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American Rescue Act and USDA emphasis on equity instills inclusion

As the USDA announces plans to focus on diversity and equity, one Black farmer says it provides a chance for inclusion. 

Michigan organic vegetable grower Bruce Michael Wilson tells Brownfield he’s watching what opportunities exist in the recently approved American Rescue Act.

“Right now it’s important for us to recognize black farmers are on the endangered species list,” he says.  “There was a million of us in 1910-1920, and now we’re down to less than 45,000.”

Wilson says producing food is a specialized trade and with the average age of all farmers near 60, he’s concerned.

“We’re both on the endangered species list if we don’t show other people how to get involved and do this trade,” he says.

Wilson says while the number of Black farmers have dwindled, their impact remains pointing to one Black man who reimagined how seeds are planted.

“A lot of people don’t know that Henry Blair was a Black man that invented the corn planter and invented the cotton planter,” he says.

He also believes farmers and their employees should earn a fair wage to maintain a reliable food supply.

“Why can’t I pay somebody $18-$20 bucks an hour and make sure I have a staff year after year and not have to worry about rehiring people every year and retraining them?” he says.  “It doesn’t make sense to me when we are in one of the most important industries in the land.”

Wilson says he’s still learning how the funds earmarked for socially disadvantaged farmers will be distributed but is likely to use the Paycheck Protection Program and work as a vendor for area food banks utilizing the Farmers to Families Food Box Program.

Wilson owns Groundswell Farm in Zeeland which grows about 200 vegetable varieties that are marketed through farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture shares and other avenues in West Michigan.

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