September 1, 2015
Last week, NSAC joined over a hundred other organizations in delivering a letter to the White House, urging the President’s support for increased funding to assist minority, tribal, and veteran farmers and ranchers.
Among the 113 community-based, state, and national organizations that signed onto the letter, were long-standing groups who have been working with traditionally underserved communities, defined as “socially-disadvantaged” by USDA, for decades. These groups include the Rural Coalition, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, National Family Farm Coalition, National Hmong American Farmers, and National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association.
Interests from the business, academic, faith, conservation, organic, rural, farm, and farmworker communities came together on this letter to demonstrate the large coalition and broad support for resources to assist underserved farming communities who often face increased challenges to establishing successful farming operations.
The undersigned organizations made a formal request to the President to provide increased funding of $10 million in next year’s budget request to Congress for the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program. Also known as the 2501 Program, this federal grant program has been a critical resource for community-based organizations, Extension, and other groups in providing technical assistance and conducting targeted outreach to the underserved farmers they work with in their regions.
Critical Resources Needed to Support Underserved Farmers
Farming is a risky business and has become increasingly difficult to enter over the past few decades. However, for the growing number of culturally diverse farmers in this country, starting and managing a successful farming operation is fraught with even greater challenges.
Many ethnically diverse populations have migrated to the United States over the past few decades and have gravitated to farming in large part due to their agricultural roots and prior farming experience in their native countries. Often uprooted from an agrarian culture, many wish to preserve and pass on the culture of farming.
Although several federal programs exist to support new farmers – including loan, conservation, and disaster assistance programs to name a few – ethnic minorities have not historically participated in these programs to the same extent as other farmers, often due to insufficient or inadequate outreach and assistance to these farming communities.
For decades, the 2501 Program has served as the only farm bill program dedicated to addressing the needs of African-American, American-Indian, Asian-American, and Latino family farmers and ranchers. The program provides critical resources, outreach, and technical assistance to reduce the trend among these historically under-served producers.
2501 in Action
Over the past 20 years, the 2501 Program has invested millions of dollars of federal funding to develop and strengthen innovative outreach and technical assistance programs and other resources targeted at historically under-served producers.
For example, the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) has been working with immigrant, refugee, and farmworker communities for over 15 years throughout California’s Central Coast. Thanks in part to grant money from the 2501 program, ALBA has been able to build an extensive network of markets through which their farmers can sell produce. Expanding these much-needed economic opportunities has dramatically increased interest in ALBA’s farmer training programs.
ALBA Executive Director, Chris Brown attributes ALBA’s success to programs such as 2501 and says that:
“these programs [provide opportunities for] a lot of raw, organic talent in traditionally underserved communities that could stimulate the economy.”
To read more about ALBA’s successful farmworker-focused training program, check out ALBA’s website.
And on the other coast, a small non-profit organization based in Atlanta, Georgia is providing much needed training and support for sustainable urban agriculture to socially disadvantaged communities throughout the Atlanta metro region. Thanks to funding from 2501, Truly Living Well has been able to increase the number of farmers participating in their urban agriculture training program, build awareness about, and receptivity to USDA programs, and obtain valuable infrastructure for training purposes – including a greenhouse, compost bins, and a drill/irrigation system.
To read more about Truly Living Well’s successful urban agriculture training program, check out their website.
Diminished Program Resources
Despite the continued challenges that farmers of all kinds face today when trying to build a successful farming operation, which are only compounded for farmers of color, the most recent Farm Bill that was signed into law last year cut funding dramatically for programs like the 2501 program that provide critical targeted assistance to these populations. Not only did the farm bill decrease funding from $20 million to $10 million per year, but the legislation also expanded the scope of the program to serve veteran farming populations in addition to ethnic minorities which the program has historically served. This means that there will far greater demand for program resources and far fewer resources to spread around.
This drastic reduction in funding means fewer groups will be able to continue to provide or expand upon successful programs that provide critical assistance to our country’s most vulnerable farming communities, and fewer farmers will get the support they need to build successful farming operations.
Fortunately, the Farm Bill did preserve an authorization for additional funding, but only if Congress chooses to appropriate funds during the annual appropriations process. The annual budget process begins with the President’s Budget, released in February of each year, which outlines key Administration priorities and is the starting point for Congressional funding negotiations.
To date, no additional funds have been provided for the 2501 program, but with another Fiscal Year and President’s Budget around the corner, NSAC is urging both the White House and Congressional leaders to restore urgently needed funding for this cornerstone program. The Fiscal Year 2017 Budget will be the last budget request to Congress under the Obama Administration, and as such, is a critical marker to future Administrations about the importance and need for federal resources to assist underserved farming communities through the 2501 Program.
To learn more about the 2501 Program, check out NSAC’s Grassroots Guide!
Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers