If you?re like me, you thoroughly enjoyed watching Season 1 of new series Queen Sugar on the OWN network and learning a bit about the history of Black farmers in the United States. The story, directed by Ava DuVernay and based on the New York Times bestselling book written by Natalie Baszile, is told through a trio of siblings in Louisiana who quickly discover the real-life challenges that come along with being in the agriculture business.
Though Queen Sugar is a fictitious story, longtime farmer and president of the National Black Farmers Association John Boyd, Jr., just might be the living embodiment of what it means to be a Black farmer today.
It was just a few years ago that he and fellow plaintiffs won a lawsuit that was 30 years in the making and settled for $1.2 billion for discrimination claims related to U.S. Department of Agrigulture farm loans and other benefits. Boyd is now looking to the future and wants to inspire the next generation of farmers; and the National Black Farmers Association Scholarship Program is a step towards cultivating new talent by providing monetary scholarships towards a range of agricultural-related college studies, including agribusiness, food sciences, biology, holistic nutrition and urban farming.
Now in its third year, the scholarship program is currently accepting applications and will be through April 28, 2017 or until 100 applications have been received.????? ?
?The average age of an African American farmer is 60 years of age, so I am fighting an uphill battle in trying to get more African American youth involved in agriculture, and to, at least, take a second look at careers in farming. I know that there has been a decline in the rise of Black farmers due to spending programs. We lost a lot of land, and it has taken a toll on all of us. But I am looking to turn that around. That?s what the scholarship is about,? Boyd told TNJ.com in an exclusive interview.
Boyd says the main challenges have been access to credit and fair market.
?There has been discrimination at markets such as grain elevators, at banks and by the U.S. Department of Agriculture by not lending African American farmers farm operating money on time. No matter how good a farmer you are, you need a farm operating loan every ear. It?s not like a regular business where you get a business loan that might carry you for 5 to 8 years. With farming, you have to have money to plant and harvest your crops on time, so you have to have the annual loan or a financial partner. Many Black farmers rely on the federal government, which is supposed to be the lender of last resorts. You have to get turned down by major banks to be eligible for that. And the government has done a number on African American farmers by selling those farms for pennies on the dollar to large-scale white farmers who are on the county committee. These counties are the deciding factors for the United States Dept. of Agriculture,? Boyd shares.?
He continues, ?After the Civil War, there was a discrepancy on whether the northern money would be acceptable or southern money would be acceptable. Blacks acquired land by being offered the opportunity to stay on the farm for a piece of land. 100 plus years later, they are using the same system to take the land away from many African American farmers and their families. That has hurt us. We?ve challenged the government by filing lawsuits; and we won. But that was only a stepping stone in the right direction; it doesn?t answer all of the questions and it doesn?t fix all of the problems.?
Boyd, who farms in Virginia and whose father was a farmer, has high hopes of educating the next generation who aspires to increase and advance agricultural technology. ?One of the things we can do better is to help educate others. I decided to put a lot of energy into passing on the rich farming legacy of African American farmers by meeting with Black youth. I often explain that if they can afford a Mercedes-Benz automobile, they can afford five acres in the country.? There?s absolutely no difference. To invest in land ownership and grow your own food works out to the same cost as a brand new luxury vehicle,? he says.
Funded by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Foundation, the NBFA Scholarship Program will award up to $100,000 in scholarships this year. Since 2015, it has awarded 40 scholarships and provided $187,500 in educational support. Each student selected for the program will receive up to $5,000. 2016 scholarship recipients attended a variety of schools including Texas A&M University, Tuskegee University, North Carolina A&T State University and Florida A&M University, among others.