SC minority farmers say US Department of Agriculture needs changes

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NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCBD) — State and federal lawmakers and leaders are seeking to address issues of food deserts and state equity among minority farmers. Farmers and leaders discussed ongoing issues between the groups during a roundtable on Monday.

Improvements in education, funding, and support are just a few of the ways that U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Assistant Secretary Dr. Jewel Bronaugh says the federal government can better serve rural minority farmers.

“I knew racism existed, but I just didn’t know it existed in some of the stories I heard today,” said Joseph Hamilton, a Colleton County arborist.

Hamilton says he hasn’t felt the support of federal agents or the USDA in recent years, instead saying he’s been negatively affected. US Representative Jim Clyburn says equity gaps must be closed while increasing funding and support.

“I don’t care what it is, we have to make it accessible and affordable,” says Rep Clyburn.

Dr. Bronaugh says the agency is committing $35 million to nonprofits, organizations and other groups to better reach minority farmers who say they have failed over the past few years.

“We need to acknowledge the experiences of South Carolina farmers and some of the things they went through not being able to access USDA programs,” Dr. Bronaugh says.

The USDA will thoroughly review programs, possible funding, equity gaps, loss of land, etc., to ensure that minority farmers are no longer left behind.

“We’re very optimistic that this critical look is going to shed some light on some things that we’ll be working on with congress and we’ll be working with other ways to make those changes,” Dr. Bronaugh says.

Rep. Clyburn says changes can be made by working with federal partners and listening to those most affected.

“There are things we can do to make sure these people don’t fall victim to the kind of story we’ve had before,” Rep. Clyburn says.

Dr. Bronaugh will continue his journey on Tuesday by visiting a Charleston school to discuss the importance of healthy school lunches.

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