The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is getting a federal grant to help farmers in south central Pennsylvania who historically have been excluded from conservation assistance.
The foundation plans to use the grant from the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to help those farmers qualify for conservation programs, provide technical assistance and hire more staff.
In its proposal, the foundation asked for $630,000, but it does not have a final total yet. The amount would be roughly split between three states: Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
“Historically, Black and Indigenous farmers have tragically lost opportunities to farm because of unequal access to programs and services that support farm ownership. Without significant financial and technical help, they have almost no chance to farm, much less regain farm ownership,” said Bill Chain, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Pennsylvania agriculture program manager and assistant director.
The USDA defines historically underserved farmers as beginners, ones with limited resources, groups that have been subject to racial and ethnic prejudice, and veterans.
Chain says the program will allow the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to organize special farm field events that could serve as an opportunity to meet urban farmers in Lancaster, York, and Harrisburg.
The foundation plans to expand its outreach and education work with the PA Veteran Farming Network, which connects veteran farmers to resources.
“It’s one thing to read about something on the web, it’s a completely different thing to have more staff available to do those educational events. demonstrate why conservation does matter,” said Mimi Thomas-Brooker, project director at the network.
Beth McGee, director of science and agricultural policy for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said one of the end goals is to help farmers compete for conservation assistance.
“There’s a lot of conversation in the agricultural space about the injustices that particularly African Americans suffered from USDA by not being able to compete for conservation assistance, not being able to compete for loans that white people were able to get,” McGee said.
Multiple reports over the years have detailed how the USDA has discriminated against Black farmers who apply for farm loan programs.
The foundation also plans to work with high schools and historically Black colleges in Pennsylvania to help connect students of color with career opportunities in conservation.