Indiana’s small, Black farmers struggle to keep their farms running

Indiana’s agricultural tradition is well documented. From Indy 500 winners drinking milk to county fair midways and local 4-H animal exhibits, farming is always celebrated. But the national conversation around race is largely absent in many rural Indiana communities. From Indiana Public Media, Brock Turner has the story.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Indiana's agriculture tradition is well-documented. From Indy 500 winners drinking milk, to county fair midways and local 4-H animal exhibits, farming is celebrated.

    But the national conversation around race is largely absent in many rural Indiana communities.

    From Indiana Public Media, Brock Turner has the story.

  • Brock Turner:

    You would be forgiven if you drove through Lyles Station and thought it was like any other farm town.

  • Denise Jamerson, Farmer:

    I grew up here too. I was fortunate enough to see my uncles farming and to see the other Black farmers and to live in this community when it was more of a community.

  • Brock Turner:

    Settled in the early 1800s, Lyles Station was a bustling community and haven for thousands of Black farmers. It offered freedom and a pathway to economic vitality.

    This land has been in the Greer family since before the Civil War, but over time the community that once defined this place has eroded.

  • Denise Jamerson:

    It was a farming community. There were other gentlemen at the end of the day, at the end of the weekend to have fish fries and to sit back, and they're happy because their crops are in and the crops are growing.

    When dad was here, this was full Black farming community.

  • Brock Turner:

    Denise and her father, Norman, are now almost exclusively surrounded by white farmers.

  • Denise Jamerson:

    We're kind of, what you call it landlocked, to where they have bought stuff all around us. So they're sitting there waiting for that opportunity to just get the rest, you know?

  • Brock Turner:

    At 84, Norman has farmed this family land his entire life, but it's becoming more difficult.

  • Norman Greer, Farmer:

    You don't see the Black farmer expanding or getting bigger. They're getting smaller.

  • Brock Turner:

    Smaller operators, regardless of race, are struggling, as margins throughout agriculture shrink. The get-big-or-get-out mantra is what many live by.

    However, white farmers don't experience the racism many Black and other farmers of color say is routine. Whether accessing credit, participating in government programs, or dealing with subtle racism in town when working with local vendors, many farmers of color say the problems are systemic.

    Even the recent COVID relief plan contained a program that was supposed to help socially disadvantaged and minority farms. But, to date, primarily due to a federal court ruling in Wisconsin, farmers across the country haven't been able to see of the estimated $4 billion that was promised.

    For farmers like Greer, this is just another example of setbacks Black farmers have faced for decades.

    John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, agrees.

  • John Boyd, President, National Black Farmers Association:

    And I want to be really clear here. It took place on the watch of Republicans, it took place on the watch of Democrats, and it took place on the watch of the American people. Everybody's guilty here, because we didn't step up and stop it.

  • Brock Turner:

    He admits he's disappointed with how the COVID program has been rolled out, but believes the resistance is part of a bigger problem.

  • John Boyd:

    There's a real division between white America now and Black America, and even a bigger division between a Black farmer and a white farmer. You can feel the tension.

  • Brock Turner:

    Back in Lyles Station, all hope isn't lost. Greer's grandson, DeAnthony, encouraged by his grandfather, is about to graduate with a degree from Tennessee State University in agribusiness.

    While he's not sure he will be taking over the family farm, he understands the close ties farmers, regardless of race, have with their land.

  • Deanthony Jamerson, Indiana:

    Understand that we want to be out here too. We want the same things you do. We want to be able to carry on family legacies, family land, and be able to grow our own, like I said, legacies as well. So just take into consideration what we want and how we feel.

  • Brock Turner:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Brock E.W. Turner in Lyles Station, Indiana.

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