Building and Strengthening Social and Economic Sustainability Among New York State Black Farmers

Progress report for LNE21-415

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $247,998.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2024
Grant Recipients: Buffalo Go Green Inc.; Farm Training Collective NYC Inc. dba Farm School NYC; Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust; Black Farmer Fund
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Allison DeHonney
Buffalo Go Green Inc.
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

Problem and Justification: Historically, Black farmers have weathered injustices from blatant discrimination. Nationally, over the last century, black farmers have become severely underrepresented in farming and farm ownership. Black farm ownership declined from 10 million acres in 1930 to 4 million acres in 2012; black-owned farms have an average size of 77 acres, compared to 205 acres for white-owned farmers. (USDA, 2017). Additionally, between 2009 and 2016, black farmers -- even after the Pigford Settlement -- received .07% less of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) lending than they did between 2001 and 2008. This translates into $28 million less in financing during that period. (Stucki, 2019)

 The impact of this nation’s extractive economic system and generations of institutionalized racism have created stark racial inequities in agriculture that reverberate closer to home.  In New York State’s $42 billion agriculture and food industry,  Black farmers number 139 (0.24%) of 57,000 farmers;  white farmers have more than 500 times the land of Black farmers; Black farms receive 60% fewer government subsidies and support; Black farmers make $1 for every $5 a white farmer makes,  and they make less than any other group, netting -$903 annually while the average farmer’s net income is $42,875. (USDA, 2017)

Solution and Approach: To address these disparities, our project will support Black farmers in NYS in increasing their financial and social sustainability through educational skillshares and the development of a marketing co-op.  For the co-op, we will recruit founding farmer partners to develop the governance structure and establish a legal entity. This founding group will also identify a suite of marketing services to meet the needs of member farmers, including a website that features Black farmers in NYS, and a certification and branding program that will be enhanced by skillshares and networking opportunities developed through this project. The co-op will also link farmers to land that matches their needs and provide them with support for developing marketing plans.

In addition to the co-op, we will also develop and host a series of skillshares, which will take place both online and in-person (when possible, considering COVID-19). Skillshares topics will focus on increasing both financial and social sustainability, and will include financial literacy, communal wealth building, marketing yields, and creating new products. Participating Black farmers from New York State will be invited to join the new marketing co-op, as well as existing state and regional networks.

To measure our progress, we will track farmers who join the co-op and participate in educational skillshares; we will review marketing plans; current and new network affiliations; development of farmer’s growth initiatives; acres of land accessed; and those engaged in financing options offered through Black Farmer Fund.

 

Performance Target:

According to the 2017 USDA Census on Agriculture, Black farmers’ net income was negative -$906.00. Through webinars and skillshares, 50 Black farmers and food systems actors will discover new approaches to business management and marketing of their farm products, and participate in networking and educational opportunities with other Black farmers. At least 10 farmers will go further, establishing a Black farmer marketing co-op to: 1) increase their agricultural sales by $500, for a total increase of $5,000; 2) increase access to land and financial capital; and 3) enhance social sustainability through improved mental health, well-being, and community connections.

Introduction:

Based on the history outlined in the proposal our team is working to provide the skills necessary to begin to overcome some of the challenges faced by Black Farmers. We are intentional about not making assumptions, so we have taken laborious time to number one find as many black farmers as possible and secondly to engage them in a trustful and collaborative way as to find out exactly how this project can best meet their current needs and guide them to a space of increased revenue for their farm businesses.

Research

Hypothesis:

While surveys of NYS Black farmers conducted by food justice advocates in 2019 and 2020 reveal the importance of Black farmer mentorship and connections, these points remain largely absent from qualitative scholarly research detailing the experiences and needs of today’s Black farmers, particularly in the Northeast. Addressing this gap, the proposed participatory action research will examine impacts of relationship building and network development on NYS Black Farmers by 1) documenting farmers’ narratives regarding the barriers that they face; and 2) analyzing the roles that cooperatives and skillshares play in supporting them to overcome these barriers. 

