One ag-educator expressed the feelings of many at the first meeting of the USDA Advisory Committee on Minority Farmers when he concluded, “This meeting is a progressive step in the right direction. USDA should be commended for doing this, and should convene this kind of public forum more often.”
A small farmer from Michigan added her encouragement, saying, “We don’t just want to talk about it anymore – we want it to happen.”
More than 90 farmers, ranchers, educators, economists and civil rights professionals from across the U.S, including Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico, participated in the August 11 meeting in Memphis. They offered a wide range of testimony on historic and current barriers to the use of available federal conservation, farm loan and community development programs. Many also commented on potential opportunities for small farmers to benefit from a better understanding and easier access to the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program and other federal nutrition and economic development programs.
Public comment emphasized the need for better coordination of complimentary programs between USDA agencies so applicants do not have to, “put the pieces together on their own.” Possible solutions mentioned included cross training of USDA staff between agencies, a “one-stop” place for information on all USDA programs organized by the intended applicant, and improved communication of funding opportunities and services in, “easily accessible, understandable, and multi-lingual formats.”
Other recurring ideas included the use of social networks to more widely disseminate information on programs and funding availability, the need for more easily understandable application processes and recognition that many loan and grant programs lose their value for the applicant if the process takes too long. Current matching and equity requirements were cited as significant barriers to entry for many new small and socially disadvantaged producers.
Improved mentoring and training opportunities, both direct and through distance learning, were also recommended as better ways to reach and encourage participation by people in historically disadvantaged communities.
Authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill, committee members appointed by Sec. Vilsack include Robert Anderson, Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project from Earlsboro, Okla.; Donna Brew, farmer/rancher from Gooding, Idaho; Ben Burkett, farmer/rancher from Petal, Miss.; William Buster, W.K. Kellogg Foundation from Kalamazoo, Mich.; Jeannie Crittendon, farmer from Jackson, Mich.; Archie Hart, farmer from Knight Dale, N.C.; Paula Garcia, New Mexico Acequia Association from Mora, N.M.; Omar Garza, U.S. Mexico Border Coalition from St. Elena, Texas; Dr. Dewayne Goldman, Black Growers Council from Pine Bluff, Ark.; William Hudson, Florida A&M University; Richard Molinar, University of California, Reedley; Brian Thomas, farmer/rancher from Owyhee, Nev.; Baldemar Velasquez, Farm Labor Organizing Committee from Toledo, Ohio; Randall Ware, farmer/rancher from Fort Cobb, Okla.; and John Zippert, Federation of Southern Cooperatives from Eutaw, Ala.
The Advisory Committee will submit a summary of the testimony and proposed regulatory changes to the Secretary. The testimony and recommendations will also help in developing the 2012 Farm Bill.