WASHINGTON, D.C. — A panel on the futures of Black farming took place Thursday afternoon at the 52nd Annual Legislative Conference.
“Harvesting Change: Building a fair future for Black Farmers” was hosted by Black-owned whiskey brand Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, the National Black Growers Council and Farm Credit Mid-America, a Kentucky-based financial services company for farmers. Representatives from all three companies took the stage alongside Congresswoman Shontel Brown (D-OH), who moderated the panel. Brown represents Ohio’s 11th Congressional District and had a number of constituents in the crowd.
Keith Weaver, co-founder of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, has a distillery and farm in Shelbyville, Tennessee and spoke on the power of farming as a business model.
“There’s a viable business opportunity in farming,” Weaver said, who admitted that his farm uses 350,000 bushels of corn (or 20 million pounds) of corn per year. Farming is crucial to what his national whiskey brand does.
“There’s a misconception of agriculture,” Farm Credit Mid-America Emerging Market Business Development Manager Marcus Tyler who said he didn’t understand the business and why it is important to the Black community until he started working in the industry and with Black farmers.
Christi Bland, a fourth-generation farmer from Sledge, Mississippi, is a board member of the National Black Grower’s Council (NBGC) and listed access to capital and access to land as issues new farmers have to face.
She shared some data the NBGC uses to make their point about the need for Black farmers to get started early. The average age of Black farmers is 57, six years older than non-Black farmers in this country, said Bland, who’s family farm is 1,600 acres.
“Black ownership matters,” said Weaver. “Without ownership they can get erased, they can get forgotten.”
Bland warned of not being educated enough on the business of farming. She shared a story of a piece of land that she had been farming that she rented. The land was sold right from under them, and everything was legal.
Organizations such as Black Soil, a seven-year Kentucky-based company that works to assist Black farmers in the state, were discussed as ways for Black farmers to get information and assistance.
“We need to keep using technology to get the message out there,” said Brown.