Agriculture Secretary-designate Tom Vilsack commits to Black farmer advocates that he will ensure “fairness and equity” for African-American farmers who are dealing with the impact of systemic discrimination and recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an online meeting, Vilsack told attendees he would provide the necessary resources to fight ongoing “systematic issues they face” and expand access to nutrition for communities across the country when he returns to head USDA.

According to a readout of the meeting released by the Biden transition team, Vilsack "affirmed his commitment to establishing strong partnerships with organizations that provide assistance to Black farmers and will work to ensure that they have a seat at the table during his time as Secretary. Both the Secretary-designee and the Network reiterated their commitment to an open and ongoing dialogue."

Among the nine participants at the meeting was the former Georgia state director for USDA Rural Development, Shirley Sherrod, who served under the Obama administration from 2009 to 2010. Vilsack, who was ag secretary at the time, fired Sherrod after an edited video surfaced of her apparently making remarks about not helping a white farmer avoid foreclosure. Days later, it was discovered her comments were taken out of context. 

Sherrod is now the executive director of the Southwest Georgia Project, which works to advance human rights and social justice in southwest Georgia, according to the project's website.

During the meeting Tuesday afternoon with Vilsack, the Black farmer advocates promoted the Justice for Black Farmers Act, which would require USDA to buy land to give to aspiring Black farmers as a way of righting past discrimination. 

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Introduced by Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, the bill would establish an $8 billion-a-year program at USDA called the Equitable Land Access Service to purchase land from willing sellers and then provide 160-acre land grants to eligible Black Americans. 

The measure also includes a number of restrictions on meat processor contracting practices and a ban on the use of a tournament or ranking system for paying contract growers, a practice common in the poultry sector. 

Participants also expressed a need for reliable broadband in rural areas with better interconnectivity between regions.

Other participants in the meeting included the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, Kansas Black Farmers Association, Land Loss Prevention Project, Arkansas Land and Farmer Development Corporation, Operation Spring Plant, and Oklahoma Historical Research Project.