A few weeks ago, we talked with a specialist in underserved farmers at Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems. Shakara Tyler mentioned a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that alleged discrimination against black farmers.
That case is called the Pigford lawsuit. It claimed USDA loan officers and agents denied loans, lost applications, delayed applications, and otherwise discriminated against African-American farmers. After all was said and done, the settlement with the USDA was the largest federal settlement for civil rights violations in the nation.
It amounted to more than $2 billion, and loan forgiveness. Further lawsuits were filed by Native American, Latino, and female farmers, and further settlements were paid out by the government.
To talk about what the USDA has done since those lawsuits, Stateside was joined by Brian Garner, senior director of the Office of Civil Rights Farm Service Agency at the USDA, and James Radintz, deputy administrator for Farm Loans Programs Farm Service Agency with the USDA.
Listen to the full conversation with Stateside's Lester Graham above. A couple highlights are included below.
On what USDA is doing to regain the trust of minority and women farmers
JAMES RADINTZ: “The lawsuits were actually filed in the late 1990,s and most of the allegations were in the decade or so preceding the filing of the litigation. USDA and Farm Service Agency in particular have put together a variety of strategies to try and address that. Beyond that, Congress has made some public policy directions to help address the issue of ... what had been a shrinking number of minority and underserved farmers across the country.”
BRIAN GARNER: “There are many initiatives that have been brought about by the department. One of them, for example, is LEP, Limited English Proficiency. When we talk about equal access under the law, everyone has the right and should have the opportunity to apply for different programs and services within USDA. We have outreach programs coming from our deputy administrator for field operations. So there are some things that are, I believe, very aggressive in terms of opportunities to actually bring the trust back to USDA.”