Reflections on Juneteenth 2020

It’s obvious at this point that 2020 will be a year for the history books. As much as the future is our main focus in everything we prioritize at the farm, the past has shaped our landscape both literally and figuratively. So we decided to do a little digging into history, to learn more about how racial justice intersects with our own mission here at Red Apple Farm. We can by no means take credit for leading the movements, such as Black Lives Matter, that will hopefully lead to a better system for all including those who have been oppressed. But we can accent the leaders who are and have been working toward a racial justice – specifically as it relates to small family farms in New England and in the United States . Ultimately, learning about the past can help shape a more equitable system for the future. And a more equitable system will mean more family farms survive, ensuring a thriving local food economy for future generations to enjoy!

From our Juneteenth Newsletter:

June 19th, 1865 represents the official beginning of Black liberation in America, but the road to a truly equitable society is still being paved in 2020.  Red Apple Farm stands in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

This Juneteenth, we want to shine a light on a few of the countless contributions Black farmers have made to agriculture, and acknowledge that Black farmers in America have unfairly lost ownership of farms at drastically higher rates than White farmers. 

As a fourth generation family farm, we understand that keeping small farms sustainable is integral to our success and the collective success of small farms across America.  We know that the small farming industry can’t reach its full potential without equal opportunity and justice for Black farmers.  Especially now, against the backdrop of COVID-19, the need for racial justice in the U.S. agricultural system is particularly glaring because of its entanglement with food, environmental, health, and economic justice.  Black Farmers Matter.    In the early 1900s, there were more Black farmers than White farmers in the U.S. per capita.  Today, Black farmers only operate approximately 1% of the nation’s farms. How did African American farmers lose 90% of their land?  Modern Farmer sums it up in this article. 

At a time when industrial agriculture threatens the viability of small family farms everywhere, systemic racism makes it even harder for Black farmers to survive.  Systemic racism stands directly in the way of the local food and farm movement.  We believe that our New England small farming community must step up to be a part of reversing this trend, and that a more racially just system will ultimately only strengthen the small farm industry as a whole. To start, we are donating 2% of our total June sales across all locations to Family Agriculture Resource Management Services (FARMS), which provides legal assistance and resources to Black farmers and all farmers from historically disadvantaged groups, to retain ownership of their land.

Moving forward, we commit to learning more about and speaking out against racism in farming. Particularly today, on Juneteenth, we reflect on the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 did not lead to compete immediate freedom from slavery, and that similar promises such as the one guaranteeing 40 acres of land to all former slaves, were also broken.  
Carrying out our mission hinges on providing a welcoming and safe experience for all, including our Black neighbors, employees, and customers who we consider members of our extended “farmily.”

We can start by highlighting the largely unrecognized work of Black farmers and activists throughout history who have:Paved the path to a profitable small farming business model.  In the 1960s and 70s, long before it was popular, Booker T. Whatley pioneered the concept of the pick-your-own business model, the same model Red Apple Farm employs today.  Whatley was a Black farmer, scholar, and passionate advocate for economically sustainable small farming. His innovative plan to generate $100,000 a year from any 25-acre farm outlines in detail many of the strategies we benefit from today, including the idea of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).Generated American wealth through forced agricultural labor.Lost their land due to discriminatory distribution of resources.  In 1999, the Pigford and Brewington cases ended in the largest civil rights settlement in history.  These lawsuits, which are ongoing as more farmers come forward, exposed years of discrimination through the denial of credit and loans to Black farmers by the USDA.  Dr. John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, discusses the now $2 billion settlement in this short interview.Organized efforts to address inequities in the agricultural system, such as cooperatives and nonprofit farms that develop strategies and opportunities for preserving family farms.  Though there are too many to name, some examples close to home are Flats Mentor Farm located right here in Massachusetts (link to a list of local farmers markets where you can support their farmers), Soul Fire Farm in New York (read their strategic goals here), and the Clemmons Family Farm, one of the 17 remaining African American owned farms in Vermont.  We’re inspired by the work these and similar organizations have spearheaded for years.  The work is not just beginning, and it is far from over!
We look forward to the day when people of all races benefit equally from the joys of small scale farming, and we can truly unite over our shared love of the land.