Lancaster farming.com reports that Black farmers are launching a class-action lawsuit saying the federal government harmed them by killing a $4 billion loan forgiveness program. The four Virginia farmers bringing the case say they maintained or expanded their farms after accepting USDA debt relief, only to see the program canceled before payments could be sent out. The farmers accuse the government of a breach of contract that has left them unable to service their debt and at risk of losing their farms Fourth-generation North Carolina farmer Patrick Brown not only bought the farm, he purchased the plantation his great-grandparents toiled upon as slaves.“The plantation that my ancestors originated on, that they actually helped build ... I own that plantation now,” Brown, who grows industrial hemp and specialty crops, said during a recent phone conversation as he traveled to Washington, D.C. “We're setting up an agritourism division on that portion of our land so that we can educate young future farmers of America, teach course curriculum and have seminars and weddings and a bed-and- breakfast.”
.Like many farm kids, Patrick always had a hand in running the farm. He attended Fayetteville State University, earned a business degree in 2005, and, around 2014, began investigating the soon-to-be legalized hemp space. Brown Family Farms & Produce now grows industrial hemp for fiber and plant extracts, and specialty herbs and vegetables, grown organically and sold through a CSA as well as a distribution center. “My great-grandfather, Byron Brown, was enslaved to Oakley Grove Plantation in Littleton,” Patrick said. “At the end of the Civil War, he became a sharecropper.”
“He was willed a certain amount of land, and then he was able to buy more land,” Patrick said, adding that the original plantation totaled 7,000 acres. Patrick’s father, now 95, was born in 1927 and became a minister while also farming the family land until 2010, when his son took the reins. Patrick worked in the federal government for 13 years, including as an agricultural adviser in Afghanistan, before returning to the farm full-time. Except for his time abroad, Patrick has always maintained an active hand in the family operation. “After my dad retired in 2003, I pretty much worked along with the farmer that we were leasing some land out with,” Patrick said. “We worked together for a while, and then he retired in 2017. I just started focusing on specialty crop programs and regenerative (agriculture) and started growing industrial hemp.”
“This is a crop that potentially can have the opportunity of intertwining with cotton production, it can regenerate the land where other crops cannot, and of course it allows farmers to not have to utilize synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. That's more important to me than focusing just on profit.”Brown concedes that U.S. manufacturing has not made the necessary infrastructure investments in industrial hemp. “The corporations are not willing to invest in the manufacturing facilities for decorticating (separating the bast fibers and hurd fibers) right now, because they have to be able to determine that the supply is going to be there,” he said.
Companies like Patagonia and VF Corp. (parent company of brands including Vans, The North Face, Timberland and Dickies) are beginning to look toward domestic producers like Brown, he said, as overseas supply chains become less and less dependable in an uncertain world climate.
And speaking of climate, the outdoor apparel giant Patagonia — one of Brown’s partners along with VF Corp — announced in September it would irrevocably transfer ownership of the $3 billion company to a group of trusts and nonprofits battling climate change.
“I’ve been filming with Patagonia for a documentary coming out in November,” Brown said. “We really can’t talk too much in reference to it until after that. They are helping with BIPOC farmers — which are black indigenous people of color — to work with to help them to develop farmer production to focus solely on carbon sequestration.” The company is also on board with his plans to turn the former plantation into a resource for beginning and BIPOC farmers, Patrick said. “We have a donation page, and they're going to be advertising for us to help renovate the plantation.”
Dan Sullivan is the Digital Content Editor for Lancaster Farming and a former editor and writer for the Rodale Institute’s NewFarm.org and Organic Gardening and Biocycle magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-428-4438. or email@example.com