Root Report: Restoring Power to Rural Farming Communities





Photo courtesy of RAFI-USA

Farming and agriculture were once a major source of wealth for Black American families. In 1910, up to 80% of the Black middle- and upper-class families owned farms. But by the turn of the 21st century, 90 percent of that land was lost. According to 2017 USDA data, there are 3.4 million farmers in the U.S. and only 1.3% identify as Black, 2.3% as Native American or Alaskan Native, and less than 1% as Asian American.

Founded in 1990, the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA) was created to restore power to long-exploited rural farming communities across the country. RAFI-USA’s mission is to challenge the root causes of unjust food systems and to advocate for economically, racially, and ecologically just farm communities.

Addressing racial discrimination and systemic injustice is at the core of RAFI-USA’s work. Farmers of color in the U.S. have long been disadvantaged by systemic and institutional racism, including discrimination in accessing credit, loans, resources, and markets. So, in 2017 RAFI-USA launched the Farmers of Color Network program to support farmers of color and grow their numbers. Through the Farmers of Color Network program, they work to:

  • Provide grants to farmers of color to purchase equipment and build infrastructure;
  • Offer targeted one-on-one technical assistance to help farmers meet increasing market demands;
  • Facilitate farmer-to-farmer connections to create a supportive space where farmers can build power, learn, and share resources; and
  • Create cultural gatherings that uplift the stories, and the historical, present, and future agricultural contributions of farmers of color.

The Farmers of Color Network also serves as a key community connector. They host farm tours, run networking events, build collaborative relationships with food & agricultural organizations, as well as explore innovative ways to connect with customers. The Network has proven especially critical during COVID-19. Since 2020, RAFI-USA’s Farmers of Color Network infrastructure grants program has awarded $500,000 to nearly 80 farmers across ten states to bolster their farms’ infrastructure and produce food for their communities.

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