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Action Alert: Support Land Access for Historically Disadvantaged Farmers

Land access is one of the most critical components of agricultural production. Centuries of structural and institutional racism have blocked Black farmers from equal access to land in a myriad of ways. Land ownership in America, including in Maine, is inherently connected to a history of genocide and dispossession of Native peoples and forced labor from Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. Barriers to land access for farmers of color continue on to this day through discriminatory policies, unequal access to capital, and exclusion from information and services. 

The painful legacy of past violence and denials continue to shape present-day experiences and opportunities for Black people across the country, including Maine’s Black farmers. A survey conducted by the National Young Farmers Coalition found that, among 4,344 young farmers surveyed in 2022, finding affordable land to buy is the top challenge for young farmers. Purchasing land is even more challenging for Black young farmers, with 66% of Black respondents ranking finding affordable land as “very or extremely challenging” and 75% of Black farmers surveyed sharing that they currently need more access to land, whether to buy or lease. The 2017 Census of Agriculture revealed that only 11% of Black farmers in Maine own the land that they cultivate.

MFT supports LD 1274, An Act to Increase Land Access for Historically Disadvantaged Populations, which proposes two distinct but mutually reinforcing approaches to encourage the growth of Black farmers in the field of agriculture in Maine: an agricultural land grant program and an apprenticeship program. The bill would establish the Black Farmer Restoration Program within the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to support Black farmers accessing land and having increased opportunity to contribute to our food system. The Department would purchase agricultural land from willing sellers, protect the land through an agricultural easement, and then grant the land to an eligible farmer. LD 1274 would also establish the Farm Conservation Corps to provide young people from socially disadvantaged groups with an entry into farming and agriculture through an apprenticeship program. 

Take Action

A public hearing for LD 1274 is scheduled for Monday April 3, 2023 at 9am before the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) committee. 

Ways to Get Involved

  • Testify at the pubic hearing (9am on Monday, April 3)
    • In-person: The hearing is being held in Cross Building, Room 214. There is a 3-minute time limit per person, so be prepared to keep your oral delivery of your testimony brief. Written testimony is not required, but if you want to distribute copies of your written testimony to the ACF committee members you should bring 20 copies. If you are testifying in-person, you do not need to submit your written testimony through the online portal. 
    • Over Zoom: You can submit written testimony and/or sign-up to deliver oral testimony over Zoom by following this link. Once there, select “public hearing,” select the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, the date of the hearing (April 3, 9am), and the bill title (LD 1274 – An Act to Increase Land Access for Historically Disadvantaged Populations). You will then be able to upload written comments and/or sign up to provide live testimony. If you would like to deliver your testimony orally, you need to sign-up at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the hearing. There is a 3-minute time limit per person, so be prepared to keep your oral delivery of your testimony brief. 

More information about LD 1274

This bill establishes the Black Farmer Restoration Program within Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) to support Black farmers and to encourage the growth of Black farmers in the field of agriculture. Through this proposed program, DACF would purchase available farmland from willing sellers, protect the land with an agricultural easement, and convey grants of the land at no cost to eligible individuals who apply to the program. A land grant to an eligible individual may not exceed 100 acres. 

The bill also establishes the Farm Conservation Corps within DACF to provide residents between the ages of 18 and 29 from socially disadvantaged groups the academic, vocational and social skills necessary to pursue long-term and productive careers in agriculture through apprenticeships.

Members of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee

Senator Henry Ingwersen of York, Chair (D – Senate District 32) – Henry.Ingwersen@Legislature.Maine.gov

Senator Russell Black of Franklin (R – Senate District 5) – Russell.Black@legislature.maine.gov

Senator Craig Hickman of Kennebec (D – Senate District 14) – Craig.Hickman@legislature.maine.gov

Representative Bill Pluecker of Warren, Chair (I – House District 44 – William.Pluecker@Legislature.Maine.gov) 

Representative Danny Costain of Plymouth (R – House District 33) – Danny.Costain@Legislature.Maine.gov

Representative Dean Cray of Palmyra (R – House District 69) – dean.cray@legislature.maine.gov

Representative Timothy Guerrette of Caribou (R – House District 4) –  Timothy.Guerrette@Legislature.Maine.gov

Representative Randy Hall of Wilton (R – House District 74) – Randall.Hall@Legislature.Maine.gov

Representative Allison Hepler of Woolwich (D – House District 49) – Allison.Hepler@Legislature.Maine.gov

Representative Caldwell Jackson of Oxford (R – House District 80) –  Caldwell.Jackson@Legislature.Maine.gov

Representative Rebecca Jauch of Topsham (D – House District 51) – Rebecca.Jauch@Legislature.Maine.gov

Representative Laurie Osher of Orono (D – House District 25) – Laurie.Osher@Legislature.Maine.gov

Representative Kathleen Shaw of Auburn (D – House District 88) – Kathleen.Shaw@Legislature.Maine.gov

Questions? Reach out to Shelley Megquier, MFT’s Policy and Research Director smegquier@mainefarmlandtrust.org 

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