African Americans played a major role in the development of the growing agricultural industry during the 19th century. This, however, was largely due to the widespread practice of slavery in the USA during these early years, especially so in the hemp and cotton industries . The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 allowed previously indentured labor to either own land or migrate to greener pastures finding land for themselves.
In 1619 it was illegal in the states of Virginia not to grow hemp, while the states of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, North & South Carolina and the New England were heavily incentivized to grow hemp. The efforts to establish these hemp industries were not very successful in the northern states but remained prevalent in the south where slave labour was forced to sow, grow, harvest and process hemp cheaply. Hemp was a very labor-intensive crop and cheap black slaves were needed to keep the prices low.
“Hemp… is abundantly productive and will grow for ever on the same spot, but the breaking and beating it, which has always been done by hand, is so slow, so laborious, and so much complained of by our laborers.”–Thomas Jefferson, 1815
The great migration to the big cities only began during the mid-20th century and most African Americans chose to stay only becoming very poor share-croppers and eking out a living.
1-History of land allocation/ Black Farming culture in the United States since the end of Slavery
Survival was a high priority for these rural black farmers. The majority of African Americans lived in rural areas with not much hope of a basic income, except for working the land. The middle colonies of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delware provided rich and fertile agricultural land that was used to cultivate grain, flax, hemp and rear livestock. (1)
Conditions for black farmers improved during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There was a dramatic growth in black land ownership during these times that many white Democrats made it known that the agricultural industry of the south needs to buckle up and get in line. They urged white farmers to take control of the industry which resulted in violence during the Cotton pickers strike of 1891.
Ultimately black farmers have been put out of business since 1910. According to a report (6) published last year, between 1910 and 2007 black farmers have lost 80% of their farm land. A number of factors discussed have played their role in the decrease in numbers of farmers.
2- How legislation has allowed the number of Black farmers to decrease to its current figure
Legislation has never been in favor of the African American farmer and even so during the good years where black farmers could rub shoulders with white farmers. Often black farmers were chastised and discriminated against by wealthier white landowners. Both cotton and hemp were important agricultural cash crops for these farmers and until the crisis of the 1920s. Prices for tobacco and cotton collapsed, and if that was not bad enough, boll weevil pest wiped out entire crops and sunk the agricultural industry.
Black farmers are a mere 1.4 per cent of the country’s 3.2 million farmers, according to the 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture. (2)
Although the Emancipation Proclamation could not have come sooner, it still did not help much with the development of the black farmer. And with the financial crash, topped with a natural disaster, black farmers started the migration to the bigger cities.
With the passing of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, the days of farming hemp were finally over. Due to the monopoly of the white cotton industry and hemp as a potential threat to its profits, hemp was included in the dangerous drugs lists and confused with recreational marijuana.
3- Challenges unique to Black Farmers that impede growth and keeping their land
We can all agree that black farmers have for most of history been discriminated against. If you don’t believe that fact, ask the United States Department of Agriculture why they agreed to pay 40000 black farmers $1.2 billion for undue discrimination!
Black farmers also come from a limited population of growers, land and resources which gives farmers access to a head start. This could be the result for black farmers in the hemp farming industry! Further to the above, black farmers could lose out due to the felony restriction of growing hemp and could be a further loss for people of color wanting to enter the industry. According to the Drug Policy Alliance blacks and Latinos are three times more likely to have a marijuana-related offence which is restrictive when entering the hemp industry.
This time last year Senator Steven Oroho’s legislation in NJ permanently setup a hemp program and help the Garden state farmers take advantage of the growing hemp industry nationwide. The legislation repealed the previous New Jersey Industrial Hemp Pilot Program that worked in the favor of a select few.
4- The current state of Black farmers
Clarenda Stanley-Anderson is one of the few black hemp farmers ( 4 ) taking advantage of this multi-billion dollar industry. She and her husband, Malcolm, own Green Heffa Farms which is located in North Carolina. They were recently the featured farmer of Hemp History Week ( 5 ), an educational campaign bringing awareness to the industry.
5- The future of Black farming
Legislation can be used to provide restorative measures to black farmers that have been previously left out and discriminated against for centuries. Representation of the black minority in the hemp farming industry will only help improve future generations chances of success.
Family Agriculture Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S) is a much needed resource for emerging black farmers. This national non-profit is helping reverse the loss of land in low-income communities and help put down a roadmap for generational success, ensuring future farm revenue for small farmers.
The future for new black farmers is bright when you include the services of Jillian Hishaw who is not only a agricultural strategist and farmer, but also an attorney of law. This brilliant woman is helping farmers implement the right mechanisms from the start to be successful in the muddy waters of the farming industry.