A cultural history of a controversial fruit

In FERN's latest story, produced in partnership with Switchyard magazine as part of a special food issue, Jori Lewis explores the complicated racial history of the watermelon in America, using her own life as the critical lens.

States underfunding Black land-grant colleges, say Vilsack and Cardona

Two members of the Biden cabinet called on 16 states to provide more equitable funding to the historically Black land-grant universities that were established under the so-called Second Morrill Act of 1890. "The longstanding and ongoing under-investment...disadvantages the students, faculty, and community" surrounding the schools, wrote Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in letters to each of the governors.

White House creates Office of Environmental Justice

On Earth Day, President Biden signed an executive order making environmental justice — the fair treatment of all people in the development and enforcement of environmental policies — part of the everyday work of federal agencies.

USDA Equity Commission task: ‘Prevent wrongs in the future’

After referring to USDA's self-admitted history of racial discrimination, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said a 15-member Equity Commission would try "to prevent wrongs in the future." The commission met for the first time on Monday, the final day of Black History Month.

Scholar describes how high-end restaurants are riven with race and class divisions

When Eli Revelle Yano Wilson applied for a job as a server at a white-tablecloth restaurant in Los Angeles, management had plenty of questions for him. “Name three brands of IPA,” he remembers them asking. “How would you explain béarnaise sauce to a customer?” At a webinar hosted Wednesday by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor & Employment, Wilson, now a sociology professor, confessed to the audience, “I still don’t really understand what béarnaise sauce is.“

Biden to sign bill with $4 billion in debt relief for minority farmers

With Republicans complaining of discrimination against white farmers, the House passed a coronavirus bill on Wednesday that would provide an estimated $4 billion in debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers.

Few farm groups speak out on George Floyd’s death or protests that followed

The National Farmers Union was the first major farm group to call for racial justice following the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day. A handful of groups said this week that they stand in solidarity with protests nationwide against racism and inequality that were sparked by Floyd's death. (No paywall)

Senate to vote on funding for ‘heirs property’ initiative

The 2018 farm bill included a provision to make it easier for farmers operating on so-called heirs property — land that passed from one generation of a family to another without a clear title — to obtain a USDA farm number and thus gain access to a multitude of government programs. The Senate is scheduled to vote this afternoon on an amendment by Alabama Sen. Doug Jones to provide $5 million for a re-lending program that would be a step toward resolving ownership issues.

Food access in D.C.: Q&A with Ashanté Reese

In her new book, “Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C.,” Ashanté M. Reese, an assistant professor of anthropology at Spelman College, uses Deanwood, a predominately black neighborhood in D.C., as a lens to examine the broader obstacles to food access and opportunity facing black communities as well as how a narrative of self-reliance has both boosted and hindered fundamental changes in the food system.(No paywall)

CAP report highlights inequities for black farmers

Since the end of Reconstruction, following the Civil War, many black farmers have felt the twin pressures of hardship and neglect, reinforced by systematic discrimination from government agencies and financial institutions. The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy institute, issued a recent report advocating for policy changes to correct those inequities, many of which it says remain today. (No paywall)

Q&A with Monica White: Black farmers’ role in the struggle for civil rights

In Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement, Monica M. White, assistant professor of environmental justice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, traces the history of black land-based social movements from the time of slavery to today’s urban gardens in Rust Belt cities. (No paywall)

Leah Penniman on her new book, ‘Farming While Black’

Leah Penniman is co-director and program manager of the 72-acre Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, New York, which is dedicated to training a new generation of black, brown, and indigenous farmers while working to dismantle racism and injustice in the food system. Her new book, “Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land,” is a first-of-its-kind guide for farmers of color. (No paywall)

California bill would protect ‘socially disadvantaged’ farmers

A new bill in California aims to better support the state’s minority and female farmers. The Farmer Equity Act of 2017 “applies to producers that have been federally classified as ‘socially disadvantaged,’ which includes people in groups whose members have been subject to racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice,” says Civil Eats.

Study: Rural America helps poor kids earn more money later in life

Poor children growing up in three out of four rural counties — especially in the Great Plains — are more likely to earn more than the national average by the age of 26 than their counterparts in cities, says a national study by Stanford economist Raj Chetty. Just 29 percent of kids in densely populated urban centers earn more than the national average as adults.

USDA nominee Clovis blogged about ‘race traders’ and called Obama a ‘Maoist’

President Trump’s nominee for USDA chief scientist described black leaders as “race traders” and called President Obama a “Maoist” in blogs produced a few years ago in conjunction with a radio talk show aimed at conservatives, said CNN. Clovis was co-chair of Trump’s presidential campaign, Trump’s liaison with farm groups and, since January, the White House’s chief political operative at USDA.

Burger joint serving food desert earns L.A. Times’ Restaurant of the Year

The L.A. Times has named its first-ever Restaurant of the Year, but it didn’t go to the usual high-end suspects. Instead Locol — a burger restaurant started by renowned chefs to serve customers in Watts, where unemployment and gang violence are rampant — is the winner.

Japanese-American farmers remember WWII incarceration camps

In FERN’s latest story, with KQED’s California Report, reporter Lisa Morehouse returned with some of the survivors of Japanese-American internment camps and their relatives to the Lake Tule camp in Northern California, where 15,000 Japanese-Americans, many of them farmers, were forced to grow food for the U.S. government. Understandably, many Japanese-Americans were deeply troubled by President Trump’s announcements of a refugee ban and suggestion of a Muslim registry.

Silicon Valley tech leaders assess the future of food at FERN event

Whether it's paleo meal kits or pea-based condiments, some of the country’s leading food-tech entrepreneurs and investors shared their thoughts on the future of sustainable food at FERN Talk & Eats in Silicon Valley.