October 3, 2016
For nearly 30-years the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has endeavored to better support historically marginalized farmers and ranchers, in large part through the Office of Advocacy and Outreach (OA). This week, as part of that commitment, OAO announced the awarding of $8.4 million in grants through its Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program.
This program, often called “Section 2501” or just “2501” as a reference to its section in the 1990 Farm Bill, provides grants to non-profit, community-based organizations, and universities that serve farmers of diverse backgrounds – including Hispanic, African-American, tribal, and veteran farmers. For decades, this program has served as the only farm bill program dedicated to addressing the specific needs of minority farmers and was recently expanded to also serve military veterans.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack underscored that supporting underserved farmers, saying that, “The grants announced today will be leveraged by local partners and help bring traditionally underserved people into farming, as well as veterans who want to return home to rural areas.”
This year, USDA continued to expand the pool of farmers served by the 2501 program, including substantial interest from organizations who work with returning military veterans interested in pursuing careers in farm production. Unfortunately, USDA’s efforts to support socially disadvantaged farmers is severely undercut by Congress’ cut to the 2501 program in the 2014 Farm Bill. In that bill, Congress cut funding for the program by 50 percent, decreasing mandatory annual grant funding from $20 million to $10 million, even as it added veterans as a new eligible category under the program. This was a mistake that needs to be corrected.
In total, OAO used the available funding for Fiscal Year 2016 to make competitive awards to 45 organizations and universities across 24 states, including two National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) member organizations, in addition to the dozens of partner and ally organizations whose work within the minority farming community is absolutely vital. NSAC member project highlights include:
Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS) received $199,998 to engage and expand two of its Multicultural Farmer Networks, as well as their Veterans in Ag Network. These networks engage Field Specialists to work one-on-one with socially disadvantaged farmers and veteran farmers to navigate the application process for USDA farm programs. MIFFS will also expand their website to incorporate a “USDA Resources” section that will include USDA Program Application Guides to aide diverse farmer groups in filling out necessary forms required to access USDA program benefits. The work and resulting new resources will be shared through regional “USDA 101” workshops throughout the state of Michigan and at the annual Michigan Family Farms Conference.
“MIFFS is thrilled to be able to strengthen our collaboration with the Office of Advocacy and Outreach through the 2501 program. This grant will allow us to build a framework that will remove critical barriers at USDA for underserved producers and create a model that is replicable for the rest of the country! Together we will Rise Up & Dig In!” — Jennifer Silveri, MIFFS Assistant Director
Common Market Philadelphia Inc. (Common Market), in partnership with East Park Revitalization Alliance, received $200,000 to train urban producers located in Philadelphia and develop their organic production skills. Production training will include: propagation, field cropping, food safety, harvest and post-harvest handling, farm marketing, business planning and entrepreneurial skill-building, in addition to urban farm visits, as well as visits to “new American farms” and rural, organic farms in the region. These experiences are designed to train urban farmers in larger farm contexts and markets and foster the growth of a Mid-Atlantic urban-rural food network.
NSAC would also like to congratulate some of our partners and allies who received awards, including: Arkansas Land & Community Development Corp, which received $199,583, First Nations Development Institute, which received $200,000, Cultivating Community, which received $187,706, New Mexico Acequia Association, $116,339, and the National Immigrant Farming Initiative, Inc., which received $197,588.
Additionally, Alcorn State University (Mississippi) will continue to administer the Socially Disadvantaged Policy Research Center with a $400,000 grant, providing analysis and development of policy recommendations to engage socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
“We are excited to once again receive 2501 grant funds to be able to provide support to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in Mississippi and other states that have a large concentration of socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. Our policy research aims to provide these underserved farmers a voice in the next Farm Bill through policy recommendations based on data driven research.” – Eloris Speight, Director, Alcorn State University Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center.
For a complete list of FY 2016 grant recipients, please visit USDA’s press release.