Black farmers once thrived, but the latest research shows a decline of more than 60 percent when it comes to Black farmers owning land. There are a number of reasons for this loss, including the younger generation not paying taxes on the land, families not listing the land in their will — and in Mr. Thomas Nichols’ case, road construction projects.
“I been on one farm for 42 years and they just put a new road through it and they already started building houses on it so I’m limited there,” Nichols said.
Nichols is now fighting to gain back land to which he once previously had full access.
“We lost about 100 acres this year and they already told me they are taking another 115 next year,” explained Nichols. “We don’t own a lot of land; you can probably take 100 acres and do a little bit of vegetables but you can’t grow many cows on 100 acres of land.”
Nichols was leasing over 800 acres of land between south and central Florida for over 40 years. Just recently the owners told Nichols they planned to build homes on more than 60 percent of that land.
“It’s turned into something short-term so now I have to find somewhere to put all my cattle; that’s why the Black Farmers Association has been so important to me.”
The Florida chapter of the Black Farmers Association was started by Latricia Williams.
“I grew up on a pretty nice size farm,” explained Williams. “After I came back from college I realized a lot of black farmers were either on failing farms or had lost their land. That’s why I started the Black Farmers Association.”
The association has since partnered with the largest Historically Black College and University in Florida, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, to gain access to land and resources for farmers.
“We acquired 3,800 acres of land in Brooksville, Florida,” she said. “The purpose of the land is to teach young black farmers how to be successful while introducing other folks in the African-American community to farming.”
“It’s also a place where our veteran farmers can put their crops and livestock,” Williams added.
The Center for American Progress found that the average full-time white farmer made just over $17,000 in farm income in 2017, while the average full-time African-American farmer made $2,400.
“The banks don’t want to give you money so it’s really hard for Black farmers these days,” said Nichols.
The leaders of the association say the real benefit is the generational wealth the 3,800 acres of land will create for young third-generational farmers like Therus Brown.
“Growing up, there was nothing I’d rather do,” said Brown. “It gives you a sense of accomplishment, when you see your product go to market. It’s just great to be out in the great open spaces, you know?”
Brown is one of the youngest members in the Florida chapter, and he told Atlanta Black Star that he takes pride in the land.
“Blacks were responsible for doing most of the farming up until a certain point and then our counterparts took it over,” said Brown, “but we’re still here and we’re still going strong and I hope there’s some younger generations that want to do this. “
Brown is a farm tech for FAMU and he said he’s able to soak up knowledge from the veteran farmers while inputting new techniques for how farms can survive today.
“The importance is for all the young black males that are growing up in America to know that there is still a black man out there riding a tractor, working livestock, and if they want to be like them it shows them that it can be done.”