Food is a way of bringing people together and celebrating community among all cultures. More importantly, food is a part of every human’s basic needs and is critical for one’s survival and health.
Unfortunately, food insecurity is disproportionately high among racial minority groups, due to the maltreatment of people of color when it comes to education, housing and employment. In addition, there is a huge lack of representation and inclusion in the agriculture industry.
Lailah Hall noticed the lack of representation and equality among communities and is spearheading change to build a more inclusive and diverse industry where all people have an equal plate at the table.
Hall, a third-year agricultural business student at Florida A&M University, is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and the 2022-2023 Region II Undergraduate Student Vice President of MANNRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources & Related Sciences).
Hall was simply inspired by her love of food to take an interest in agri-business. After realizing the food injustices faced by many communities, she made it her mission as the former Region II Undergraduate Student V.P of MANNRS to “build the community” by actively working towards solving these inequality issues.
“‘Build the community’ was my slogan as the Region II Undergraduate Student Vice President of MANNRS that I started because I felt that we can make agriculture more inclusive for everyone to enjoy and also more inclusive for people who look like me,” Hall, 20, said.
According to the USDA, In 2021, 33.8 million people lived in food-insecure households, including more than 5 million children, in the United States alone. In addition, around 20% of Black individuals and 22% of Black children lived in a food insecure household in 2021, which is almost three times the rate of white households.
In terms of the agriculture industry, diversity has decreased significantly over the past century. According to the USDA, 45,000 out of the 3.4 million farmers in the U.S. identified as Black in 2021, with only one-third of that subset being Black women.
Hall is actively working with organizations, such as MANNRS, John Deere, and the United States Department of Agriculture, to educate others on the importance of agriculture while vocalizing and addressing the racial inequities in the field.
“In terms of FAMU and the surrounding campus, I feel like I have contributed to making sure the College of Agriculture & Food Sciences is more known than it previously had been,” Hall said. “My roles in MANNRS, the Florida Farm Bureau, and being secretary of Community Affairs, I’ve tried to include opportunities for students to learn and get involved in agriculture,” she added.
Hall expressed the irony of agriculture being in the name of Florida A&M University, while also generating the most money for the school, but in turn lacking the attention and proper backing of other colleges and schools on campus.
“It’s just unfortunate that we don’t receive the same recognition compared to schools like SBI or the School of Journalism,” she said.
Hall believes that many people stray away from agriculture due to their misconceptions about the field. Moreover, the Black community’s perception of agriculture has been tainted by its history. In hopes to rectify those misconceptions, Hall educates others through online posts, events and everyday conversations.
“People don’t understand, agriculture is important. Agriculture is everything,” Hall said. “But some look at it as a less than desirable industry. People think that we are out on the farm all the time, but that is only one part of agriculture if you would like to be hands-on, but you can do anything with an agribusiness major,” she added.
“Many people in our community have strayed away from agriculture due to the negatives of slavery and systemic racism associated with it,” Hall continued. “I will say that being in agriculture as a Black person is a reclamation of power.”
Kayla Braggs, a spring 2022 Florida A&M graduate with a degree in food science and a minor in agribusiness, and a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and former undergraduate president for MANRRS, believes that Hall has taken full advantage of the opportunities afforded her through MANNRS and is taking affirmative action to build the community.
“Lailah is without a doubt a trailblazer in the agriculture industry at such a young age,” Braggs said. “I have no doubt that she will be blazing a new trail forward as she makes a name for herself in agriculture and its related industries.”
Hall was recently awarded the 2023 Trailblazer award by Florida A&M University, recognizing her efforts and involvement in the community. Her endeavors have not gone unnoticed, as she was nominated by university faculty, students and close peers.
Daniel Solis, an associate professor and leader in the agribusiness program at FAMU, and mentor to Hall, spoke highly of Hall’s achievements.
“Lailah is a stellar student in our agribusiness program and as the president of the FAMU Florida Farm Bureau Club,” Solis said. “She is very active promoting the importance of agriculture,” he added.
Hall’s long term dream is to own her own farm so that she can fight food deserts right from her own backyard.
“Ultimately, I want to own a farm where I can provide fresh and affordable produce to low-income communities that are unfortunately facing food-insecurity,” Hall said.
Hall also wants to pursue a career in international agribusiness to assist developing countries increase their agriculture and economic prosperity.
You can follow Hall’s journey to building communities on her Instagram page, @lailah_hall_region2