As the nation celebrates the long awaited approval of funds to settle Pigford II, we have to stop and ask, what happens next? Does this truly make an impact on the state of Black agriculture and Black farmers in the present and future?

I find that in my day to day activities and talking to people, some folks forget or don’t know that Pigford II is to right the wrongs of the past, by paying dues to Black farmers who were discriminated against who filed after the Pigford I case. These are claims from 1981 to 1996, almost 30 years ago.

I also notice people don’t know the state of Black farmers today. They don’t know that the average age of a Black farmer is 60-63 years old.

We heard it reported how many of those claimants who have waited for Pigford II to pass have died waiting. So what does this mean? It means a lot of the Pigford payees will be the children of those who originally filed claims.

These are the children who grew up and have had to see what the government systematically did to their parents, their farm, their land, their heritage.
Now these children – adults are now considered Black land owners, and want nothing to do with being farmers. Nothing because they saw their parents make an average of $22,000 a year when other farmers of other races make well over $100,000 a year growing the same things.

Who would want to continue a cycle of suffering?

Where does that leave the state of Black agriculture and Black farmers?
Today, Black farmers are almost 1 percent of all U.S. farmers and declining, every day. With numbers that low we have two options – extinction or revival.
I vote revival.

We have no time to celebrate long; now is where the gravel meets the road and we need to get to work.

Will Pigford II money revitalize Black agriculture? Not if we do the exact same thing we have done over the last 30 years – fighting past discrimination. We must also look to the future.

I was once told by a farmer, “Dirt and money don’t put seeds in the ground, and seeds in the ground don’t pay the bills.” I understand that now. We can’t expect that if you have some money and land that you are going to get back into farming. And, if you do get back into farming, just growing things will not pay your bills. You have to sell your goods to make money.

Let’s get the children and heirs with cash infusions to look broadly at agriculture, their land, and their heritage as something to hold on to and fight for. Give them the tools to see agriculture as a business and a legacy.

Give them the tools to run their farm as a business, tools that do not stop when the food is grown or extend to farmers’ markets. Let’s teach our farmers distribution, marketing, packaging, post-harvest practice, co-operative buying and selling, business taxes, business planning, and the list could go on, along with farmers’ markets.

Let’s use Pigford as a rallying cry to increase the profit-making of practicing farmers, while creating new Black farmers and giving them the tools to become producers, sustainable and profitable.

Let’s educate more young people on the history of Black agriculture and Black farmers before and after slavery.

Let’s teach young Black children that agriculture is the foundation to all things—there is no culture without agriculture.

We can teach them that farming is not just putting seeds in the ground; it’s not just harvesting it. It’s inclusive of everything in the food supply chain and that everything around them comes from some source of farming – it has either been grown or mined – all within agriculture.

This not an urban vs. rural farming situation; it’s an everyone-everywhere situation.
Pigford told us of the past. Now we look to the future and make sure that Black Farmers don’t become extinct. We need to make sure that our farmers have the support, tools, customers, and know-how to make farming and agricultural related activities a thriving business that anyone would want to go into, because it’s ours.
We need to make Black farmers the now and the future. We need to make sure we make practicing farmers profitable and their farmer thriving, and create new farmers at the same time. However we need to act now. We are quickly running out of time. If the average age is 60, how many more years do we have for them to be farming—three years, five years, 10 at the max? So in 10 years we could run out of Black farmers.

If we stand by idly as spectators and allow that to happen, then the people who caused the reason for Pigford just won. And I am no spectator!

So all hands on deck. Do you have time to volunteer to pick some crops? Do you have time to help fill out a marketing plan? Do you have time to help with packaging, or transportation or to sit in at a farmers’ market for a farmer? Do you have land that you don’t use? Do you eat every day?

If you said yes then you can help save Black farmers!

Will you join me?

Tanikka Cunningham is the executive director of Healthy Solutions a national grassroots nonprofit organization and has been working to assist Black farmers to become profitable by distributing their goods through multiple distribution systems, while insuring that people of color have access to healthy and affordable foods for over 9 years now.