Black Farmers Say “Meet Me Half-way”

Black Farmers Say “Meet Me Half-way”

Dr. Ridgely Abdul Mu’min Muhammad  Oct 24, 2013 

In light of the plight of the Black farmers, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan called for a conference of Black farmers to be held in conjunction with the 18th anniversary of the historic Million Man March, in the city of Tuskegee, Ala. Through his spokesperson, Minister Ishmael Muhammad, Minister Farrakhan introduced “Muhammad’s Economic Program to End Poverty and Want,” emphasizing land acquisition as the basis for economic development. The farm conference was sponsored by Independent Black Farmers and the Ministry of Agriculture of the Nation of Islam and was held on October 19, 2013, at the Booker T. Washington High School in Tuskegee, Ala.

The theme of the conference was “The Future of Farming and Food in America.” The purpose of the conference was to connect those who have been awakened to the problems of food and farming in America with those who have been at the forefront of the Black farm struggle. Dr. Ridgely Muhammad started off the conference of over 200 farmers, urban gardeners, students and community activists with a powerful PowerPoint presentation showing the historical demise of the Black farmer at the hands of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to historian Pete Daniel, the greatest reduction of Black farmers came in the decades of the civil rights movement. Between 1940 and 1974, the number of Black farmers fell from 681,790 to just 45,594—a drop of 93 percent.

Pete Daniel further pointed out that a 1964 study exposed how the USDA actively worked against the economic interests of Black farmers. The USDA’s loan agencies, such as the Farmer’s Home Administration (FHA), denied Black farmers ownership and operating loans, disaster relief and other aid. One practice was to deny credit to any Black farmer who assisted civil rights activists, joined the NAACP, registered to vote, or simply signed a petition. So while Black people were fighting for their “civil rights,” the US government was taking away their land and eliminating a whole industry.

The Black farmers have been suffering at the hands of a deliberate plan by the US government to force them out of farming and to feed Black people denatured and genetically modified foods to slow down the increase of the Black population.  At the same time, there is mass unemployment among Blacks in the inner cities.

Many Black farmers have had discrimination complaints against the USDA going back over 30 years, yet all the government can talk about is $50,000, which to most Black farmers is an insult.  We have had 14 years to observe the behavior of the USDA after the Pigford lawsuit, initiated in 1997, and the out-of-court settlement in 1999.  The very farmers who went to court to save their land have been and are being foreclosed on, while the public believes that the farmers have gotten paid. Not one employee of the USDA that discriminated against Black farmers has been fired, because we believe that these employees did exactly what they were hired to do.

In the meantime, the food system has shifted from farmers producing raw commodities bought directly by consumers for home cooking, to farmers providing raw products to the food manufacturing industry to be transformed into tasty but denatured processed food-like products.  The profit center was moved off the farms to the factories, food processors and middlemen.  While a farmer receives only $4 for a bushel of wheat, the food system uses that bushel to produce 40 loaves of bread selling for $3 each.  Four dollars of raw product is transformed into $120 of finished product, with $116 of the consumer’s money going into the pockets of someone other than the farmer.

Farmers and consumers in attendance at the conference agreed that this business model needed to change, if we are to get more young people to enter farming or some aspect of agriculture, as the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan is recommending to college students around the country. The ideas of value-added processing by farmers and consumers buying more raw products from farmers to be cooked at home came up as a possible solution to this dilemma. A slogan was developed to represent this food movement called “Meet Me Halfway.”  For instance the farmer can “meet me halfway” by milling his wheat into flour, while the consumer can “meet me halfway” and take that flour home to make bread.  Now instead of the farmer receiving only $4 for his wheat, he could receive $24 for his whole-wheat flour. Independent Black truckers could transport this flour to the cities for an additional $6. Now the consumer can get the flour at about $0.75 per loaf and add another $0.25 for the other ingredients needed to bake the bread. So instead of paying $3 per loaf of bread, the consumer can have his bread and eat it too for about $1. This is a win-win situation for the farmers and consumers, if they would just meet each other halfway.

Other value-added ideas were presented to cover some of the other crops that Black farmers produce, such as freezing vegetables and designing frozen entrées. The conference took on a systems approach to problem-solving: not only were problems discussed, but presenters demonstrated what they were already doing to work on aspects of the problems. Then those who listened to these possible solutions were asked to sign up on a “task force” to expand the works of those who had taken the initiative to solve a particular problem. As these task forces get organized, they will reach out to an even broader community to get these programs implemented on a nationwide basis.  Indeed, conference attendees were witnessing what Minister Farrakhan has described as our “Genesis” of a new nation.

Another major component of the conference was called “Developing New Farmers and Agricultural Entrepreneurs for Our Future,” where people who were already training the next generation of farmers produced proposals for the expansion of their programs.  Presenters included Bro. Scott Muhammad of Students for Education and Economic Development (SEED Inc.), Bro. Rashid Nuri of Truly Living Well, Bro. Omari Muhammad representing Pure Milk Farms and Dr. Ridgely Muhammad representing Muhammad Farms.  Volunteers were solicited to help each presenter expand his training program and secure the necessary funding.

Bro. Rico Muhammad of Crescent Carriers, LLC, demystified the trucking industry and helped the audience to follow how the money is made in trucking. A task force was set up of Black truckers in attendance to coordinate their efforts in preparation for the national distribution of the products from Black farmers to their city cousins.

Speakers representing the struggle of Black farmers with the USDA included Robert Binion of the National Independent Black Farmers, Black farmers Michael Stovall, Ferrell Oden, Eddie Slaughter and Willie Head, and Muhammad Robala. These speakers made two things very clear: 1. The USDA has no intention of doing the right thing for the Black farmers until the masses force it to; and 2. The Black farmers have decided to work with Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam to provide wholesome food to our people and to participate in training programs to produce our next crop of farmers both in America and in Africa.  A three-hour video of this conference is available at www.noimoa.com.

The city and country cousins are finally getting back together with their slogan of “meet me halfway.”  And when they meet, they both will throw poverty and want away—under the guidance of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.

(Dr. Ridgely A. Mu’min Muhammad, Agricultural Economist, National Student Minister of Agriculture, Manager of Muhammad Farms. He can be reached at drridge@noimoa.com.)