 

Materials and methods:

While scholarly literature delves into the barriers that Black farmers have faced during the 19th and 20th Centuries, much less has been written about Black farmers of the 21st century (i.e. McCutcheon, 2019; White, 2018; Wood & Gilbert, 2000). This is particularly true of those farming in the Northeastern United States; while there are studies examining individual farms in the Northeast (Penniman, 2018), to our knowledge no comprehensive study of New York’s Black farmers yet exists. The same is true of studies examining Black-led agricultural cooperatives: the majority of such research focuses on cooperatives founded during the Civil Rights era in the Southern United States (Franzen, 2020; Reynolds, 2002; White, 2018). Through this research, we will fill these gaps in the literature by expanding analyses of Black farmers and Black agricultural cooperatives to present day New York.

Specifically, this research, to be conducted by Jessica Gilbert (PhD, June 2021), seeks to develop an understanding of Black farmers’ experiences, the barriers that they face, and the role of relationships and networks in overcoming these barriers. It builds off of Gilbert’s doctoral research, which identifies the challenges of incorporating Black farmers into public institutional food supply chains.

This research will result in two products. The first will be a peer-reviewed journal publication documenting our key findings and filling the aforementioned gaps in the literature.  The second will be a synthesis of Black farmers’ narratives gathered via the data collection process outlined below and formatted as a fact sheet for non-academic audiences.   

There are several future directions that the Project Team and the researcher will pursue following the completion of the research proposed here. Highlighting the narratives of New York’s Black farmers will continue to be essential. As such, we will seek funding to convert the narratives gathered during this research into a video that can be shared widely. Research findings will also be used as a foundation for a system dynamics model that makes explicit the policies and resources needed in order to promote Black farmers’ financial and social sustainability.

Study population(s):

In line with the Education Plan, this research will focus on NYS Black farmers participating in the activities proposed by this project; specifically, the 50 Black farmers participating in the educational skillshares and the 10 Black farmers participating in development of the marketing cooperative.

Methods:

Using a combination of qualitative interviews and survey questions co-developed by the researcher and the Project Team, this research centers a qualitative participatory action approach. Using monthly check-ins, collaboration between the researcher and the Project Team will be incorporated into each step of the research process: development of the research topic; generation of interview guides and surveys questions; analysis of the qualitative data gathered, distillation of themes and trends; and publication of key findings.

It is important to note that no interview guide is included in this research proposal, nor are the survey questions. This is intentional: in line with the participatory action approach to this research, the interview guide and survey questions will be developed collaboratively by the Project Team and the researcher as a first step in the research process.

Data collection and analysis:

Data collection will occur in three phases that will follow the progression of Black farmers throughout the project:

  1. “Introductory” qualitative interviews with 15-20 Black farmers participating in the educational skillshares: These will be conducted within the first year of the project to develop a baseline understanding of the barriers that the farmers have and/or continue to face, the relationships that farmers currently have with other farmers and how these were developed, and how the development of additional relationships and networks might impact them in the future.   
  2. Post-educational skillshare surveys: Following each educational skillshare throughout the three years of this project, participating farmers will be asked to fill out a survey, which will include qualitative questions to determine if and how the skillshares have impacted 1) relationship building and network development; and 2) the ways in which Black farmers navigate the barriers that they face. (These questions will be added to the follow-up surveys outlined in the Verification Plan: while they will be separate from the verification process, we do not want to require farmers to complete two surveys after every skillshare.)
  3. “Exit” qualitative interviews with 15-20 Black farmers participating the education skillshares and/or the marketing co-op: These interviews will be conducted in the project’s third year and will explore if and how participating farmers have developed new relationships and networks throughout the duration of this project, what the impact has been thus far, and the role that farmers anticipate these relationships and networks having in the future. Priority will be placed on interviewing those farmers who participated in the “Introductory” interviews in order to capture farmers’ progressions, but we recognize that farmer participation throughout the duration of this project is not guaranteed. Priority will also be placed on interviewing those farmers who participated in the development of the marketing co-op in order to understand, as well as to compare and contrast, the impacts of both the skillshares and the cooperative.

