My name is Ebonee Stevenson, and I am the new USDA Access and Accountability Organizer with the National Young Farmers Coalition (Young Farmers). I am a veteran community organizer, Master Urban Farmer, a community-based educator, and consumer of copious amounts of ramen.
You may be wondering what a USDA Access and Accountability Organizer does and why this new role was created at the Coalition.
My team will provide education and outreach to BIPOC farmers across the US and inform BIPOC farmers about the programs available at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that can help launch or grow their farm businesses. I am excited to be able to serve farmers in this new role.
The United States has a history of discrimination against Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) farmers. USDA has played a significant role in perpetuating this discrimination, resulting in the loss of generational lands, lack of access to capital, destruction of local food systems, and decreased access to healthy food in the BIPOC communities that those farms served. As a result, many BIPOC farmers do not trust that the Agency has their best interests at heart.
Section 1006(b)(1) of 2021’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) gave the USDA authority to provide funding for cooperators to provide technical assistance and support to “economically distressed” and/or underserved communities, including Socially Disadvantaged producers, farmers and ranchers with limited access to resources, and veterans.
Young Farmers, our technical assistance partner for this grant Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA), and 18 other organizations are recipients of these ARPA technical assistance funds. With these funds, I was hired as the USDA Access and Accountability Organizer. Young Farmers’ USDA Access and Accountability team advocates on behalf of BIPOC farmers, shares the challenges BIPOC farmers are experiencing accessing these programs with the USDA, and ideas for how these programs can be improved. The team also includes a Farm Service Agency (FSA) Technical Assistant, Shakera Raygoza. Shakera, is a Black organic farmer with experience accessing FSA programs herself. Shakera provides one-on-one technical support to BIPOC farmers through the loan application process.
Young Farmers’ mission is to shift power and change policy to equitably resource our new generation of working farmers. We envision a just future where farming is free of racial violence, accessible to communities, oriented towards environmental well-being, and concerned with health over profit. The the ultimate goal of our USDA Access and Accountability work is to increase the number of young, BIPOC farmers successfully utilizing FSA loan programs, and to hold the USDA accountable for past discrimination against BIPOC farmers.
We are working toward a future where BIPOC farmers can build trust with the USDA and are able to truly have access to the same resources that their white counterparts do. The success of BIPOC farmers is crucial to the success of the U.S. food system. The high quality food grown by young, BIPOC farmers in local and regional food systems improves the health and economic vitality of our communities