Today marks the official beginning of Black History Month in America. The monthlong celebration grew out of National Negro History Week, which started in 1926. Since 1976, every February has served as a time to honor the contributions of Black Americans throughout the history of the United States.
This includes the lasting impact Black farmers, landowners and communities have had on agriculture throughout the state of Indiana.
"February is an important time to reflect on the impact Black farmers have had on Indiana and look for ways to support them in the future,” said the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Services’ (NRCS) Indiana State Conservationist Jerry Raynor. “We are proud to work with Black-led farming operations throughout Indiana such as Lawrence Community Gardens and the Felegi Hiywot Center, both of which are making positive impacts in their community through farming. We look forward to continuing to make an impact in this underserved community by offering assistance to put conservation practices on the land.”
Black farmers have played a key role in agriculture throughout Indiana for nearly 200 years. Research from the Indiana Historical Society (IHS) shows more than 60 rural Black settlements throughout the state dating back to the 1830s. One of those communities was Lyles Station in Gibson County where nearly 180 years later descendants of the original settlers still farm the same land as their forefathers.
Today, Black farmers continue to play a key role in Indiana agriculture, especially in urban areas. But more must be done to support a community that has seen declining participation in recent decades.
According to the USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service’s 2017 Farm Census, just 1.3% of agriculture producers in the United States were Black and in Indiana it was less than 1%. In Indiana, the average size of Black owned farms is about 137 acres, almost half the size of the average farm in the state with more than half of Black owned farms encompassing less than 50 acres. The smaller farms lead to less income as the average income from a Black producer led farm was only $25,000, which is half the state average. Black producers as a collective group only accounted for $3.7 million of the $2.8 billion in net cash farm income in Indiana measured in the 2017 census.
"It is important for the NRCS to continue to support historically underserved communities and Black farmers across the state and nation,” said Andrew Faison, district conservationist and Indiana Black Emphasis Program Manager. “Black Farmers across the state have a great connection with the land, plants, animals, water and their community as it is part of their soul. As our urban areas increase, our historically underserved communities are seeking to provide local, fresh produce within their community. It shows there is a need and desire to grow food and connect with mother nature. NRCS programs are in place to help and it’s our job to spread our knowledge and resources to better our communities.”
One way Indiana NRCS works to supports Black landowners and producers is by providing financial and technical assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which enables farmers and forestland owners to address natural resource concerns on their land. Through the 2018 Farm Bill, participants from historically underserved communities receive priority consideration on their EQIP applications. They are also eligible for a higher payment rate and advanced payments to help with the installation of conservation practices.
Please join us throughout the month of February, as we honor and celebrate the Black producers and NRCS employees throughout the state of Indiana who play a vital role in the state’s agriculture industry.