Vilsack meets with rural Black leaders in Georgia, signs MOU
EAST POINT, Ga. — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday met with rural Black leaders at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives office in East Point, Ga., and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, signifying a continued partnership between USDA and the nonprofit organization that has worked with Black farmers for 55 years.
Vilsack met with a range of Black and Hispanic farm leaders in the parking lot of the federation’s office in this Atlanta suburb to talk about their various efforts to inform minority farmers about the availability of USDA programs.
Vilsack signed on behalf of USDA’s Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service and National Agroforestry Center, which have roles in implementing the agreement.
During his remarks, Vilsack noted that Black and other minority farmers have not always known about the availability of USDA programs and needed to be informed about them from people they trust.
“These efforts serve to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in USDA programs and make sure people have fair access to all of our services and programs,” said Vilsack. “I want to thank the Federation of Southern Cooperatives for continuing to partner with USDA. This is a priority for us.”
Vilsack said he was particularly proud of NRCS and the Forest Service for the roles that they play “to preserve precious resources” in the nation’s farmland and forests.
Cornelius Blanding, the executive director of the federation, said, “Our goal is to make an intentional impact so that underserved landowners, especially African American landowners, have access to resources to manage the forest and other natural resources on their land to enhance family wealth and stabilize ownership through increasing income and land asset value.”
During the event, a range of minority leaders from Georgia explained to Vilsack their efforts to inform Black farmers of the availability of USDA funds, and also to encourage minority youth to consider a career in agriculture despite the legacy of slavery which discourages many young Blacks from considering the field.
In a news release, USDA said that it is investing $50 million in 118 partnerships nationwide to expand access to conservation assistance for climate-smart agriculture and forestry. The Equity Conservation Cooperative Agreements, administered by the NRCS will fund two-year projects to expand the delivery of conservation assistance to farmers who are new to farming, low income, socially disadvantaged or military veterans. Projects will support USDA’s broader effort to address climate change and equitable access to programs.
USDA said the program encourages new partnerships and the development of state and community conservation leadership for historically underserved producers, with projects focusing on one or more of the following key conservation priorities:
▪ Improving soil health and water quality;
▪ Providing habitat for at-risk wildlife;
▪ Improving natural resources and productivity on agricultural lands; and/or
▪ Building and strengthening local and regional food systems and markets.
USDA’s Risk Management Agency also announced that it is making available up to $2 million in cooperative agreements this year for risk management education and training programs that support historically underserved producers, small-scale farmers, and conservation practices.
“Agriculture is an inherently risky business, and a strong farm safety net is key to sustaining and ensuring the success of American producers,” said RMA Administrator Marcia Bunger.
“We’re committed to improving access to crop insurance, and our partnerships with organizations help us reach communities that have historically lacked access to training and resources. We want to make sure all producers know and understand how to manage risk and what options are available to them.”
Dwayne Goldmon, Vilsack’s adviser on racial equity issues, praised the Georgia leaders for their efforts to address the inequities people had experienced in prior generations, but added that there are similar leaders throughout the country working on the same issues.
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