Woman Inspires Black Farmers
In honor of Black History Month, we introduce you to the epically determined Angela Dawson, a woman who is putting a stake in the ground for Black Farmers and helping to build generational wealth.
As the founder of 40 Acre Cooperative and the 40 Acre Ranch, which employs 60% of female farmers, this one woman pioneer is single-handedly responsible for making sure that over 100 black farmers, with more on the waiting list, are getting the tools and resources they need to succeed with the first (and only) nationwide cooperative supporting “socially disadvantaged” farmers. Dawson is what you can truly call an American hero.
Dawson is making sure that money is being made and kept in the black community while the earth is being regenerated, and healthy food is being grown for Americans across the country.
Dawson has always enjoyed membership in the local food co-ops in her home state of Minnesota, but she noticed a huge glaring issue—almost all of the co-ops were white-run businesses operating in white communities. She found that black farmers made up less numbers by population now than ever before. In America today, 95% of farms are white owned and just 1.3% of farms are Black owned according to the USDA. She found that a Black owned and Black community supporting co-op has not been in operation since the 1800s in the United States. Dawson was determined to change that.
After leaving a career in public health at U of M and putting all of her life savings into starting her own farm in Northern Minnesota, Dawson applied for support from her local USDA office. She applied for the “socially disadvantaged farmer microloan” program. She was immediately denied. After appealing to the office and asking them to reconsider, they said she wasn’t eligible and didn’t offer any other options. It became abundantly clear, from her very own experience, that black farmers were still being suppressed, even in 2018.
Recent changes to USDA policies aim to address historic disadvantages for farmers left behind, but farmers of color haven’t caught up. The U.S. agricultural industry has been failing to provide livable wages for independent farmers for years and farm commodity prices continue to fall. However, the 2018 Farm Bill opened the opportunity for hemp farmers to add this high earning cash crop to their acres and this empowered Dawson to add hemp and the 40 Acre Co-Op was born.
The idea was to get Black farmers back their land and build generational wealth in the community. At 40 Acre Co Op the goal is to help farmers navigate barriers in accessing the market. From help obtaining a grower or processor license to their Hemp Incubator Program that provides support and mentoring for farmers from seed to shelf. Recently, Dawson has seen an influx of Black farmers returning back to the farm to reestablish their legacy farm. Saying “People are becoming more interested in self-sustainability through farming since COVID.”
40 Acres also works with them to review and improve their business plans and provide access to budgeting and farm management software. Ultimately, helping as a trusted grow partner in the industry by providing access to high-quality genetics and reliable data to support their growing needs. All of these years later, in northern Minnesota, a wrong becomes something Dawson wants to help right and she is being joined by farmers all over the country.
So what’s next?
In February 2021, Dawson is partnering with Hemp Industry leader Charlotte's Web “Seeding Our Future Together,” an educational mentor program for Black hemp farmers and leaders. Policy Education is on the docket; this is the first partnership announced from the company’s “Ten Commitments to Black Lives” announced in June 2020.
“This is the beginning of an important shift in the industry and we intend to use this momentum to create lasting and impactful change,'' Dawson says. “I am excited about the partnership with Charlotte’s Web that will increase access to the healing properties of CBD bringing relief to so many children and families who struggle with health conditions and quality of life issues. This monumental partnership is a game changer for the economic health and well-being of so many people, with win-win scenarios in towns all over the country. Just as important is our pride in bringing so much richness to agriculture via new high quality products, while keeping equity and fairness in check. This is how we feel business should be done.”
Additionally, with the tremendous impact that the pandemic has had on our food supply, the 40 Acre Co-op swiftly adjusted their growth plans to supply critical food resources to communities in need. They are launching a food security program to address the needs in the communities where their members farm.