This BIPOC Farmer’s Collective Sows More Seeds With California State Grant
Black farmers are still fighting for equal access.
Black farmers and co-founders Nelson Hawkins, Nathaniel Brown and Keith Hudson introduced the collective in 2021. Thanks to a state grant, Ujamaa Farmer Collective is expanding its mission to ensure secure land tenure and equitable access to resources for historically underserved farmers of color.
But they got help from a family of farming, racial justice and environmental groups that have come together for the love of growing food and maintaining relationships in the Sacramento area and Yolo County specifically. The family of local farms includes We Grow Farms and Brown Sugar Farm, two Black-led farms.
In response to the community rally, the California legislature allotted the funds 2022 for Ujamaa to purchase a medium-sized plot of land in Yolo County. Civil Eats reported that “the deed secures the tenure for multiple farms to operate on individual plots ranging in size from half an acre to 5 acres, each with a voice in collective governance and access to shared resources.”
“It’s also us facilitating that dynamic where we can really reduce the burden of entry,” Hawkins told Spectrum News. “And really help each other out because farming in and of itself, taking land out of the situation, is not easy.”
Today, the movement continues to shed light on the stark reality that the number of Black farmers has sharply declined. In 1910, African Americans owned more than 16 million acres of land. Today, they comprise just 1.3% of all farmers and own fewer than 5 million acres. The Golden State has witnessed even worse declines. The 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) census counted just 429 African Americans out of approximately 124,000 growers.
According to a report by NPR, farmers of color face high rejection and withdrawal rates from the USDA’s lending process. Even though “direct loans are supposed to be among the easiest to get at USDA,” in 2022, the department granted direct loans to only 36% of farmers who identified as Black.
Hawkins, recently elected to California’s Land Equity Task Force, aims to provide security from the pitfalls of exclusion and discriminatory systems. “The more we can work together, nudge each other, and educate each other—we’re stronger together.”
In recent news, Ujamaa is teaming up with pepper farmer Nathaniel Brown, owner of Brown Sugar Farm. Thanks to the grant, Brown will gain access to agricultural land and financial stability for the legacy inspired by his grandmother. He is cultivating a half-acre parcel behind his family home in Citrus Heights. It is where residents and market goers can get a taste of the farm’s unconventional crops, such as Caribbean red, striped, and fish peppers, stinging nettles, and flowers. They are all grown using a home-brewed, brown sugar-based fertilizer.
The collective envisions a future where the BIPOC farming business can flourish without the burdens of land insecurities and financial strain. “We’re trying to get away from the more colonial, extractive, and destructive systems that have shaped farming over the last 100 years,” Brown told Civil Eats.