SPOTLIGHT: Juneteenth: a day for celebration, commemoration, and action

SPOTLIGHT: Juneteenth: a day for celebration, commemoration, and action

JUNE 2022

Enslaved Africans were brought to this country and others to cultivate the land, and U.S. farming communities were transformed because of Black and Indigenous Americans sweat equity

Jillian Hishaw

Jillian Hishaw is an attorney, the author of “Systematic Land Theft,” and the founding director of Family Agriculture Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.). Read more in Reflecting on the connection between Juneteenth and the importance of Black farmers.

Juneteenth is a commemoration of June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in the farthest part of the Confederacy were freed, over two years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth is a celebration of emancipation, a recognition of the historical and ongoing injustices against Black people, and a call for action toward greater liberation. Equity and justice are important components of health and wellbeing. In honor of Juneteenth, we at UMASH,

As many of us know, farming can be a venue for healing. Here are opportunities to learn more and support equity, justice, and liberation in agriculture.

In the United States, agriculture and Black history are deeply intertwined. In early 1865, policies were issued that would allocate forty acres of land (and loaned army mules) to formerly enslaved people; however, this promise was broken less than a year later (McCurdy, 2007). Despite this and many other barriers, land ownership among Black Americans increased over time, reaching a high in 1910 - 14% of all owner-operators were Black, owning 14 million acres. However, over the following decades, these farmers lost 90% of their farmland, due to discriminatory legal practices that favored white landowners (Douglas, 2017). Today, only 1.4% of farmers are Black (USDA 2017), but a new generation of Black farmers is emerging. 

At the root of many issues is about people’s ability to connect to the land and access land and grow on land and utilize land and have reverence for the land.

Joelle Robison Oghogho of Black Dirt Farm Collective in “Growing a New Generation of Black Farmers”

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Stories are powerful, and this podcast shares several stories of the historical and current connections between Juneteenth, food, and agriculture.     

I feel connected to the whole ecosystem, but the plants are incredible…So take, for example, the trees of the forest, right? There's an underground network of mycelium that connects their roots, and they're able to pass messages and warnings…they collaborate across species, across family. And so, when we tune into that, I think we learn something about what it is to be a human being and how to live in community with each other. In a way, if we're not connected to nature, we sort of lose that deeper sense of who we are, who we're meant to be.

Leah Penniman, the author of “Farming While Black” and part of Soul Fire Farm, a collective of farmers working towards environmental, racial, and food justice, in Juneteenth and African Foodways + Farming While Black

Listen to the Podcast

Right here in Minnesota, Angela Dawson founded 40 Acre Co-op, the first national black farmer co-op since the reconstruction era in the United States. The name is a reference to the broken promise of “40 acres and a mule,” and the “human-centered and equity-based” co-op offers opportunities for socially disadvantaged farmers to succeed in agriculture. 

Let’s find a better way to talk about the quality of life here in Minnesota for all of us, and to find ways to address some of these systemic issues that have long kept us from all achieving the same quality of life that we all deserve,

Angela Dawson, founder of 40 Acre Co-op, said in Minnesota's Black farmers working to reconnect to land

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Connect with Midwest and national groups advancing racial justice in agriculture
  • Midwest Farmers of Color Collective – a collective of Black, Indigenous, Farmers of Color (BIPOC), centered on racial justice and the development of food and farming systems that honor our communities past, present and future
  • 40 Acre Co-op – the first national black farmer co-op since the reconstruction era in the United States
  • Rural Voices for Racial Justice – a video series featuring Land Stewardship Project members across the Upper Midwest who are amplifying their voices for racial justice in the food and farming system.
  • National Black Farmers Association – a non-profit organization representing African American farmers and their families in the United States focused on civil rights, land retention, access to public and private loans, education and agricultural training, and rural economic development for black and other small farmers.
  • Black Farmers Network – a site for rural, African-American farmers to share stories, products and services in a now digital-driven economy. The network also documents the agribusiness successes of these first-year to centennial farmers — farmers who have had to confront a discriminating history for centuries in America’s Black Belt Region. The network also provides 21st-century marketing and branding strategies to help their rural enterprises grow and sustain online.