Photo Credit: Moss Family Fruits & Veggies, Albion NY
Co-ops have a long history of facilitating power for rural farmers in the Southern US and globally, but never took deep root in New York State (NYS). It’s past time, and in this era of isolation and crisis of democracy Food for the Spirit is supporting the formation and development of a Black farmer co-op for New York State.
A steering committee composed of NYS Black farmers and stakeholders working to secure food and land sovereignty for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) farmers, met to discuss how a co-op might meaningfully address organizing and infrastructure gaps that have been barriers to Black farmers success.
With only 139 Black farmers of the 57,000 NYS farmers accounted for by the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, the steering committee found consensus around the idea of expanding those farmers’ visibility by way of umbrella marketing under a Black brand.
The next stages of this cooperative project will see through the work of knitting together values, purpose and identity by marketing together. It’s early, but the vision for what can come of this has been brightening the winter.
In 2019, Food for the Spirit circulated a survey amongst Black farmers throughout New York State and one farmer commented “We are a dying breed”. Black farmers suffer from most issues associated with small farms in a system that favors large-scale agriculture, however; their experiencesare compounded by a history of discrimination through both private and public sectors controlling markets and finance.
The 2019 survey was circulated online and in-person at farmers markets throughout New York State to Black Farmers. Eight surveys were completed:
Seven respondents identified as Black farmers and one identified as a “Black farmer aggregator”
They reported selling mostly vegetables, fruit, value-added products, eggs, poultry and herbs.
They rely mostly on farmers markets to sell their products.
Though two sell at farm stands and restaurants, and one sells through a CSA, none have institutional contracts.
Some of the barriers they face in attempting to access new markets are: market managers ignore barriers to healthy food options for marginalized consumers; racism and classism; CSA’s as too labor intensive; lack of workforce and funding
One farmer wants to shift to institutional sales and fewer products.
Four farmers reported annual profits less than $30,000; one reported $40,000 to $50,000; one reported fluctuating profits between $10,000 and $30,000; one chose not to respond; and one reported barely breaking even.
Two family farms are run by 9-10 adult siblings who learned to farm from their fathers.
While two of the farms are over 40 years old and one is just starting operations, the remaining have operated for an average of 8.4 years, ranging between 3 and 15 years of operation.
The geographic locations of the respondents farms were widespread: one downstate (Orange County); three in Central New York (two rural Tompkins County, and one rural Wayne County); one Upstate New York (rural Rensselaer County); and two in Western New York (one rural Orleans County and one urban Erie County).
Of the eight Black farmers that have responded, five farmers agree to participate in a cooperatively developed project to increase their profitability.