An iterative coding process will be used to distill key themes and trends from the data. The analysis will reflect the three phases of data collection in order to trace the ways in which relationships and networks, as well as their impacts, shift throughout the duration of the project. Key themes and trends will then be cross-referenced with existing scholarly literature to ensure validity.  

Farmer input:

As this research is a qualitative analysis of Black farmers’ experiences and perspectives of the barriers that they face and the role of relationships and networks, consistent farmer input is necessary throughout this research. By participating in interviews and filling out surveys, the farmers themselves guide the research findings.  

Research results and discussion:

All IRB requirements have been met and IRB is approved, board letter will be emailed directly.

The research for this project is largely dependent on the commencement of the skillshares and the marketing co-op. As such, the primary research activities to date have focused on ensuring that the research is ready to start once the skillshare and activities related to the marketing co-op begin. This has entailed the following:

  • Development of a research and evaluation committee, which works together closely to ensure that as we build out and implement our research and evaluation approaches, that we continue to center the goals of this grant. 
  • Collectively deciding to expand our research to include a social network analysis in order to more fully assess the impacts of this grant on Black farmers in NYS. The Black farmers being interviewed both at the beginning of this project and at the end will be asked to delve into the ways that they receive and give resources and support, from/to whom, and how. This will reveal a social network, which will be different one year to the next. Our hypothesis is that Black farmers' social networks will expand as they participate in the skillshares and engage with the marketing co-op, thereby demonstrating their importance for supporting Black farmers. 
  • Developing survey questions to be sent to each skillshare participant and developing interview questions for the interviews with Black farmers and ensuring that these questions are supported by the findings of and gaps within prior scholarly research. These questions get at the initial goals of the grant as well as inquire about informants' social networks. 
  • IRB approval for this research was applied for and granted.  

At this point, the research portion of this grant is ready to move beyond the preparation stages and into the implementation stages. I, as the lead researcher, have been put in contact with the initial Black farmers willing to be interviewed and will be reaching out to them in the coming week. Snowball sampling will be used to connect with additional Black farmers to interview. In addition, the surveys are ready to send out to skillshare participants following each skillshare. Analysis will begin as data is collected. 

Research conclusions:

Results will be written up at various milestones and at the conclusion of the project.

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

This will be reported at the conclusion of the project.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Milestone #1 - By April 30, 2021, key individuals will create an outreach plan and begin recruitment for: (1) ten farmers to participate in the development and launch of the marketing co-op for NYS Black farmers; and (2) an additional 40 farmers to participate in the webinars/skillshares.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
40
Proposed Completion Date:
April 30, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Co-op development is an organic process that happens over time at the direction of a co-op development team. We currently have five farmers working together to develop a cooperative enterprise that will serve their collective needs. To encourage ownership of the co-op development process by the five farmers, the SARE partners have acknowledged that we cannot be wed to the idea of a marketing co-op if this is not what farmers need.

In the early convenings with the farmer steering committee members it became clear they needed a better foundation in co-op education. We have been providing fundamental co-op education to the farmer group to better inform them of the history of co-ops, options and examples of successful co-op's both nationally and internationally. We are looking together at case studies of black owned co-ops their successes and challenges. 

For the Skill Share series, we had two key intentions: 1) Ensuring that the topics to be covered will be relevant and reflective of the needs of our target community and 2) Having intentionality behind the series, so that skill shares are built off of and complement each topic presented.

We spent the year capturing feedback from community members regarding what topics were most needed, specifically through our SARE partners ongoing efforts to assess and survey stakeholders. The Northeast Farmers of Color (NEFOC) Land Steward survey that had 60 farmer respondents of which 38 are Black Farmers in NY State.

