This past April, Nature For Justice (N4J) met with 10 organizations and eight farm owners to discuss our U.S. Farmer Inclusion Program and receive input on improving our strategy. N4J aims to be additive in the agriculture justice space and strengthen climate resilience among Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color (BIPOC). During our discussion, we agreed on a few key challenges and associated resources that could bridge gaps and add value to the current networks of BIPOC farmers and resources.
Knowledge and Information-Sharing
“Each of us being able to share our knowledge is helpful.”
“We want to share our knowledge – but the opportunity cost of leaving our own farm is too high”
“Young farmers want to sit at the feet of more seasoned farmers while also having the knowledge to share (such as tech knowledge)”
The Problem. Many challenges faced by farmers are rooted in the circulation of information and access to it. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a repeated offender for historically and currently excluding marginalized groups from valuable resources.
However, when these groups can easily access additional knowledge, both through external technical resources and with knowledge already held by the BIPOC farming community, we strengthen an already resilient community and bring neighboring farms together. An example of an existing resource aligned with this effort is RAFI-USA’s guide to Navigating NRCS which guides how to approach county agents and self-advocacy.
The Approach. N4J’s key approach is peer-to-peer learning through practice-based meetings. Farmers are compensated for attending these meetings and both sharing and gaining knowledge to make information accessible and value the important community resource of collective knowledge. Specifically, N4J supports networks of BIPOC farmers that want to implement specific regenerative agriculture practices such as conservation covers, cover crops, field borders, no-till, or prescribed grazing. These practice-based networks will receive financial support and subject-matter expert technical support for implementing new approaches on their own farms as well as compensation for their input and insights as they network and share lessons learned from their farm with other farmers.
Although we do not yet have a specific plan in place, N4J also wants to support individuals who host education forums, workshops, and mentorship or apprenticeship programs on their farms. As part ofN4J’s additive network-building strategy we support current knowledge-sharing programs that will encourage intergenerational or seasoned to new farmer collaboration. We hope that as older farmers share past experiences younger generations will share their tech and other skills.
“A lot of times they (TA providers) don’t have the expertise to support the farmers.”
The Problem. Many individuals receive technical assistance (TA) from USDA agencies like NRCS and FSA, or the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. However, farmers expressed frustration with the lack of knowledge from these specialists from the on-farm implementation and business perspective.
Farmers advocated for TA that is not only science-based but also paired with an understanding of the knowledge, energy, materials, equipment sourcing, and other costs required for both conversion and ongoing production and back-end navigation of the supply chain.
In short, farmers want scientific specialists to be accompanied by someone knowledgeable in running an agricultural business and a merging of the knowledge of both and they require follow-through assistance to implement advised practices in a way that makes sense for their farm.
The Approach. Because our approach is not only based on an external expert-based approach but also peer-to-peer learning, we hope that farmers who have implemented activities can be paired with traditional technical assistance for a comprehensive understanding of what it means to implement regenerative agriculture approaches. Or TA approach pairs scientific with business knowledge and high-level knowledge with anecdotal knowledge – balancing the perspectives.
N4J is currently creating a list of Technical Assistance providers and partners available to the implementing networks – from nonprofits to university extensions – that can provide valuable resources to farmers. We are prioritizing local partners but adding national partners as needed to address gaps.
Supply Chain Management
“The challenge is always about scale. Doesn’t even have to be with their supply chain (can be internal vending).”
The Problem. To grow produce, herbs, fruits, and livestock on regenerative land without going into a budget deficit is one task. To sell it to a profitable market is another. Many small-scale farmers find profitability versus time invested in preparation, travel, and participation at farmers’ markets difficult.
However, creating wholesale partnerships is difficult, especially given the year-round need of most buyers and the competition with larger non-regenerative producers who can provide more consistency and lower prices. Navigating through the ins and outs of the supply chain takes time, knowledge, and energy.
The Approach. Through our network approach and with staff support from N4J we hope to connect multiple farmers with specific supply-chain partners both locally and nationally. This can be restaurants and wholesale markets or large-scale brand buyers (including N4J funders like Patagonia and Walmart).
By aggregating farmers who are all using similar methods on their farms, we hope to make it more enticing for buyers to work with small-scale farms while at the same time supporting the research individual farmers would be doing to try to access the markets through our N4J staff. Finally, through events, workshops, and social media, N4J will support the circulation of general knowledge of supply chain management in local regions.
Movement-Building and Advocacy
“We shouldn’t be last in line for cannabis licenses”
The Approach. Finally, N4J wants to support and encourage thought leadership on advocacy around issues that matter to Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color. Our goal is to increase BIPOC farmers’ ability to speak collectively or on behalf of other farmers while also supporting farmers with staff time to highlight and address discriminatory practices that historically and currently exclude BIPOC farmers from resources. N4J may support farmers in thought pieces or attendance and critical meetings, conferences, and events, as well as through public speaking training or coaching.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many farmers is the goal? Our goal is to reach over 100 BIPOC farmers within the next 3 years.
Who can participate? We work with farmers in North Carolina that identify as Black, Indigenous, or other Person of Color and have lived experiences of racial bias and discrimination. To participate in most activities – be that directly with us or through a partner organization – you will need to share your information with us including your name, address, email, farm number, farm activities, and soil samples. We ask for farm numbers as the majority of our funding comes from federal sources that require this data but recognize this could be a barrier for some farmers. In rare cases, we can use alternative funding to provide support to farmers who have strong opposition to getting a farm number, or regrant funding to partner organizations to pass on to farmers.
How do you support sharing information about grants? We share information about grants and other forms of support via social media platforms and directly to farmers we know will particularly benefit from the announcement.
Which (background) information is needed to be part of these projects? To participate in the USDA-funded soil sampling program with TSIP, we will need to collect basic personal information, along with a farm identification number. To participate in our CPA/CAP program we would need to know the cost of the conservation plan, a brief explanation of the procedure being implemented, along with basic personal information about the individual seeking assistance.
Will you address forest management for farmers who have forestland on their farms? Yes, we have connected with organizations that specialize in forestry and forest management to support landowners who are interested in value-added production (i.e., Sustainable Forest Land Retention Program).