April 25, 2014
On April 23, 2014, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), in partnership with NSAC member Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems and with assistance from the Opportunity Finance Network, hosted a forum in Washington, D.C. to bring farmers of color and their advocates together with community lending institutions to discuss ways to increase minority farmers’ access to capital and credit. Among the NSAC members participating were Southeastern African-American Farmers Organic Network (SAAFON) and California FarmLink.
Farmers and farmer advocacy groups spoke about the obstacles that communities of color, both beginning and seasoned growers alike, continue to experience in their efforts to access funding for their farming operations. The attendees represented African-American, Hmong, Latino, Native American, immigrant, and beginning farmers from around the country. Among the commonly cited challenges were: institutional racism and other social and cultural challenges such as language barriers, lack of user-friendly or culturally-appropriate application processes, and a lack of training in or inability to meet certain loan and financial management requirements such as record keeping, business plans, and down payments.
Participating lending institutions were Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) who either currently make agricultural loans and work with farmers of color or are interested in creating agricultural loan programs that are sensitive to the needs of farmers of color. A diverse array of CDFIs were represented, with some operating as preferred lenders of Farm Service Agency (FSA) guaranteed loans, and others offering microloans or start-up loans for beginning farmers. The average loan amount of the participating CDFIs administered ranged from $25,000 to $600,000. CDFIs shared best practices for outreach, support, and relationship building with farmers of color and their advocates. They also shared examples of challenges faced in reaching underserved farmer populations. Many echoed the sentiments of the farmers of color participants and their identification of social and cultural barriers. Additionally, a general lack of knowledge within the lending community about rural businesses and agriculture, especially small, beginning, and minority farmers, was a commonly cited obstacle.
After a spirited roundtable discussion about the challenges and opportunities for farmers of color seeking access to credit, the group divided into breakout sessions: one designed for farmer to farmer networking, and the other, to enable CDFIs and FSA representatives to learn how to better partner to reach a wider audience of farmers of color and provide information and credit opportunities to farmers in all regions of the country.
The event, which was made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation‘s Food and Community Program, concluded with a commitment from all participants to continue the dialogue to help socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers meet their financing needs for achieving long-term success.
In the most recent Farm Bill, NSAC successfully advocated for several key provisions to strengthen financial resources, incentivize conservation stewardship, increase access to farmland, and invest in training and outreach for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. NSAC is committed to continued advocacy for a food and agriculture system that supports our nation’s young, aspiring and underserved farmers and looks forward to working in more partnership and resource building efforts such as this one.