Oregon and America’s agriculture system is founded on structural racial inequities: Oregon’s farm producers are 96.7% White (Oregon State University 2017), and Whites accrue over 97% of farm-related income nationally (Horst, Marion 2018).
While rooted in land theft and slavery, disparities in agriculture have been cultivated through sustained attacks against farmers of color: “from 1910 to 1997, Black farmers lost about 90% of the land they owned, while White farmers lost only about 2%.” (Rosenberg, Stucki 2019). Even during the Obama administration, the USDA awarded a lower proportion of loan dollars to Black farmers than it did under President Bush—and the agency distorted data to claim the number of Black farmers increased under the administration, when in fact the number continued to decrease (ibid.) Hispanic farmers were also disproportionately farm laborers with 6.2% as owner-operators despite representing 80% of farm laborers. “In addition to racial and ethnic disparities, there were disparities by gender. About 63% of non-operating landowners, 86% of farm operators, and 87% of tenant farmers were male, and female farmers tended to generate less income per farmer than men. This data provides evidence of ongoing racial, ethnic and gender disparities in agriculture in the United States.”(Horst, Marion 2018).
Today, our state stands at a crossroads. According to “The Future of Oregon’s Agricultural Land,” the average age of farmers in Oregon is 60 years old, and 64% of our state’s farmland is expected to change hands in the next 20 years (Oregon State University 2016). With these changes, we face a unique opportunity to shift power and resources and build equity for farmers of color, women, LGBTQIA+, and farmers who face discrimination in securing land access for the next generation. The future of farming and food in Oregon depends on it!