MJBizMag August 2020 - 10

FiveQuestions | Angela Dawson
Reviving Black-Owned Farms
As minority proprietorship hits historic lows, the CEO of 40 Acre Co-Op
says hemp could be part of the solution
By Kristen Nichols
S
ystemic racism in the United
States has long held back
entrepreneurs from socially
disadvantaged groups. And for
farmers of color, prospects in the
agriculture sector got worse-not
better-through the 20th century, even
as the civil-rights movement opened
opportunities in other sectors.
That's why Angela Dawson of
Minnesota left a career in food writing
and marketing to start a farming
cooperative.
Farming co-ops were once common
across the United States as farmers
pooled resources to acquire land and
equipment. In the Black community, co-ops were a way out
of sharecropping and tenant-farming agreements that left
them mired in poverty.
But throughout the 20th century, racist policies at the
U.S. Department of Agriculture shut out minority-run
cooperatives from accessing government assistance.
Recent changes to USDA policies aim to address historic
disadvantages for farmers left behind, but farmers of color
haven't caught up. Black farmers now comprise less of the
population than ever before in American history.
Marijuana Business Magazine asked Dawson why
she believes hemp could help reverse the decline in
Black farmers.
What's a farming co-op, and why did you start one
for hemp?
The co-op model is a way to distribute responsibility and
ownership to people who are most impacted by whatever
the cooperative is producing.
The co-op model in general has so many flexible
applications to so many different business types. A mobilehome
park can be a co-op. An apartment building can be a
co-op. A grocery store can be a co-op. It works really well for
our business model to achieve economies of scale within
our membership base.
Our members have some ownership and some
responsibility and some financial participation within the
cooperative structure. We chose that model because of
8 Marijuana Business Magazine | August 2020
Angela Dawson Courtesy Photo
the issues with distributing economic
resources, especially for socially
disadvantaged farmers in agriculture.
There's a pretty complicated
history-especially between Black farmers
and socially disadvantaged farmers-with
the USDA when it comes to the
distribution of agricultural resources.
This is the first Black-owned
farming co-op in this country since
the Reconstruction. Why did they
go away?
It's been 150 years since people have
thought about addressing some very
urgent needs, especially as it relates to
the food system and as it relates to the environment. It's a
big deal because back at the turn of the 19th century, (coop
farming) was actually a model that was used to facilitate
a lot of economic development in the United States,
especially in the South.
But entering the 1900s, there was a lot of pressure on
the co-ops-especially any that were organizing for Black
farmers. Oppressive outsiders just didn't like the co-ops
being used in that way.
There was systemic exclusion of Black farmers from
USDA programs and in some cases oppression of Black
farmers, which made it financially unviable for Black
farmers to operate in agriculture. So that was one
significant driver.
And you had a lot of people leaving rural areas and
leaving farms for urban jobs.
That combination of the intentional exclusion and the
withholding of financial and technical resources for Black
farmers just made it a really painful career choice. You really
had to have either some outside resources or an extra set of
energy to operate as a Black farmer without any resources.
The USDA now sets aside money and assistance for
socially disadvantaged farmers, and the 2018 Farm
Bill boosted those programs quite a bit. What's the
role of the private sector here?
I'm really excited about the 2018 Farm Bill. It has really
made a lot of changes that I wasn't even expecting in this

MJBizMag August 2020

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