Farming is what Wayne Swanson knows best.
“That grass you see over there is money. The cows can eat that.”
For years, he has owned and operated Swanson Family Farms in Georgia. Now, he is using his expertise to educate the next generation of Black farmers,
Nineteen Black families from metro Atlanta who purchased together more than 500 acres of farm land in Toomsboro, Georgia, which is located two and half hours outside of Atlanta.
It’s a part of the Freedom Georgia Initiative. Greg Mullins is one of the new owners.
“It started off as one little thing but now it’s just this huge platform,” Mullins said.
The initiative is a Black-owned innovative community for environmentally sustainable-living, health and wellness and agricultural development.
Channel 2′s Audrey Washington tagged along as Swanson and Mullins drove around portions of the sprawling property.
“It’s not like moving a mountain, it’s pretty easy if we just do what we’re supposed to do,” Mullins said.
Swanson is helping Mullins and other new land owners learn how to maintain the farm, both physically and financially.
“If they are going to finance some of their structures and then that loan is forgiven, we are in a place to make money,” Swanson said.
Mullins plans to take full advantage of the farmer relief program.
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Under the program, billions of dollars in debt forgiveness will be provided to disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. Specifically, it allows farmers who experienced past discrimination in U.S. Department of Agriculture credit programs to apply for additional assistance up to $500,000.
Georgia U.S. Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is a member of the Senate’s agriculture committee, pushed for the program.
“The history of discrimination against Black Farmers is well documented,” Warnock told Washington.
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Georgia has among the highest number of Black farmers in the country. Still, Black farmers have lost millions of acres of land over a number of decades.
“During Jim Crow we couldn’t own the property. We couldn’t have the deed to the property and then the people who believed in Jim Crow ran the office that decided whether or not we would get a loan,” Swanson said.
According to the USDA, in 1920, 14% of all farmers in the United States were African-American. Today, only 1.5% of farmers in America are Black.
“They are having a tough time,” Warnock said.
The U.S Senator said for too long Black farmers have been shut out of federal agricultural programs. Those programs include disaster relief, subsides and loans. Even the USDA acknowledged a systematic pattern of discrimination.
Warnock said the federal provision will be a much deserved lifeline.
“It will indeed provide debt relief to 92% of Black farmers in the state of Georgia,” he said. “This relief package provides support for all farmers.”
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With federal aid on the way, Swanson, Mullins and many like them can focus on the future of farming.
“We’re influencing other people to buy land and it’s like wow we’re apart of a movement here,” Mullins said.
“By pointing out and addressing past ills that have negatively affected African American farmers, everyone is going to get help. That bill is not just gonna help Black folks. Small mom and pop operations all over the state of Georgia will get a benefit,” Swanson said.
Fencing is next for the property in Toomsboro. The USDA will help fund pasture fencing. Just one more example of how federal dollars are helping farmers, particularly Black farmers, right now.
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