It is with great excitement that I announce my appointment to USDA’s Equity Commission’s Agriculture Subcommittee alongside a number of revolutionary leaders in agriculture. I’d like to extend gratitude to the National Young Farmers Coalition, Rural Coalition, HEAL Food Alliance, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Castanea Fellowship for their endorsement of my nomination. I am grateful to be selected as one of two representatives from community-based organizations present on the Subcommittee, and the opportunity to serve on behalf of young farmers across the country.
It’s imperative that our voices are heard during the Department’s attempts to address past and continuing discrimination against farmers of color if we expect the future of agriculture to be one that is truly free of racial violence.
Despite the distrusting relationship between farmers of color, particularly Black farmers, and the Department that has been formed over a fraught and oppressive history, I see this as a great opportunity. It is without question that in the past a number of opportunities to equitably service farmers of color were missed, and the consequences have been devastating. But we can hold disappointment with past actions taken by the Department without denouncing federal policy as a vehicle for change. On the contrary, my intention is to use my privilege as a member of USDA’s Equity Commission, Agriculture Subcommittee to ensure the Department is being held accountable to the people, purpose, and outcomes of this historic Commission.
Secretary Vilsack and the Department have brought together a Commission and Subcommittee under an executive order that is being implemented with a results-oriented command structure, a public that is widely discussing past failings, and a range of former USDA officials, farmers, policy and legal experts, professors, community organizers and experts in civil rights who are invested in agriculture’s future.
Congratulations to my fellow members of the Agriculture Subcommittee:
Philip “PJ” Johnson Haynie III, Haynie Farms LLC
Russell Redding, Secretary of Agriculture, State of Pennsylvania
Janssen Hang, Hmong American Farmers Association
Alexis Racelis, PhD, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
Gina Eubanks, LSU AgCenter
Kari Jo Lawrence, Intertribal Agriculture Council
Shari Rogge-Fidler, Farm Foundation
Savonala “Savi” Horne, Land Loss Prevention Project
Erica Lomeli Corcoran, United Farm Workers Foundation
Sarah Vogel, Lawyer
Gary Matteson, Farm Credit Council
Jennie Stephens, Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation
And congratulations to the members of our governing body, the overarching Equity Commission:
Dr. Hazell Reed, National Black Growers Council
Toni Stanger-McLaughlin, Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF)
Yvonne Lee, Former U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Elizabeth Lower-Basch, Center for Law and Social Policy
Poppy Sias-Hernandez, Office of Global Michigan
Todd Corley, Carhartt
Arturo Rodriguez, United Farm Workers
Derrick Johnson, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Shorlette Ammmons, Center for Environmental Farming Systems at NCSU
Dr. Ronald Rainey, University of Arkansas System of Division of Agriculture
Dr. Mireya Loza, Georgetown University
Charles Rawls, Farm Credit Administrator and Former General Counsel, USDA
Shirley Sherrod, Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education
Ertharin Cousin, Food Systems for the Future
Rick Smith, Dairy Farmers of America
For more detailed information on the Equity Commission and Agriculture Subcommittee members, visit USDA’s site.
An opportunity for cultural change at USDA
In any organization, the culture of that organization flows from the top, and it is clear that the President and Secretary Vilsack are committed to evolving the organizational culture of USDA. Certainly, deliberative bodies do not always succeed in driving real cultural transformation. A deep, honest, and transparent discussion and accounting of where the Department has fallen short is both necessary and at the same time a painful reminder of past efforts that have historically yielded very little fruit for farmers of color.
President Biden and Secretary Vilsack have taken an approach to setting the table for this discussion that makes tangible progress possible. Executive Order 13985, the positionality of the Equity Commission, and the legal authorities it is founded on are signs that this effort could be different. Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Bronough have my deepest gratitude for opening this space with haste, intention, thoughtful structure, and with a serious mandate to drive real change. That mandate is both specific in its goal to shine a bright light on sources of exclusion, discrimination, and racial, economic, health, and social disparities—and broad in its authority to follow this work wherever it leads; into programs, policies, systems, structures, and practices across the People’s Department.
To deliver on the promise of the EO and the Commission, the USDA must undertake transformation through a sustained and intentional series of decisions, processes, and programs. Community consultation and stakeholder engagement processes are essential but alone are not sufficient to begin and sustain the momentum needed. As the Department’s 2021 request for information on advancing racial justice and equity asserted, “equity must be a central component of the decision-making framework that all agency functions are routed through.” In our comments on that request, we echoed that assertion:
“Programmatic changes and ‘improvements’ to the customer experience will be insufficient without adequate accountability measures. Institutionalizing racial equity metrics will not bear desired outcomes without enforcement and alignment of incentives. Decision-making structures will perpetuate bias without community representation and participatory processes. Finally, near-term changes at the USDA are subject to reversal unless the USDA establishes long-term patterns of organization that make this commitment to racial equity integral to the Department’s function and unassailable to potential future assault.”
I embrace this opportunity with determination and enthusiasm, while carrying with me the reality of the Department’s history with my people. I am committed in my work on the Subcommittee to recall the wisdom of past efforts by revolutionary leaders who have been transforming the agriculture industry long before the Equity Commission was established. I intend to lead with Young Farmers’ vision of a just future where farming is free of racial violence, accessible to communities, oriented towards environmental well-being, and concerned with health over profit. We cannot succeed in realizing this vision without fighting for both incremental and radical change. I am honored to embark on this incredible journey with my peers on the Commission and the Agriculture Subcommittee. Together, I am hopeful that we can begin to realize a future in which farming and farm policy serve the public interest.