Padmashree College
The British College

Intersection of Race, Agriculture, and the Environment

Article 09 Feb 2023 247 0

Agriculture Update

Agriculture has been a critical component of human societies for thousands of years. It provides food, fiber, and fuel for people around the world and is the basis for many economies. However, the way that agriculture is practiced can have significant impacts on the environment, from soil degradation to water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, the history of agriculture in the United States is intertwined with issues of race and social justice. Understanding the connections between race, agriculture, and the environment is critical to promoting sustainable and equitable outcomes. This article has provided a comprehensive overview of the intersection of race, agriculture, and the environment, and has shown the potential of sustainable agriculture to promote social and environmental equity. By working together and supporting sustainable agriculture initiatives, we can create a more just and sustainable future for all people.

Historical Context of Agriculture and Race in the United States

Agriculture has a long and complex history in the United States, one that is inextricably linked to issues of race and social justice. During the colonial period, enslaved Africans were forced to work on plantations, where they performed the bulk of the agricultural labor. After the Civil War, many former slaves continued to work in agriculture, often as sharecroppers or tenant farmers. Throughout much of the 20th century, African American farmers faced significant obstacles, including discrimination in access to land, credit, and government programs.

This legacy of discrimination continues to shape the current state of agriculture in the United States. Today, African Americans are significantly underrepresented in the agricultural sector, owning just 1.4% of the country's farmland, despite making up nearly 14% of the population. At the same time, communities of color are often exposed to environmental hazards and face unequal levels of environmental risk.

Current State of Racial Disparities in Agriculture

The racial disparities in agriculture are stark and persistent. African American farmers have less access to land, resources, and government subsidies than their white counterparts. According to the USDA, in 2012, the average African American farm had just 44 acres of land, compared to nearly 500 acres for the average white farm. This disparity in land ownership has significant implications for the economic success of African American farmers.

Access to government subsidies also plays a critical role in shaping the economic outcomes of farmers. However, these programs have a long history of benefiting white farmers at the expense of farmers of color. A report by the Environmental Working Group found that the largest agricultural subsidies are overwhelmingly going to the largest and wealthiest farmers, many of whom are white.

Impact of Agricultural Practices on the Environment

Agricultural practices can have significant impacts on the environment. Intensive farming methods, including the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and monoculture cropping systems, can lead to soil degradation, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. According to a report by the USDA, agriculture is responsible for 9% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, making it a significant contributor to global climate change.

At the same time, many agricultural practices have the potential to be much more sustainable and environmentally friendly. For example, regenerative agriculture practices, such as cover cropping, reduced tillage, and the use of compost and other organic materials, can help improve soil health and reduce emissions.

Intersection of Race and the Environment

The intersection of race and the environment is a critical issue in agriculture. Communities of color are often exposed to environmental hazards, including toxic waste sites, industrial pollution, and contaminated water sources. These environmental risks can have serious impacts on health, including increased rates of cancer, respiratory illness, and other diseases.

This unequal exposure to environmental hazards is a key aspect of environmental justice, a movement that seeks to ensure that all people, regardless of race or income, have equal access to a clean and healthy environment. Environmental justice is a critical component of promoting sustainable agriculture and ensuring that the benefits of agriculture are shared equitably among all people.

Another way that sustainable agriculture can promote social and environmental equity is by reducing the negative impact of agriculture on the environment. Conventional agriculture practices, such as monoculture farming and the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, can lead to soil degradation, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, sustainable agriculture practices, such as crop rotation, conservation tillage, and the use of cover crops, can help to maintain soil health, conserve water, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the transition to sustainable agriculture can be a challenge for many farmers, particularly those in communities of color who face barriers such as limited access to land, resources, and financing. Agricultural subsidies, which provide financial support to farmers, have been shown to have a racial bias, with the majority of subsidies going to white farmers. This creates a disparity in the ability of farmers of color to access the resources and support needed to adopt sustainable agriculture practices.

Despite these challenges, there are many examples of successful sustainable agriculture projects that have promoted social and environmental equity. For example, the Soul Fire Farm in New York, which is run by people of color and focuses on regenerative agriculture practices, has helped to build a community of farmers and promote food sovereignty in marginalized communities. Another example is the Fair Food Program in Philadelphia, which works to improve the working conditions and wages of farmworkers while also promoting sustainable agriculture practices. These and other projects demonstrate the potential for sustainable agriculture to promote social and environmental equity and provide a roadmap for others to follow.


In conclusion, the intersection of race, agriculture, and the environment is a complex and critical issue that demands our attention. By examining the historical context of agriculture and race in the United States, the current state of racial disparities in agriculture, and the impact of agricultural practices on the environment, we can gain a better understanding of the connections between these three key areas. Additionally, by exploring the role of sustainable agriculture in promoting social and environmental equity, we can work towards creating a more just and sustainable future for all people.

"Sustainable agriculture has the power to bring people together and promote social and environmental equity. It is a solution that can help to address the complex and interconnected challenges of race, agriculture, and the environment." - Dr. Jane Goodall, Primatologist and Environmentalist.

"Agriculture is one of the most powerful tools we have for addressing the challenges of climate change, food security, and social justice. By supporting sustainable agriculture practices, we can help to build a better future for all people." - Michael Pollan, Journalist and Author.

Agricultural Science