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Continuing the legacy: Farmers face land succession challenges

Farmers Glenn Morris (left) and Norman Greer sit on a roadside produce stand. The two are classmates from Lyles Station and both still farm generational land.
Farmers Glenn Morris (left) and Norman Greer sit on a roadside produce stand. The two are classmates from Lyles Station and both still farm generational land.

LYLES STATION, Ind. — African American farm families often face unique challenges when transferring land from generation to generation.

Denise Greer Jamerson, manager at Legacy Taste of the Garden, shared her family’s story during a webinar hosted by AgrAbility.

“My father was recognized as the last remaining African American farmer in the United States still farming land that his family has owned pre-Civil War,” she said. “Land ownership is everything. The land that my dad farms for the family has been in the family since early 1855.

“We’re in the transitional period to the next generation of farmer. There’s questions that need to be answered in order to maintain the property, keep the property and help the legacy to continue.”

The Greer family farm is based in the rich soils of Lyles Station, near Princeton. The community was part of the early settlements of free African Americans in the upper South.

Like many families in the area, they have heirs’ property, a form of ownership that’s similar to owning a stock in a company.

The land is owned in common by all heirs, whether they live on the land or pay taxes.

Without a clear title or will, farmlands become vulnerable to laws that allow others to acquire their property.

Preparing For The Future

Greer’s father has nurtured the land for decades.

Now, she said, it’s time to nurture him and his legacy.

After taking a class though Purdue Extension, Greer Jamerson realized that there are many steps to take to keep the family farm alive.

“The average black farmer is around 60 or older,” she said. “It’s very important to know how to transition.”

The farm family needs to understand their liability issues, have proper farm documentation, and understand the contracts and equipment.

“Start finding out what your state laws are,” Greer Jamerson advised. “In Indiana, if we don’t decide what happens at my father’s death, the state will.

“You can do a will, you can do a trust. You should start looking at some of these things. Prepare to have things organized. Little things, like where the keys to the combine and tractor are.”

A Look In The Past

John Jamerson, founder and project manager Legacy Taste of the Garden, said it’s important to understand the roots of land succession issues among African American farmers.

“Black farmers were a million strong up until 1910,” he said. “However, there are less than 40,000 today. We had amassed over 16 million acres of farmland, and we’re well beneath that now. We’ve lost quite a bit of farmland.”

Black farmers experienced New Deal and U.S. Department of Agriculture discriminatory practices dating from the 1930s to 1950s. The era included exclusion from legal, title and loan resources.

“We’re thankful to the USDA,” Jamerson said. “Today they’re trying to correct a lot of the things and issues that have gone wrong in the past. That’s what the 2501 grant is, trying to correct those systematic issues by partnering with us and working with other groups.

“It is an uphill battle. After the decline, in the past ten years, we’re starting to see the number of farmers are coming back. However, the amount of land is not increasing with that.”

The USDA 2501 program provides federal grants to assist organizations that work with farmers of color and military veterans in owning and operating successful farms.

Learn more about AgrAbility at www.agrability.org.

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