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USDA releases $71M in grants in pursuit of ‘equality and justice for all’

The Department of Agriculture last week announced $71 million in new grant funding aimed at helping “disadvantaged” and “underserved” farmers and ranchers, which USDA said supports its broader mission of ensuring “equality and justice for all.”

“We are committed to building a different USDA,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday. “One that is steadfast in our actions, mindset and culture around equality and justice for all. We need to not only envision a different future, but also build a path to make it possible.”

About half of the grant funding was distributed under a program created in the 1990 Farm Bill that helps “underserved farmers, ranchers, and foresters” who historically had limited access to USDA programs. About $194 million worth of these grants have been distributed since 2010.

Among the grants announced last week was $750,000 to a non-profit in Alabama that helps educate “African American farmers and other low-income people” about USDA support programs. Another $750,000 went to a non-profit in California that provides “culturally sensitive agricultural education programs” for “socially disadvantaged farmers.”

A similar amount went to a group based in the mid-Atlantic that will run a project to “leverage its supply chain aggregation capacity and technical assistance expertise to increase the wholesale readiness and representation of Black, Brown, and other farmers in the Mid-Atlantic region’s food aggregation supply chain.”

The USDA grant aligns with President Biden’s goals of creating a diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility agenda.
Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Other grants went to like-minded groups that will encourage Black farmers and others to “gain equitable access” to USDA programs, and make sure they are “participating equitably” in those programs.

Tens of millions more dollars were distributed under a USDA program created by the 2021 American Rescue Plan that is aimed at ensuring “equitable participation in the full range of USDA programs” by underserved farmers. This money went to universities and non-profit groups that provide technical assistance to Black, socially disadvantaged and Native American agricultural producers.

For example, $2.3 million in grant funding when to a Minnesota non-profit that will help “farmers of colors and Sudanese and Somali audiences.” Another $3.5 million went to a group in Washington state to help new and socially disadvantaged farmers that will focus on “Spanish-speaking Latino and Hispanic immigrant farmers.”

Department of Agriculture sign.
USDA has a reported history of denying farm loans to black farmers.
National Grazing Lands Coalition

The USDA’s announcement fits with the Biden administration’s broad diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility agenda, which is given close attention at USDA given allegations of the department’s discrimination against Black farmers. In 2010, President Obama signed legislation that funded a settlement agreement that awarded $1.25 billion to thousands of Black farmers who said the department unfairly denied them farm loans and other support because of their race.

Vilsack was USDA secretary under Obama when that bill became law, and on Friday, as President Biden’s USDA secretary, he said the new grant funding is another move toward equality.

“This is a major step in the right direction as the Biden-Harris Administration continues to ensure underserved groups can more fully access and participate in federal programs and services,” he said.

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