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Senator Dill, Representative O’Neill and honorable members of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. My name is Sharon Treat and I live in Hallowell. I am Senior Attorney for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), on whose behalf I am testifying today in support of LD 264.
IATP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota with offices in Hallowell, Maine and other locations. IATP works closely with farmers and seeks to promote local, sustainable and environmentally beneficial agriculture and trade policies.1
This is important legislation, and a matter of justice. A week ago, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture held its first-ever hearing to review the state of Black farmers in the U.S.2 The hearing detailed a long history of racism in U.S. laws, policies and practices negatively affecting Black farmers that continue to this day: 99 percent of the funding for farmers in the first two rounds of COVID financial relief in 2020 went to White farmers, and 1 percent went to socially disadvantaged farmers; only was 0.1 percent went to Black farmers.3
Of the 3.4 million farmers in the United States today, only 45,000 — 1.3 percent — are Black, down from 1 million a century ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. African American farmers also lost over 90% of the land they had at the turn of 19th century through a combination of legalized thievery and systematic discrimination, including at the USDA itself.4 And “legalized thievery” well describes the loss of Indigenous lands including agricultural land.
This legislation will help document the situation here in Maine, including access to land and financing, and identify what policies are needed to ensure equity in the administration of agricultural programs in the state, and in accessing technical, financial and other assistance. We urge the committee to vote “ought to pass” on this bill. Thank you.
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