The State Legislature took an important step this month toward recognizing and remedying centuries-long injustices for people of color and women in agriculture. Both chambers passed Assembly Bill 1348 – the Farmer Equity Act – with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill, authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), now heads to the Governor’s desk.
By building racial and gender equity priorities into the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s responsibilities, executive staff structure, advisory committees, and programs, the Farmer Equity Act moves us closer to ensuring that all of California’s farmers have equitable influence on and access to government resources, including the state’s Climate Smart Ag programs.
Approximately one in four farms in California are managed by farmers of color and approximately one in five are managed by women. California has the largest population of Asian farmers and third largest population of Latino farmers in the country.
But despite their sizable numbers, data from the 2012 Ag Census shows that farmers of color and women tend to operate on significantly smaller acreages, earn significantly less revenue from the products they sell, and receive significantly less in government funding compared to white farmers and men.
Farmers of color and women were often denied land ownership in the 19th and early 20th centuries. More recently, many have experienced disproportional delays or denial of federal government loans. Unless remedial action is taken, that legacy of prejudice will persist for decades to come because of the key role inheritances and capital play in this era of agricultural consolidation and rising land prices.
But even with an uphill battle ahead of them, an increasing number of people of color and women are pursuing their entrepreneurial aspirations and farming across California.
The Farmer Equity Act takes five important steps toward ensuring such farmers and ranchers can shape and make use of CDFA’s policies and programs, including the four climate-smart ag programs (SWEEP, Healthy Soils, Dairy Methane, and SALC):
1) Acknowledges the problem
AB 1348 states the following:
“Farmers of color have historically not had equitable access to land and other resources necessary to conduct farming in California, and that legacy of prejudice persists… Existing federal agricultural policies have failed to provide sufficient and appropriate technical assistance and financial support… for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.”
2) Ensures the inclusion of “socially disadvantaged farmers” in all aspects of CDFA’s work
The bill ensures “the inclusion of socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of food and agriculture laws, regulations, and policies and programs.”
3) Creates an executive level staff position at CDFA focused on farmer equity
AB 1348 requires that the Secretary of Agriculture create a position within the department’s executive office to support the efforts of the bill.
4) Makes CDFA responsible for disseminating critical information
This information includes opportunities provided by a variety of state and federal agencies for socially disadvantaged farmers.
5) Requires public accountability and recommendations for improvement
The bill would require the department “on or before January 1, 2020, to submit a report to the Governor and the Legislature on efforts to serve socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers… and include recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature on how to improve processes to include socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.”
While all of agriculture is threatened by climate change, it is the least-resourced farmers who are inevitably the most vulnerable. The Farmer Equity Act represents an important commitment to ensuring that California’s historically marginalized and still least-resourced farmers and ranchers have access to the technical and financial assistance to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Many people deserve credit for getting the bill through the legislature with such strong support. First: the California Farmer Justice Collaborative, a group of farmers of color and organizations representing farmers across the state, which conceived of the bill and mobilized the coalition of organizations supporting it (listed below). Second: Assembly Member Aguiar-Curry and her co-authors (Assembly Members Caballero, Eggman, Limón, and Mathis) for their leadership in moving the bill through the legislature. If any of the latter are your representative, please consider calling to thank them.