Farmer equity in California — there's work to do | Pesticide Action Network
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Farmer equity in California — there's work to do

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The following is California Farmer Justice Collaborative's (CFJC) public statement in response to the recent Farmer Equity Report published by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). CFJC members worked together to pass the Farmer Equity Act in 2017, the first law in California to acknowledge the history of race-based prejudice in agriculture in the state, and this report was published as part of the implementation of this historic law. CFJC shares that they look forward to public response and welcome a dialogue on how CDFA can strengthen its understanding of racial equity and live up to the values of the Farmer Equity Act moving forward. This statement was originally shared as an email to CJFC's online community.

On June 16, 2020, the California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA) released a report on racial equity in farming in California including a set of internally developed recommendations for increasing the Department’s commitment to racial equity moving forward.

The California Farmer Justice Collaborative (CFJC) acknowledges the work of the Farm Equity Advisor in putting this report together. We are committed to seeing the Department reverse the impacts of institutionalized racism in California food and agriculture. Disappointingly, this report failed to capture the history of structural racism embedded in our food and farming system and lay out clear steps to authentically address that inequity.

Reckoning with Agricultural History in California

CFJC members worked together to pass the Farmer Equity Act in 2017, the first law in California to acknowledge the history of race-based prejudice in agriculture in the state. Our Collaborative is clear that the first step to a more equitable future is acknowledging and reckoning with the legacy of the past. Our vision for this report was that it serve as a foundation for a process of internal reflection on CDFA’s historical role in the perpetuation of institutional racism and oversights of the past that could guide the Farm Equity Advisor’s role in authoring an equitable future for California farms and ranches.

Unfortunately, the report does not include any of this critical historical context of discrimination and injustice in California agriculture. CDFA has existed since 1919; this year marks 100 years since the California legislature created the state’s single department tasked with protecting and promoting agriculture for our state. The Department’s website states “California's agricultural abundance is a reflection of the people who made the Golden State their home... Early California farmers and ranchers were the Spanish missionaries, followed by Mexicans, Japanese, Chinese, and Russians. Today, nearly every nationality is represented in California agriculture.” As joyous as this token of diversity is, the Farmer Equity Act and Advisor are meant to play a role in acknowledging the history lost between these words: dispossession of Native lands, the broken promise to Black farmers, the Dust Bowl, the Bracero program, alien land laws, and Japanese internment, to name a few of the ways that California’s history has systematically worked against the elusive promise of farming for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

The report acknowledges that the census is flawed (likely under-counting) and that most of the farmers that were interviewed are thinking about leaving the profession, but doesn't acknowledge the logical conclusion that so many have already been pushed out of farming/land-based livelihoods due to these forces historically. And that much of this happened during the last century under CDFA's watch. We would appreciate even a basic timeline of these events and placing CDFA’s creation and operation on the timeline destined for a more responsive and equitable exercise of its mandates.

What is Racial Equity?

We believe that this report requires, at the very least, a working definition of “racial equity” in agriculture according to CDFA. For some CFJC members, racial equity is the ability of the most impacted by racism to decide the manner by which their harms are rectified. For others, racial equity is a process and an outcome, by which the color of our skin no longer determines our ability to thrive. For others still, racial equity means shifting our institutions such that rather than making room for selective representation for people of color, the institution itself shifts to meet the needs of all. Under any definition, racial equity requires facing and contending with racism, which this report avoids entirely.

Interagency Collaboration

We are glad the report is clear about working with the Department of Conservation. The Farmer Equity Act, however, calls for CDFA to consult with the Secretaries of the California Environmental Protection Agency, the Natural Resources Agency, the Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency, and the California Health and Human Services Agency, and all other interested members of the public and private sectors on opportunities for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers and to coordinate state programs.

Outreach and Education

The report mentions multiple times partnering with the “California Farm Bureau Federation, California Resource Conservation Districts and other non-profit organizations” to share ideas and develop best practices for engaging socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers with the agriculture industry.  We are baffled as to why the first point of contact mentioned in this report for establishing outreach and education to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers are organizations that are explicitly white-led and have no existing infrastructure to address racism or the needs of socially disadvantaged farmers. Instead, we suggest prioritizing this partnership with organizations such as African American Farmers of California, Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association, California Farmlink, Kitchen Table Advisors, Mandela Partners, National Hmong American Farmers, and others who have been working for years to improve market and industry access for California’s socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

Additionally, CFJC has been a highly engaged stakeholder in supporting the Farm Equity Advisor in creating this report, and we are also disappointed that the report did not acknowledge our role in providing resources, making introductions, and otherwise facilitating the process of drafting this report.

Lack of Prioritized and Actionable Recommendations

The report focuses on five broad categories of challenges and recommendations: land tenure, language, engagement with CDFA, knowledge of government programs, and addressing farmer equity within the agency. The recommendations under each of these categories lack specificity or actionable and prioritized recommendations, creating uncertainty about what steps the agency will take, when, and in what order. Already under capacity, it is imperative that the Farm Equity Advisor’s work be targeted to achieve meaningful progress towards dismantling racial injustice within CDFA and in California agriculture. We know this is not the job of just one person, so we were delighted to see the hire of Artemio Armenta, and we expect to see additional hires to ensure that CDFA is able to follow through with the goals within this report.

Our call to CDFA, legislators, and partners based on this report includes the following:

  • We call on CDFA to provide direct support to stakeholder organizations that help farm owners/operators of color get access to land, capital, and language-appropriate training in order to directly address the inequity illustrated in the demographics of farm owners/operators.
  • We call on CDFA to solicit input from stakeholder organizations that have a demonstrated record of advancing racial equity in agriculture to prioritize and make actionable the recommendations offered in this report.
  • We call on CDFA to increase internal staffing that focuses explicitly on advancing the mandates of the Farmer Equity Act in 2020 and beyond.
  • We call on our partners to hold CDFA accountable to the work of increasing its own capacity for implementing racial equity internally and externally by standing beside us and sharing this statement.
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California Farmer Justice Collaborative

The California Farmer Justice Collaborative’s mission is to ensure that farmers of color are empowered to directly participate and effectively lead in building a fair food and farming system in California.