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Celebrating Juneteenth and Black American Contributions to Agriculture

Nifa Authors
LaRachelle Samuel-Smith, Internal Communications Manager

Juneteenth, observed on June 19, commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans in 1865. This day is not just a celebration of freedom but a reminder of the resilience and contributions of Black Americans to various sectors, including agriculture.  

Land-grant universities nationwide, including historically minority-serving ones, have fostered these contributions and continue to align their work with the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) priorities to support agricultural education, research and Extension programs. 

Historical Contributions to Agriculture 

Throughout history, Black Americans have made extraordinary agricultural contributions in connection with the Land-grant mission. The legendary George Washington Carver (1864-1943), an alumnus of Iowa State University, is eminent for pioneering crop rotation and soil enrichment work. Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), Tuskegee Institute's (now known as Tuskegee University) founder, emphasized agricultural education and practical skills. Despite having no formal education, inventor Henry Blair (1807-1860) patented revolutionary tools that enhanced farming efficiency. 

Modern Innovators and Change Makers 

Contemporary Black American leaders continue to advance agriculture. Most notably, Will Allen, a University of Wisconsin alumnus, founded Growing Power, a nonprofit promoting sustainable urban farming. Leah Penniman, a graduate of Clark University, co-founded Soul Fire Farm, which is dedicated to ending racism in the food system and promoting food sovereignty. These modern innovators and those listed below are just a few examples of those driving sustainable practices and community agriculture, addressing critical issues such as food security and environmental justice. 

  • Dr. Booker T. Whatley (1915-2005) (Rutgers University, Alabama A&M): Known for advocating "Clientele Membership Clubs," precursors to modern CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs and promoting sustainable practices. 
  • Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) Co-founder of the Freedom Farm Cooperative, helping poor Black farmers in Mississippi achieve economic self-sufficiency. 
  • John W. Boyd Jr. (Clemson University): Founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association, advocating for the rights and interests of Black farmers and addressing discrimination in the agricultural sector. 

In addition to the modern innovators, several contemporary figures continue to impact agriculture significantly: 

  • Karen Washington: Co-founder of Black Urban Growers (BUGS) and advocate for urban farming and food justice. 
  • Dr. Gail Myers (The Ohio State University): Farms to Grow Inc. Co-founder, supporting Black farmers and promoting sustainable farming practices and cultural education. 
  • Rashid Nuri: Founder of The Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture in Atlanta, promoting urban agriculture and sustainable living practices. 
  • Michael W. Twitty (Howard University): Food historian and author exploring African Americans' culinary traditions and agricultural practices, highlighting their contributions to American cuisine and farming. 

Connecting Agriculture and Education 

Over time, agencies within USDA, like NIFA, have progressed from lessons of the past and evolved to recognize the essential role of highlighting Black Americans’ agricultural contributions. Working with educators and researchers to enrich learning experiences with the stories of positive impact on America fosters a comprehensive understanding of American agriculture and inspires diversity within the field. Most notably, Historically Black Colleges and Universities have been crucial in nurturing innovation and supporting future leaders in agriculture. Their collaborative partnerships with NIFA are core to promoting diversity and bolstering comprehensive agricultural knowledge, which is fundamental to NIFA's mission. 

Educators as Change Agents 

Educators, whether on college campuses, in the classrooms, or in Extension counties, effectively encourage the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility when they actively incorporate Black American agricultural history into their teaching. Utilizing resources and engaging in collaborative projects can help create a more inclusive and comprehensive agricultural learning landscape. This approach not only honors the contributions of Black Americans but also enriches the educational experiences in a way that resonates with students from all backgrounds. 

Reflecting on the Past and Inspiring the Future 

Juneteenth serves as a reminder and an opportunity to honor Black Americans' remarkable agricultural contributions. By promoting inclusive education, recognizing these achievements and committing to providing support, we can continue to inspire future advancements and build a more equitable and innovative agricultural sector. The USDA's commitment to advancing agricultural research and community outreach through NIFA aligns with these goals, ensuring that the legacy of Black American agriculturalists is preserved and celebrated. 

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