Blacks digging up farming roots

Farming among blacks has declined within the past century.

“Black Farmers are an endangered species,” said Charles Magee, interim dean and director of Land Grant Programs for the College of Engineering Sciences, Technology and Agriculture.

But farming hasn’t decreased solely because of a lack of interest. Racial barriers, as well as internal disagreements, have fueled the decrease.

“Black farmers are destroying black farmers,” said Glen Holmes, the executive director of the New North Florida Co-op. “The biggest constraint is the culture issue, the internal struggle that we fail to acknowledge.”

Holmes said black farmers he works with tend to see the “agribusiness,” commonly known as farming, as unhealthy competition between each other.

“The problem lies with us. Until they realize that they can’t do it alone, we won’t survive,” Holmes said.

However, some disagree with this theory and blame the descent of black farming on others.

According to, in 1910 there were almost 1 million black farmers in the United States who owned a total of 15 million acres. By 1969, they only owned 6 million acres.

“In the ’60s, blacks turned away from it,” Magee said.

But why did blacks turn away?

“Most of the young black farmers were shut down [foreclosed by the government] and others were put down. They went bankrupt,” said Simon Bricks, an 82-year old farmer in Jackson County.

The Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916 promised to provide credit to farmers at sensible rates. Instead, some black farmers were discriminated against and did not receive aid from the government.

“Black farmers have never been treated equally,” Bricks said.

Gradually, black farmers became scarce.

“It’s so difficult for them to make a living, they don’t have the resources,” Magee said.

The price of farming yields another reason as to why black farmers are an endangered species.

“I put about 25 to 30 grand of my own money into farming each year,” Bricks said.

Although many see farming as an agricultural hobby of rural residents, it is a $25,000 to $50,000 a year business.

The price tag for farming is high because it isn’t as traditional as some believe it to be. The equipment alone can be costly.

A John Deere 8210 with 185 horsepower retail price is $111,500, which costs more than some homes.

“I started with used equipment, then as my income increased, every three to four years, I got new equipment,” Bricks said.

But this was in 1942 when Bricks began farming at 17. The price tag for equipment was significantly lower, especially for used equipment.

The United States Department of Agriculture also has had its hand in the cost of living for the average farmer.

“We are probably getting the same amount of money for a bushel of wheat that we were getting 40 years ago,” said Gary Grant, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, operated out of Tillery, N.C.

Grant said the BFAA wants the USDA to do away with farming county commission systems and increase the sale cost of products produced by farmers. The BFAA has been discussing various issues and problems with the USDA since 1996.

Changing policies and rules that affect the successful survival of the black farmer and family farms has been an item on the BFAA’s plate for years.

“The USDA does not support the black farmer as they do the white farmer,” he continued.

A representative from the USDA could not be reached for comment.

In 1978, there were about 6,996 black farms remaining in the United States.

Today, black farmers represent less than one percent of all farms.

“Younger blacks don’t go into farming or agriculture because of the taboo,” said Holmes.”It’s not appealing to them. It’s not glamorous.”

This attitude is apparent on the campus of FAMU.

“That does not interest me at all, that is manual labor,” said Christa Johnson, a senior psychology student from Birmingham, Ala.

As a result of the USDA and the federal government’s practices, black farmers became scarce.

“A black farmer would be like a diamond in the rough,” Holmes said.

Contact Robyn K. Mizelle at