The history of agriculture in the United States is largely a history of racial exploitation. From the slavery that formed the rural economy of the South to the mistreatment of migrant farm workers that continues to this day, our food has too often been made possible by someone else’s suffering. And that someone else tends not to be white….The great tragedy for many African Americans…is that in losing touch with the land and with traditions handed down for generations, they also lost an important set of skills: how to grow and prepare healthy food….It’s no coincidence that the epidemic of diet-related illnesses now sweeping the country—obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes—are harming blacks the most….America’s current agricultural system was hardly created by free market forces. Between 1995 and 2010, American farmers received about $262 billion in federal subsidies. And the wealthiest 10 percent of farmers received 74 percent of those subsidies. Almost two-thirds of American farmers didn’t receive any subsidies at all….One in two African Americans born in the year 2000 is expected to develop type II diabetes. Four out of every ten African American men and women over the age of twenty have high blood pressure….The farmer became less important than the food scientist, the distributor, the marketer, and the corporation. In 1974, farmers took home 32 cents of every dollar spent on food in the United States. Today, they get only 16 cents.
Getting in touch with the land can help us fight climate change. Consider that compared to large-scale industrial farms, small-scale agroecological farms not only use fewer fossil fuel-based fertilizer inputs and emit less Greenhouse gases (GHGs), including methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide (CO2), but they also have the potential to actually reverse climate change by sequestering CO2 from the air into the soil year after year. According to the Rodale Institute, small-scale farmers and pastoralists could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available, safe and inexpensive agroecological management practices that emphasize diversity, traditional knowledge, agroforestry, landscape complexity, and water and soil management techniques, including cover cropping, composting and water harvesting.
Importantly, agroecology can not only sequester upwards of 7,000 pounds of CO2 per acre per year, but it can actually boosts crop yields. In fact, recent studies by GRAIN (www.grain.org) demonstrate that small-scale farmers already feed the majority of the world with less than a quarter of all farmland. Addressing climate change on the farm can not only tackle the challenging task of agriculture-generated GHGs, but it can also produce more food with fewer fossil fuels. In other words, as the ETC Group (www.etcgroup.org) has highlighted, industrial agriculture uses 70% of the world’s agricultural resources to produce just 30% of the global food supply, while small-scale farmers provide 70% of the global food supply while using only 30% of agricultural resources.