Volume 8, Number 16 October 21, 2005
Interview with Gary R. Grant, President of The Black Farmers & Agriculturists Association (BFAA)
by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Mu’min Muhammad
The Farmer Newsletter (FN): What do you think was the most significant part of the MMM?
Gary Grant (GG): I would say the bringing of families into the movement. This showed the unification of family more than at the Million Man, Million Women, and Million Worker marches.
FN: Min. Farrakhan laid out some issues facing Black people’s health as it relates to the food
they consume. He also related the need to help the Black farmers. What connection do you see between health of the Black communities and the Black farmer struggle?
GG: Certainly we must say that the health of the Black community has deteriorated since the introduction of food stamps to the community, even though they were supposed to increase the health of the community. I believe that it was you, Dr. Ridgely, who coined the phrase, "they gave us food stamps and took away our land" so that the people would be dependent on the system. Certainly the push for healthy communities is connected to land ownership and the number of Black farmers we would have growing food. Let us not say just Black farmers, but small family farmers who would be growing food locally, so people would actually have fresh produce that has not been poisoned or contaminated.
As Min. Farrakhan began to name the pieces of the structures that were to put in place, he first named the Ministry of Health. The second one was the Ministry of Agriculture. So we know that those two pieces are intricately related.
FN: How best can the MMM help the Black farmer struggle in the future?
GG: Well I think the fact that the Black farmer issues were allowed to be presented on the main stage on Saturday certainly moved the issue to the forefront. The movement can help our city cousins to now understand that they can form co-ops in the cities that can grow into grocery stores. At the same time one of the pieces of that platform is that the people need to invest in the farmer before the crop is planted and once the crop is harvested they would be able to receive their portion of that investment. Now they would have a stake in insuring that the farmer has a successful crop. Also with children being there and hearing the word "agriculture" and hearing the word "Black farmer", some may be inclined to find out more about agriculture and possibly developing a career around it.
FN: We noticed that you had some volunteers out getting petitions signed. What was the nature of those petitions and how might they help the Black farmers?
GG: Those petitions were designed to help get through two pieces of legislation. One is called the "Black Farmers Judicial Equity Act of 2005" and the other is called the "Endangered Black Farmer Act of 2005". The Black Farmers Equity Act would address some 67,000 late claims of the Pigford Class Action lawsuit that were not even looked at as potential members of the class. It also is designed to help the Black farmers who were accepted into the class but denied the remedy and are now subject, once again, to USDA foreclosure proceedings. The "Endangered Black Farmer Act" would establish the Black farmer as a separate group and not just part of some "minority" where the Black farmer gets tossed in with everybody at the USDA. Now much of the proceeds supposedly earmarked for Black farmers wind up going to other "minorities". This legislation is designed to change these policies and impact other policies at the USDA that have forced the Black farmers out of business.
FN: Is this petition drive to continue beyond the MMM event on Oct. 15th.?
GG: Yes, we got probably 500 or more petitions signed that day. We are currently mailing the monthly BFAA Newsletter which, along with highlighting the Millions More Movement, includes a petition that our readers can fill out and send to their congressperson. We are ultimately seeking to get 10,000 signatures that will influence the course of the debate on these issues once they are presented to congress. We are working with some congress people in the South who may help us get this legislation put on the House floor.
FN: I know that there has been a level of disunity within the Black farmer movement. Now that you have become an integral part of the MMM, you even gave a short speech on the Mall, how can you leverage this exposure to pull back together the Black farmers and organizations?
GG: Well, one thing is that the original Black Farmers & Agriculturists Association of which I am the president, has remained consistent. We have been here. We have not refused to talk to anyone including those who set up an offshoot organization. We will continue to be and maintain a level of dignity and high standards. Being a part of the MMM added more credibility to the fact that this is the legitimate organization and it has been recognized by the Nation of Islam (NOI) that this BFAA is the organization that actually speaks for Black farmers.
FN: I know that you know a little about the NOI. How can it best help you and your mission?
GG: I think first of all they can help us by supporting their own agricultural programs down in Georgia where they own 1600 acres of farm land. And also, we should include either myself or our vice-president in any further sessions and planning for future movements that would involve those pieces of what the Minister talked about. This would insure that agriculture not get pushed to the side by some of our "city cousins."
FN: Do you think that Min. Farrakhan’s call that we get into food production and control it from the ground to the dinner table in the cities is the best solution and do you think it is realistic?
GG: I think that it is very realistic, because in that process you "produce" jobs not only on the farm. If we grow the food, we also have to build the structures to process the food, transport the food, store the food and distribute the food. Each of these processes would be new jobs for our young people within the community. I think that the Nation can also help along these lines. Not everyone wants to live in the city and not everyone wants to work a 9 to 5 job. People who want to farm should have the opportunity to farm and people who want safe and healthy food should have it readily available. The only way for that to happen is that there must be a restoration of Black farms and white small family farms across the nation.
FN: Since 25% of the Black farmers are over 70 and only 4% or under 35, where will the next generation of Black farmers come from? Is there some type of mentoring program transferring knowledge from the old to the young farmers?
GG: That is one of the programs that we are working on. There were some programs going on in the cities. We must also become more visible in the rural areas. In N.C. they are actually taking agriculture out of the class room in the rural communities. We are going to have to insist that these courses be put back in. We think that once our young people see that when you are controlling the food system from the "land to the man", it becomes a profitable business. In the past they have seen their parents struggle to keep the land and because of that experience they drifted away from agriculture. But we think that we can reverse that trend once we can show them that it can be a profitable business.
FN: I know that you are on the boards of both the BFAA and the BFLT. Why do we need both organizations?
GG: The Black Family Land Trust was actually called for by BFAA. In fact it was BFAA that got the initial people and organizations together along with the Concerned Citizens of Tillery, and the Conservation Fund. The BFLT will introduce some programs that have been used within the conservation community to preserve farm land for Black farmers and rural communities. BFLT is composed of a consortium of 15 organizations and numerous individuals dedicated to save Black farm land. Some of the organizations include the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Land Loss Prevention Project, Muhammad Farms, The Conservation Fund, and the American Farmland Trust.
Currently BFLT is establishing itself in six southern states: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. BFAA is a national organization already with members is most of the 50 states and developing state chapters in 22 states.
It is good that BFLT is separate from BFAA because we need to establish a revolving loan fund to help preserve land that is under some type of financial crisis. BFAA works a lot with politics and fighting the USDA. We did not want to have our financial institution tied to our political thrust institution in order to protect both.
If you want to know more about either the BFLT or BFAA you can call me at 252 826-2800 or you can call the Executive Director of BFLT, Teresa Cosby at 864 801-1955. You can also visit the websites: www.bfaa-us.org or www.bflt.org.
FN: What is the next thing on the agenda within the Black farmer struggle?
GG: The Black Land Loss Summit will take place again in February 2006. A wonderful exhibit on Black farmers will take place in Baltimore, Md on February 2, 2006 at the Reginald Lewis Museum and Cultural Center. It will be a traveling exhibit that will expose many areas of the country to Black farmers and our struggle.
I would like to applaud Minister Farrakhan for calling for the Million Man March and the sisters for the Million Women March and again Minister Farrakhan for calling for the Millions More Movement. "Movement" is a much better word than "march", because a "march" has an end and a "movement" continues. So we are just beginning and I believe that if we all go back to our communities and start organizing, we can all make a difference and transform this country into the "Promised Land" that it was supposed to be.
FN: Thank you.
Books and lectures by Dr. Ridgely A. Mu'min