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Sierra magazine
Act | On Your Convictions

Sodbusting Solicitor

Interview by Della Watson


Savonala Horne, Durham, North Carolina; executive director, Land Loss Prevention Project

"Many years ago I read about an African American woman who had escaped slavery and returned to the plantation because she could not leave behind her beloved woodlands. When I think of somebody who could escape that kind of bondage returning because of her spiritual, physical, and emotional connection to the land and the trees and the birds, it speaks volumes about the human soul and how integral the environment and agriculture are to the psyche. It's not just about eating.

"The Land Loss Prevention Project was founded 25 years ago by the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers. Small farmers were hurting because of the recession, and throughout the South, many African Americans were losing their land due to discrimination in lending; the end of peanut, tobacco, and cotton subsidies; and forced sales after a farmer dies without a will. The lawyers got together to stem land loss within the African American populations of North Carolina, then expanded the mission to represent all low-income farmers across the state.

"Fewer than 500 African American farmers nationwide are under 35; most are in their 70s. They need estate plans. We also promote policy changes and provide technical assistance to farmers who want to transition from traditional agriculture to more sustainable farming.

"I can't recall an organic or sustainable poultry, cattle, or hog farmer when I joined the project in 1998. Today there are many. Organic is one of the fastest-growing agriculture sectors in North Carolina. It's a template that can help farmers in surrounding states.

"Had it not been for the growth of sustainable agriculture, I would not have been able to encourage anyone to go into agriculture and feel that they can earn a living. What's sustained me are the stories of farmers who succeed through their sheer determination to work hard and try something else until they get the right mix. It has strengthened my resolve that you can be a small farmer in the 21st century if your production system keeps people healthy."

INCREDIBLE SHRINKING FARMER Between 1920 and 2002, the number of African American-operated farms shrank by 97 percent, from about 950,000 to 29,000. In the same period, the number of white-owned farms declined by 62 percent.

ON THE WEB Visit the Land Loss Prevention Project at landloss.org. To download a congressional report on USDA discrimination against black farmers, go to tinyurl.com/3qxbtx.

Photo by Tony Pearce; used with permission.

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