During his keynote address to the mass assembly of the Millions More Movement (MMM) on October 15, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan not only pointed out the health issues facing the Black community, but also their relation to our food production and consumption, and the struggle of the Black farmer. He also outlined, among necessary ministries that Black people need to develop, the essential nature of a Ministry of Agriculture. In the following interview with Gary Grant, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA) for The Farmer Newsletter, Dr. Ridgely Muhammad, the national director of Muhammad Farms, discussed the issues, needs and goals of Black farmers and their struggle.
The Farmer Newsletter (FN): How is the health of Black communities connected to the struggle of Black farmers?
Gary Grant (GG): The health of the Black community has deteriorated since the introduction of food stamps to the community, even though they were supposed to increase the health of the community. The push for healthy communities is connected to land ownership and the number of Black farmers we have growing food. Let us not say just Black farmers, but small family farmers who would be growing food locally, so people would actually have fresh produce that has not been poisoned or contaminated.
FN: How best can the Millions More Movement help the Black farmer struggle?
GG: The Movement can help our city cousins understand that they can form co-ops in the cities, which can grow into grocery stores. People need to invest in the farmer before the crop is planted, and once the crop is harvested they would be able to receive their portion of that investment. Then, they would have a stake in ensuring that the farmer has a successful crop. Also with children being there and hearing the words “agriculture” and “Black farmer,” some may be inclined to find out more about agriculture and possibly developing a career around it.
FN: What was the purpose of the petitions that BFAA distributed on the National Mall?
GG: Those petitions were designed to help get through two pieces of legislation: the Black Farmers Judicial Equity Act of 2005 and the Endangered Black Farmer Act of 2005. The Black Farmers Equity Act would address some 67,000 late claims of the Pigford Class Action lawsuit that were not even looked at as potential members of the class. It also is designed to help Black farmers who were accepted into the class but denied the remedy and are now subject, once again, to USDA foreclosure proceedings. The Endangered Black Farmer Act would establish the Black farmer as a separate group and not just part of some “minority” where the Black farmer gets tossed in with everybody at the USDA. Much of the proceeds supposedly earmarked for Black farmers wind up going to other minorities. This legislation is designed to change these policies and impact other policies at the USDA that have forced Black farmers out of business.
We are ultimately seeking to get 10,000 signatures that will influence the course of the debate on these issues once they are presented to Congress.
FN: How can the Nation of Islam best help your mission?
GG: They can help us by supporting their own agricultural programs in Georgia where they own 1,600 acres of farm land. I or our vice-president should be included in any sessions and planning for future projects that would involve those pieces of what the Minister talked about. This would ensure that agriculture not get pushed to the side by some of our “city cousins.”
FN: Is Minister Farrakhan’s call that we get into food production and control it from the ground to the dinner table in the cities is a realistic solution?
GG: It is very realistic, because in that process you “produce” jobs not only on the farm. If we grow the food, we also have to build the structures to process the food, transport the food, store the food and distribute the food. Each of these processes would be new jobs for our young people within the community. Not everyone wants to live in the city and not everyone wants to work a 9-to-5 job. People who want to farm should have the opportunity to farm and people who want safe and healthy food should have it readily available. The only way for that to happen is that there must be a restoration of Black farms and White small family farms across the nation.
FN: Since 25 percent of Black farmers are over 70 and only four percent are under 35, where will the next generation of Black farmers come from? Are there any mentoring programs?
GG: That is one of the programs that we are working on. There were some programs in the cities. We must also become more visible in the rural areas. In North Carolina, they are actually taking agriculture out of the classroom in the rural communities. We are going to have to insist that these courses be put back in. Once our young people see that when you are controlling the food system from the “land to the man,” it becomes a profitable business. In the past, they have seen their parents struggle to keep the land and because of that experience they drifted away from agriculture. But we think that we can reverse that trend once we can show them that it can be a profitable business.
FN: What is next on the agenda within the Black farmer struggle?
GG: The Black Land Loss Summit will take place again in February 2006. A wonderful exhibit on Black farmers will open in Baltimore, Md., on February 2, 2006 at the Reginald Lewis Museum and Cultural Center. It will be a traveling exhibit that will expose many areas of the country to Black farmers and our struggle.
FN: Thank you.
(For more information on the Black farmer struggle, visit the websites www.bfaa-us.org or www.bflt.org. Gary Grant may be reached at (252) 826-2800.)