Why am I here? This is a question that Angela Dawson, unfortunately, has heard too many times on her journey to becoming the black indigenous reclamation FarmHer behind Forty Acre Co-op.
Breaking barriers is nothing new for Angela. Farming is in her blood, and after a break from agriculture, she knew reclamation farming was the next step in her future.
What is reclamation farming? The term is new to me too.
For Angela, reclamation farming means she is a fourth-generation farmer reclaiming the farm her family lost two generations ago. Raised by her grandmother, Angela learned how to grow her own food and soak up all things agriculture at an early age.
But her agriculture journey has included trama, just like it has successes. Her resilience is a big part of why she still farms today.
She identifies as a black indigenous woman. All people from her ancestral path have also experienced trauma and resilience alike. She is no different. Her elders taught her about who she is as a woman and farmer.
Denial for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers
As she got older, she decided she was going to raise organic hogs. This required a specific type of housing for the hogs. To build, Angela needed a loan, so she inquired about a program she had researched through the USDA, The Socially Disadvantaged Farmers Microloan Program, to fund the housing. She visited her local office and was denied.
She lost the farm, her animals, but she didn’t lose hope.
The interaction at her USDA office sparked her to contact other African-American farmers. Unfortunately, they saw the same results.
Instead of giving up, she decided a cooperative model was the way to go.
A Cooperative Approach
So what is a Co-op?
A Co-op is a member-owned and controlled business that operates for the benefit of its members. Everyone who owns a co-op has a need for the products and services offered, and members democratically decide the direction and operations of the business with one vote each.
That is where the Forty Acre Co-op blossomed and the community really came together to make it happen. Forty Acre Co-op is proud to be the first national black farmer co-op since the reconstruction era in the United States.
Her mission with her cooperative is to promote agricultural development, as well as economic equity for socially disadvantaged farmers, so they don’t end up like her first try at farming. Because they know if all farmers had access to all the plentiful and rich agricultural resources available, we could solve many of today’s complex problems.
The name of her cooperative has a rich history too.
Forty acres and a mule is part of Special Field Orders No. 15, a wartime order proclaimed by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman during the American Civil War, to allot land to some freed slave families, in plots of land no larger than 40 acres.
After Abraham Lincoln passed away, the new administration took back that promise. To Angela, her name and logo are a reminder of the history of black farmers and her family. Coincidentally enough, her co-op happens to sit on 40 acres.
An Excellent Outlook on Agriculture
Angela’s farm located in Minnesota is simply beautiful. From the river to the animals, it is refreshing to take in, just like her outlook on agriculture.
She reminds all of us that we all benefit when the small guy benefits. There are no black or white farmers, small or big farmers, or male or female farmers, there are just farmers supporting farmers. If we all think about the issues that keep us apart, we can really grow together over our passion for feeding and providing for others.
Everybody eats and all food starts at the farm. Agriculture is a culture and any culture thrives with diversity. We are no different.