Black Farmer Fund (BFF) had conversations with 8 community members who are currently receiving both funding and technical assistance through their pilot program about what current challenges they are facing and what skill shares might be relevant to helping solve some of those challenges. BFF lead a skill share in July 2021 with 40 participants all identifying as Black land stewards and food systems actors. They answered survey questions about needs and interests surrounding skill shares. This feedback, in addition to working with our Project Advisory Committee will help us build out the trajectory of interactive learning spaces for the remainder of the project. All of the survey results and information gathered is being analyzed by our researcher on the project. 

 

 

 

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Milestone #2 - By June 30, 2021, four farmers from our Project Advisory Committee will confirm their participation in the project and give input on broad categories for educational topics including: (1) financial literacy and sustainability; (2) markets, products, and growth initiatives; (3) cooperative development; (4) land access; and (5) network opportunities.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
2
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
4
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

We continue to strategize with our advisory committee to work through the details of the five topics for the skill shares. Our first skill share of year 2 will be held in March. This will be a space to channel the wisdom of 4 Black Farmers who have been farming for many years and who are well known in our community. Our intention with this event is that we will have dynamic speakers who will attract a large audience and bring attention to this project. We recognize the value of lived experiences and sharing those experiences in an intergenerational way.

With regards to topic # 2 markets, products and growth initiatives, this is being addressed by the co-op development team. Members of the co-op steering committee were provided the option to participate in the shaping of skill share development with the caveat that it was separate from their work on the co-op development. All are interested with the understanding that they may have time constraints during the growing season. 

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Milestone #3 - In year one and completed by February 28, 2022, to develop the co-op, four farmers from our Project Advisory Committee will meet regularly with key individuals and later with a marketing consultant to oversee the launch of the co-op by giving input on: (1) co-op systems, structure, and operational plans; (2) which marketing consultant to retain; (3) collective marketing strategy; and (4) services to offer NYS Black farmers.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
2
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This milestone is still in progress.

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Milestone #4 - In year one and completed by February 28, 2022, 15-20 Black farmers participating in the webinars/skillshares and co-op will share their qualitative narrative in a one-on-one interview conducted by the project researcher regarding barriers that they face as Black farmers, the relationships they currently have with other farmers, how those relationships were developed, and how the development of additional relationships and networks might impact them in the future.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
20
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
2
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This milestone is still in progress.

Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Milestone #5 - In year two and completed by February 28, 2023, ten NYS Black farmers will sign-up as farmer members of the co-op to benefit from services offered and to help assess: (1) collective marketing assets and needs; and (2) systems and structures developed. These ten farmers will also help create a survey to track agricultural sales of participating farmers in the survey and receive support from Black Farmer Fund for financing opportunities.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
10
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
2
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This milestone is still in progress.

Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Milestone #6 - In years two and three, and completed by February 28, 2024, ten Black farmers participating in the webinars/skillshares or the co-op will meet with NEFOC LT to determine their needs and support through: (1) one-on-one land access planning; (2) integration into a land access database; and (3) access to ground lease opportunities.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
10
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
2
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2024
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This milestone is still in progress 

Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Milestone #7 - In year three and completed by February 28, 2024, 15-20 Black farmers participating in the webinars/skillshares or co-op will participate in one-on-one “exit” interviews conducted by project researcher to explore: (1) if/how the farmers have developed new relationships and networks throughout the duration of the project; (2) what the impacts have been thus far; and (3) the role they anticipate these relationships and networks having in the future.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
20
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
2
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2024
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This milestone is still in progress.

Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Milestone #8 - Ongoing throughout the project and completed by February 28, 2024, 50 Black farmers and food systems actors will: (1) register for webinars/skillshares announced on key individuals websites, circulated via email, social media, and word-of-mouth; (2) complete a pre-education needs assessment via registration prior; and (3) attend webinars/skillshares. Numbers hosted: (Yr 1) one-in person/ two-online; (Yr 2) t wo-in person / four-online; (Yr 3) two-in person / four-online. (COVID-19 considered regarding in-person meetings.)

