The BIPOC Farmers’ Network; supporting Black, Indigenous and other Farmers of Colour through farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing, training and land access
Canadian agriculture has a race problem. Systemic racism and inequality are widespread in farming where Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) are underrepresented and often marginalized.
While farming is an incredibly challenging profession for most new and experienced farmers, there are increased barriers to participation and success for racialized farmers. A 2020 survey by the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO) found some of the increased challenges facing BIPOC farmers were: significant barriers to owning farmland; lack of inter-generational wealth or inherited land; increased difficulties accessing capital for critical equipment and infrastructure; lack of connection in rural communities; and little to no BIPOC representation in traditional farm organizations or at agricultural events.
Recognizing the need for action, EFAO assisted the launch of the BIPOC Farmers’ Network to develop a space where BIPOC growers, ranchers, traditional land stewards and aspiring farmers could address those concerns by sharing knowledge and resources, building community, and leading efforts to access farmland.
Today, the 100 grower-strong community gathers regularly online to participate in workshops and webinars, to share resources and cultural traditions of food production or facilitate the exchange of seeds. Many of the members have also been featured in EFAO’s publication and have presented at the annual conference, as well as offering training as part of the Ignatius New Farmer Training program.
Angel Beyde, an urban farmer and organic master gardener who coordinates the BIPOC Farmers’ Network in her role as Equity and Organizational Change Manager at EFAO, says growth in the Network has been encouraged by individuals looking to have an ownership stake in where their food comes from.
“[People] are looking toward a holistic lifestyle, where you are using your body, using your mind, building community, and producing food. We want to be stewards of our food and of the earth while earning a sustainable living,” says Beyde. “A lot of the folks who are becoming farmers are really concerned about climate change and want to use agriculture both for personal healing and for planet healing.”
At the heart of that work is improving access to land ownership. Beyde notes that while many of those involved in the Network are aspiring farmers, they often have growing experience on others’ farms, market gardens, or in urban agriculture, but haven’t been able to establish their own agricultural project due to the capital required to access land.
In 2021, the cost of Ontario farmland rose 22.2% over the previous year with prices reaching $30,000 to $35,000 an acre in some regions.
Beyde notes the climate-friendly agricultural practices favoured by Network farmers are almost impossible to implement on rented acreage because years of effort and financial investment are required to create soil health on a parcel of land.
“We have people in our network who were renting or were even gifted access to land,” says Beyde. “And then that was taken away after a season or two, after the young farmers had invested considerable time, effort and money into establishing their market garden, for example. Often the relationship with an older landowner ends suddenly if they pass away and their children, who are often not farmers themselves, put the land up for sale on the open market.”
EFAO plans to address this barrier by creating a Land Access Coalition to better identify the needs and barriers facing new BIPOC farmers in particular and engage in partnerships and discussions to develop short- and long-term solutions. In Fall 2021, the Catherine Donnelly Foundation provided a $37,030 grant to support the Coalition as well as EFAO’s work in farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing and community building.
“Land access with equity is absolutely the number one barrier [for BIPOC farmers] and that’s something that we’re trying to tackle from a few different angles, but the number one tool really is going to be collaboration and relationship building across the sector because it’s such a deeply entrenched and multifaceted problem,” adds Beyde.
The Coalition will gather individuals and groups with expertise in diverse areas such as financing, agricultural policy, land stewards, zoning, or access to investment capital to encourage BIPOC farmers to pursue food sovereignty.
“I use the term food sovereignty to highlight how important it is to be sovereign in your food system. To have agency, to have an equity stake in land and to have a say in the future of how, and by whom and for how much your food is going to be produced,” says Beyde. “And the need to be culturally relevant, so you [grow] organic okra and organic callaloo and ecologically grown Malabar spinach; foods that make sense within your culture … and reflect that you really have an ownership stake in your food system.”
For more information on the BIPOC Farmers’ Network and EFAO’s efforts to address systemic racism and inequality in agriculture, visit https://efao.ca/bipoc-farmer-network/