The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a trio of awards totaling nearly $25 million in grants and cooperative agreements intended to ensure broader access and participation in USDA programs and services for historically underserved farmers and ranchers. These efforts are the latest in a series of announcements building momentum around USDA’s historic commitment to root out generations of systemic racism, center equity in decision-making and policymaking, lower barriers to access and ensure USDA programming is inclusive of all employees and all customers.
“Equity is a vital consideration in all we do at USDA,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We must see to it that the programs we support and the investments we make are available to all and that we take distinct action in ensure that historically underserved farmers and ranchers are able to participate in USDA programs and benefit from the opportunities USDA investments and programs can help create.”
One set of awards announced includes $18.6 million in grants to provide training, outreach, and technical assistance to historically underserved and veteran farmers and ranchers in 21 states through USDA’s 2501 Program. Among the 29 grantee organizations, the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association in Salinas, California, will offer farm production and business training to historically underserved producers, a majority of whom are Mexican immigrant farmworkers and beginning farmers seeking career advancement or independent farm ownership. In Massachusetts, the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project will provide training and resources to help underserved producers access land, own and operate economically viable farms, meet community demands for locally grown food, and access USDA programs and services. Learn more about the 2501 program.
Additionally, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) is awarding $4.7 million to organizations for projects that will provide historically underserved producers with improved access and technical assistance as they apply for and make use of Farm Service Agency programs and services. USDA programs for which the projects will provide outreach and technical assistance include pandemic assistance programs, including the signup re-opening of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (CFAP 2). The projects funded will also ensure ample outreach to historically underserved producers for FSA’s farm programs, conservation programs, farm loans, county committee elections, disaster programs, the Heirs’ Property Relending Program, heirs’ property succession planning and the Agricultural Marketing Services Pandemic Response and Safety Grant program.
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is funding $1.73 million for nine projects to improve the oversight capacity of the organic industry by supporting and expanding the pool of qualified inspectors, reviewers and other professionals who oversee organic production—now and in the future. The funded projects provide support across the human capital pipeline, from initial workforce development to creating resources for existing professionals. The initiative also supports the Biden-Harris Administration commitment to advancing equity, by removing barriers to access and building inclusive programs.
This announcement follows the USDA’s recent call for nominations for an Equity Commission, that will advise the Secretary of Agriculture by identifying recommendations for how the USDA can take steps to address programs, policies, systems, structures, and practices that contribute to barriers to inclusion or access, systemic discrimination, or exacerbate or perpetuate racial, economic, health and social disparities.
A Subcommittee on Agriculture will be formed concurrently and report back to the commission on issues specific agriculture. Subsequent subcommittees will focus on other policy areas, such as rural community and economic development. The Equity Commission is a Biden-Harris administration priority that Congress endorsed and funded via the American Rescue Plan Act. The commission will deliver an interim report and provide actionable recommendations no later than 12 months after inception. Both committees seek to reflect a diversity in demographics, regions of the country, background, and in experience and expertise. Nominations will be considered that are submitted via email or postmarked by October 27, 2021.