My mother was born into a family of land-owning African American farmers. Her parents grew acres of corn and root crops while raising chickens and hogs. However, after the land was passed on to my mother and her siblings, she eventually sold her portion. Sadly, my mother did not realize the potential the land held. At the time, she only realized farming was not in her future but failed to realize the opportunities the land provided to build wealth for her and her descendants, even if she did not want to farm it herself. My mother’s story is but one example of how African Americans lost farmland that had been hard-won by their ancestors in the early 20th century. The year 1910 marked the height of landownership by black farmers, who owned between 15 and 19 million acres, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But by 1997, the number had dropped to 1.5 million acres. Today, African American farmers own less than 1% of the nation’s farmland, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.
Meanwhile, urban agriculture is providing new opportunities to engage in cultivation, although land tenure is an issue with that as well. This blog will serve as a platform for documentarians, researchers, scholars, investigative journalists, and food- and land-justice advocates interested in examining the topic of black agriculture, rural and urban, and the decline of black landownership. Cultivating Justice is the name we chose for this project because it acknowledges a history of unequal access to resources (land, education, financial supports) and the collaborative effort necessary to move forward as we explore opportunities for people of color to maintain land ownership or gain access to farming land.
This blog is intended to start the initial discussion by developing a website central to our national conversation about African Americans and agriculture. The site will build knowledge and networks celebrating the rich personal, historical, cultural, and economic roles agriculture has played, and still plays, in rural and urban African American communities. The website will share stories – farmers struggling to sustain their communities, young farmers looking to acquire land, and urban activists using urban agriculture as a means to address food access and social justice – while also providing access to expert interviews highlighting critical aspects of African American history, a timeline of significant moments, historical photographs, interactive maps, and other data sources to better understand historic and contemporary trends. Through this compilation of information, we seek to create a place to publish, discuss, and garner support for a network engaged in ongoing work to build inclusive models for land access, agricultural education, and advocacy.