PRINCETON — Farmers and producers in Caldwell County are being invested in through United States Department of Agriculture racial justice and equity grants and programming, and farm bureau community-led initiatives.
In August, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service announced a $50 million investment in cooperative agreements “to support historically underserved farmers and ranchers with climate-smart agriculture and forestry.”
The NCRS was formerly known as the Soil Conservation Service. Its modern purpose is to conserve the nation’s soil, water, air, and other natural resources. Functioning as a federal government unit, its programs provide science-based solutions for forest landowners, farmers, and ranchers, according to its website.
NCRS defines historically underserved producers as those who face social disadvantages and have limited resources, are veteran farmers, and early farmers.
“USDA is committed to revising programs to be more equitable, and these producers deserve our support as they contribute to our vibrant and diverse agricultural communities, USDA NRCS Chief Terry Crosby said in the news release.
As a result, local food projects, wildlife habitat conservation, water, air, and soil quality improvements, and agricultural economic opportunities will prosper, benefiting entire communities, according to the news release.
Further, the USDA is taking a “whole-of-government” approach under the Biden administration to implement the Racial Justice and Equity Conservation Cooperative Agreements to remove systemic barriers to achieve equity across the department’s workforce and the U.S. labor force.
The Farm Service Agency has also prioritized delivering funding and resources to underserved farmers and producers, according to FSA news documents.
The agency has pledged to put forth various loan programs to support both early and established farmers and producers to continue agriculture production, in addition to sustaining farmer and producer diversity.
“A targeted underserved applicant is one of a group whose members have been subjected to racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice because of his or her identity as members of the group without regard to his or her individual qualities,” according to an FSA news release.
The Caldwell County Farm Bureau is continuously involved in various agricultural programs to support and advance agriculture production and conservation practices for its members. It sponsors various loan programs, education and training opportunities, and community outreach to deliver invaluable resources and information to its rural farming constituents, according to the bureau’s website.
Caldwell County Farm Bureau Agency Manager Kim White has worked in the farming sector for more than five decades. In that time, he has observed a farming evolution.
White said it cost around $5 million to farm 1,500 acres, which prices out small farming operators.
“Farming has outpaced all of us,” he said.
As a result, traditional family farmland is increasingly becoming leased to competitors and other farming entities.
During his years serving as a farm bureau manager, he said legacy and diversity rely on accessibility.
“We’re all for diversity, but we figure all low-income farmers should be treated with respect and dignity regardless of their race,” White said.
The rise of H2-A workers has increased. White noted, “we don’t have enough people willing to work on a farm. It’s hard work.”
“They’re an important resource for the farmers,” White said.
Community gardens and urban farming are initiatives White promotes. He said he figures it can provide opportunities for all community members, not just the underserved, underprivileged, or bureau membership.
“Everybody should have a garden, even people in the middle of the city,” White said. “There would be more pride in the community if people had a garden next to each other.”
Frank Yancey is the Caldwell County USDA supervisory district conservationist. He said, “there is a great diversity of farmers and agriculture in this area, and some amazing things are happening.”