New Generation of Immigrant Farmers Thrive With Help of Aid Programs

(Credit: Amy Mayer/ Harvest Public Media)

This week, Harvest Public Media highlighted the growing trend of immigrant farmers cropping up in the Midwest, who are helping to break the barriers into a predominately Caucasian career. Because minority farmers often do not qualify for government farm aid, local community organizations are specifically mentoring minority farmers to become successful at producing sustainable farming and food systems.

The number of immigrant farmers has surely grown in recent times as more immigrants move to the Midwest and are on track to significantly outpace the increase of all U.S. farm operators. The latest agricultural census taken in 2007 indicates that the number of Latino and Hispanic farmers was up fourteen percent, African-American farmers was up nine percent, and Asian farmers increased by about forty percent from the previous 2002 census.

The growing presence of America’s newest farmers, rather than farm employees, come at a time when more than 40 percent of Iowa farmers are going into retirement.

Unlike their U.S.-born counterparts, immigrant farmers do not have the same cultural roots, language familiarity and community ties. Organizations like the National Immigrant Farming Initiative and the Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Savings Incentive Program help immigrant farmers to save money, to meet with mentors, and to write a business plan. They also teach these farmers to run a profitable business.

The enactment of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act was meant to protect agricultural farm employees and to enable better pay and working conditions, but it has not dissuaded people from exploiting immigrants. Immigrant laborers are often exposed to under-compensation and long hours. The terrible work conditions are so systemic that California introduced state legislation to protect immigrants from abuse and slave-like conditions.

As a result, aid organizations have come out to actually help those immigrants to sustain and to better adapt to farming regulations. Migrant advocacy programs like the Migrant Legal Action Program actively seeks to help subsidize farmers. Regardless of the produce of their land, the change of employment status between immigrant day-laborer and farmer could mean the difference between exploitation and being a self-sufficient boss. As such, becoming a farmer is an empowering show of an agricultural worker’s uphill climb.