Black people have largely been expelled from the US agricultural landscape. In 1920, nearly a million Black farmers worked on 41.4 million acres of land, making up a seventh of farm owners. Today, only about 49,000 of them remain, making up just 1.4 percent of the nation’s farm owners, and tending a scant 4.7 million acres—a nearly 90 percent loss.
This didn’t happen by accident. Since Emancipation, Black farmers have had to fight for a share of this country’s fertile ground, due to a history of racist policies and land theft. But modern sustainable agriculture owes much to Black agriculturalists, explained Leah Penniman, co-director of Soul Fire Farm in upstate New York and author of Farming While Black, on a recent episode of Bite.