March 8, 2018
Farmers of color and military veteran farmers face particularly challenging obstacles when it comes to starting and sustaining successful farm operations. One of the factors hampering the success of these farmers has been their historically limited access to federal grant, training, and resource programs. Many U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) programs exist at the federal level to support farmers – loan, conservation, and disaster assistance programs to name just a few – however, insufficient/inadequate outreach and assistance to farmers of color and military veterans have contributed to their lack of access to and participation in these programs.
USDA recently released the latest batch of grant projects funded through the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as “Section 2501”). This program is unique among federal farm bill programs in that it is the only one dedicated specifically to addressing the needs of minority farmers. In the last farm bill the program was expanded to also serve military veterans.
Section 2501 is administered by USDA and supports competitively funded grant projects to help academic institutions, community-based organizations, nonprofits, and tribal entities provide critical resources, outreach, and technical assistance to historically underserved producers. Recently, USDA announced the latest round of funded 2501 projects for 2017. In total, 46 organizational partners were awarded grants to better serve minority and veteran farmers in 28 states across the country.
Since 2003, USDA has awarded nearly 500 grants across the United States through the 2501 program. While the program has funded projects in every state, there is an evident concentration of projects in states with higher populations of minorities producers. Historically, the states that have most utilized 2501 program funding include:
Geographically, the majority of grants this year were concentrated in the South, with 60 percent of funded projects serving farmers in this region. In comparison, 22 percent of funded projects served the West, 13 percent served the North Central region, and four percent served farmers in the Northeast.
The majority of this year’s awards will support projects led by non-profit and community-based organizations. In total, 31 grants (67 percent) were awarded to NGOs and CBOs (including tribal organizations), while 15 (33 percent) were awarded to university or Cooperative Extension-led projects. All but one grantee will serve socially disadvantaged farmer communities through their projects, and the majority of projects will assist veterans within these communities. In total, 25 projects (54 percent) will address issues facing veteran farmers of color, 17 will work directly with African-American farmers, seven with Indigenous Tribes, seven with Latinos and Hispanics, four with Hmong communities, two with refugees, and one with veteran youth aspiring to farm.
Many members of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) utilize the 2501 program to help them achieve their goals of advancing racial equity in the American food and farm systems. In FY 2017, six NSAC member organizations received funding to support their work with farmers of color and veteran farmers, including:
California FarmLink and Kitchen Table Advisors – California: This project provides Latino and monolingual Spanish-speaking farmers and other aspiring socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in California with the tools, training, education, and technical assistance they need to access capital, protect farm income and build farm business assets. This project will focus on increasing these populations’ successful participation in USDA programs.
“California FarmLink delivers services focused on access to land and financing for farmers of color. The  Program is an important source of support for these farmers’ abilities to achieve long-term success. Thanks to the program, we’re providing dozens of socially disadvantaged farmers with technical assistance on financial management and participation in USDA programs.” – Reggie Knox, Executive Director of California FarmLink
National Hmong American Farmers, Inc – California: The Strengthening the Bridge initiative targets socially disadvantaged and veteran Hmong farmers originally from Laos, throughout California’s Central Valley. Strengthening the Bridge is working to identify Hmong needs, inform and assist Hmong farmers on USDA programs, develop strategies, and enhance the ability of Hmong farmers to operate profitable farming operations.
Georgia Organics and the Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network (SAAFON) – Georgia: Georgia Organics and SAAFON will partner to execute a dynamic outreach project to provide USDA program information, education on sustainable production practices, and new marketing opportunities to socially disadvantaged and veteran producers in South Georgia. This project will seek to enroll African-American and veteran producers in areas of extreme poverty in relevant and impactful USDA programs, deliver instruction on USDA Certified Organic production regulations and techniques in order to expand access to new markets, and seeks to ultimately increase the viability and operational resilience of socially disadvantaged and veteran producers.
“This grant allows us the opportunity to open up a new market for Black and sustainable farmers in Georgia. We are appreciative of how the USDA’s  grant supports us in finding new and creative market entry points for our farmers.” – Tamara Jones, SAAFON Executive Director
Michigan Integrated Food & Farming Systems (MIFFS) – Michigan: MIFFS will assist socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers in starting and successfully operating viable farms in Michigan. This project will focus on enhancing and expanding two Multicultural Farmer Networks and one Farmer Veteran Network; updating MIFFS USDA Program & Application Guides; using MIFFS Field Specialists to work one-on-one with farmers to assist them in navigating and applying for USDA programs; planning, marketing and facilitating a statewide conference where socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers come together to learn, share resources and network; and hosting four USDA workshop webinars.
Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA) – Nebraska: This project addresses the need for knowledge and access to production, financial practices, and environmental information for Latino farmers across Nebraska. CFRA will help Latino farmers to: improve their startup farm businesses with cultural, financial, production, and environmental training; develop business plans; and ultimately apply for USDA programs. Classroom sessions, farm and ranch visits, visits to USDA field offices, and individual advising will also be provided. The project will also connect Latino high school youth to mentor Latino farmers and help them develop a business plan and apply for FSA youth loans.
“The Center for Rural Affairs is grateful to receive funding through USDA’s 2501 Program, Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program. This funding allows us to assist farmers and ranchers access USDA programming to strengthen their businesses. Many of the farmers and ranchers we help have language and cultural barriers that may prevent them from coming into their local USDA office. With this funding we can educate them on the purpose of the USDA offices, and how the USDA opportunities can help them grow their businesses.” – Kirstin Bailey, CFRA Project Organizer
Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services Inc. (MOSES) – Wisconsin and Minnesota: MOSES will bring education about organic production and certification, sustainable farming practices, and USDA programs and services to over 300 socially disadvantaged farmers across Wisconsin and Minnesota, the majority of whom will be new and beginning farmers. The project will provide education to beginning Hmong and Latino farmers through two conferences (including scholarships, translated workshop tracks, access to USDA staff and resources) and will also support the translation and printing of MOSES’s popular Guidebook to Organic Certification into Spanish.
The 2501 program was created in the 1990 Farm Bill in order to address historic discrimination within USDA and federal farm programs against farmers of color. The most recent farm bill reauthorized and expanded the program to serve veterans; unfortunately, the bill expanded the program’s scope, but cut its funding in half. The decision to cut already scarce funds ultimately shrank resources for both veterans and farmers of color, and a continued lack of investment has hampered the program’s ability to fully meet the needs of these populations ever since.
Demand for federal resources and technical assistance from returning military veterans and farmers of color is expected to continue growing in the coming years. In order to support these populations successful entry into agriculture, Congress must not only reauthorize the Section 2501 Program in the next farm bill, it must also scale-up investments to ensure that the needs of underserved farmer populations are properly addressed. Authorization (and funding) for the Section 2501 Program expires at the end of this fiscal year (September 30) – because the program is one of several “tiny but mighty” farm bill programs without baseline funding, Congress must take action to actively choose to reauthorize the refund the program in each farm bill cycle.
NSAC and our allies are dedicated to fighting for the Section 2501 Program, and for increased support for military veterans and farmers of color in the next farm bill. To read more about racial equity and the farm bill, check out our previous blog post, to read more about the tiny but mighty farm bill programs click here.