The impacts of climate change do not fall evenly on all peoples, and this is especially true for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers and landowners. Compounding the challenges of the increasing intensity of droughts, heatwaves, and floods is a history of racism and bias in US agriculture. Regenerative land-use practices, including cover crops, limited tillage, the introduction of agroforestry systems, and diverse crop rotations, boost soil health and mitigate climate disruption. Many of these regenerative practices align with traditional knowledge but suffer from a lack of rigorous scientific study.
North Carolina has a sizable population of Black and Indigenous farmers who reflect conditions found nationally. Systemic racism within extension and government programs has resulted in economic disadvantages to BIPOC farmers. In 2017, 57% of Black farmers earned below $5,000 annually, and 7% of Black farmers (compared to 25% of all farmers) earned over $50,000. Meanwhile, extreme climate-related events have doubled since 2005, and 75% of Black farmers have no insurance against losses from climate impacts. Compounding this risk is the overreliance of about 30% of Black farms on row crops, which without irrigation are more susceptible to climate fluctuations.
Nature For Justice is building networks among three cohorts of BIPOC farmers in North Carolina’s Piedmont and Coastal regions, each consisting of approximately ten landowners, to catalyze the adoption and expansion of regenerative farming methods among small BIPOC farmers. The primary goal is to begin measuring various components of soil health that these farmers can begin managing against. It is expected that the introduction of this information and shift in methods will result in measurable carbon sequestration across 3000 acres. These increases will be measured using open-source soil carbon quantification techniques and through working with farmers to quantify other increases in productivity.
Led by Kevin Bryan of Nature For Justice, soil scientist Zakiya Leggett of North Carolina State University, and forester Kris Covey of Skidmore College and MySOC, the project will catalyze the adoption of land-use practices built upon a foundation of soil science and traditional ecological knowledge. BIPOC farmers will be identified in partnership with Sam Cook of Forest Assets for the College of Natural Resources at NCSU and other partners to encourage regenerative farming practices, measure soil carbon and health to quantify gains, and share lessons learned with other farmers and landowners.
Initially, this work will benefit BIPOC farmers and landowners in North Carolina. The goal is to then spread these networks to other states in the Southeastern US and ultimately throughout the USA. These small farmers will see more consistent, resilient yields, and identify opportunities to benefit from carbon markets for sequestration on agricultural and forested lands.
This project will identify other issues that impact farmers and small landowners as they combat climate change, such as access to capital, markets, and secure land. Farmers and landowners will then be connected to resources that can enable resilient operations and communities. In some cases, addressing these issues in tandem with the soil health work will be necessary to unlock the full potential of farmers to drive towards sustainability. The work will build on informal systems that are already in place, such as the importance and role of communities of faith, traditional ecological knowledge, and the ways in which farmers and landowners share information on what works and what does not. Another important element of the project will be to expand and reinforce the relationship between scientists and students at historically Black Colleges and Universities and the farmers and landowners.
Three cohorts of approximately seven to ten BIPOC landowner partners are now being recruited in North Carolina with the help of individuals and local institutions that have worked successfully with these landowners in the past. Trusted networks characterize the way in which these landowners have previously worked, and the objective is to empower these groups with new information and techniques that can help them adapt to their changing climate.
Through Nature For Justice, this project will build networks among the three cohorts of small BIPOC farmers to catalyze the identification, adoption, and expansion of regenerative farming practices. Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) will increase across a group of identified key influencers within these cohorts and the broader BIPOC landowner and farmer community, and their improvements will be measured using open-source soil carbon quantification techniques and working with farmers to quantify increases in productivity.