers and farmers that we also need to know what questions to ask our political leaders. In the rural South, not a lot of information about what’s happening in Washington, D.C., makes it back to our farmers. We’re just not plugged in or have the voices we need or should have. Institutes like ICRPS help open doors to these roadblocks and continues to mobilize those who truly care about this topic.