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
2
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2024
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This milestone is still in progress 

Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Milestone #9 - Ongoing throughout the project and completed by February 28, 2024, four farmers from our Project Advisory Committee will meet regularly with key individuals to: (1) consider results of need assessment conducted as part of webinar/skillshare registration; (2) agree on challenges and solutions to focus on; (3) determine long-term support for participating farmers; and (4) agree on additional organizations to partner with to enhance training opportunities.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
2
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2024
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This milestone is still in progress.

Milestone #10 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Milestone #10 - Ongoing throughout the project and completed by February 28, 2024, through group reflections during each webinar/skillshare and in follow-up surveys sent via email, 50 Black farmers and food systems actors will participate in evaluation to gauge new skills/knowledge attained, new actions taken, and barriers to progress regarding: (1) financial literacy and sustainability; (2) markets, products, and growth initiatives; (3) cooperative development; (4) land access; and (5) network opportunities.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
2
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2024
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This milestone is still in progress.

Milestone #11 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Milestone #11 - Ongoing throughout the project and completed by February 28, 2024, 50 Black farmers and food systems actors will inform program improvement and progress towards the end goals of increased sales and improved social sustainability by participating in a facilitated group discussion together that occurs once annually as part of a webinar/skillshare.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
2
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2024
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This milestone is still in progress.

Milestone #12 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Milestone #12 - Ongoing throughout the project and completed by February 28, 2024, through qualitative research questions sent via survey following each educational offering (included in milestone #10), 50 Black farmers and food systems actors will reflect on if and how the webinars/skillshares impacted: (1) relationship-building and network development; and (2) the ways in which Black farmers navigate the barriers they face.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
2
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2024
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This milestone is still in progress.

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities:

1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

4 Farmers

Learning Outcomes

10 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

40 Black farmers participated in a skill share and provided information via a survey to advise what skill shares they would be interested in attending. We had a section called "Hot Topics" which asked what type for farming and land stewardship they are currently practicing and what they hope to practice in the future. Based on this feedback as well as other survey results, the team is using this information to build the content for our skill share presentations.

Performance Target Outcomes

Target #1

Target: number of farmers:
10
Target: change/adoption:

Farmers will establish a Black Farming Marketing Cooperative.

Target: amount of production affected:

10 farmers will access both blended capital opportunities and new markets or growth opportunities for their products. Of these, 4 will access new plots of land through ground leases.

Target: quantified benefit(s):

10 farmers will report enhanced well-being due to improved mental health and community connections. Additionally, they will increase their revenue from agricultural sales by $500, for a total increase of $5,000.

Actual: number of farmers:
10
Actual: change/adoption:

The change was an introduction to a group of Black Farmers ready and willing to engage and support each other's work.

Actual: quantified benefit(s):

Farmers gained awareness about this project. The big takeaway was that farmers were excited and impressed to learn about the number of other Black Farmers that they did not know and are now in network with. Also, the opportunity to build or join a co-op specifically designed to meet the needs of Black Farmers

Performance Target Outcome Narrative:

Our first skill share was for Black Farmers to respond to a survey asking them to share their needs and interests for future skill shares.    

Hope to Practice in the future:

59% Nuts - hazelbert, acorns, walnuts, etc.
54% Rural land  "homesteading" skills - food preserving, off grid energy, water systems, etc.
54% Agroecology, agroforestry, polycultures, food forest
52% Tree fruits - apple, peach, plum, etc.
52% Mushrooms
48% Honoring and protection of ancestral remains / burial grounds
48% Honey bee keeping
46% Forest management - wildlife, firewood, recreation, timber etc.
44% Medicinal herbs - echinacea, sage, chamomile etc.
44% Regenerative pasture management

Major Barriers 

43% Lack of access to money and/or credit
57% lack of access to land
10 Farmers changed or adopted a practice

Additional Project Outcomes

$0.00 Dollar amount of grants received that built upon this project
Additional Outcomes:

At this time, we do not have any additional outcomes. 

Success stories:

At this time we do not have any success stories to report.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.