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Farmers into Farmworkers

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Rudy Arredondo has been the president of the National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association since he founded the organization in 1997. Arredondo served in the U.S. Department of Agriculture under both the Carter and Clinton Administrations and has long experience dealing with congressional leaders on farm issues. His organization is currently working to change US national agricultural policies to address the needs of farmers and ranchers of color.

What percent of Latino farmers and ranchers do Méxicanos make up? According to agricultural census figures, of the 100,000 Latino farmers and ranchers, 90 percent are of Mexican descent. Their farms today can be as small as a quarter of an acre.  
How did Mexicans lose their land after annexation? Murder was one way. The Texas rangers shot Mexicano farmers for target practice. Language was weaponized too. Documents were in English only, so farmers lost land when they were fooled into signing. In México, women could own property, not so in the US. Mexican women who married Anglos lost all title.     
The US Department of Agriculture was set up to help farmers. Black farmers have won a landmark discrimination suit against the department. How have Latino farmers fared under the USDA?  The attitude of the USDA to Latinos has been, “You’re not a farmer, you’re a farmworker!” One example: Access to loans. This access means more to farmers than people in most any other business. You need timely credit with fair terms to purchase equipment, seeds, livestock, and feed. Under the USDA, we’ve seen outright discrimination in who gets loans. We’ve seen payments to farmers of color delayed until the planting season had already begun. The money arrived too late to be of use. A congressional report in 1990 called the USDA’s discriminatory practices a “catalyst in the decline in minority farming.” Black farmers won a class action suit in Pigford in 1999A billion dollars has been paid out. Latinos filed a similar case in Garcia. It was denied as a class action, but the USDA has promised that it would give Latinos some relief some way some day. We’ll see. Given their similar treatment, Black and Latino farmers often advocate together. 
Do Latino farmers use the same farming techniques as those used by white-owned agribusinesses? No. Farming is in our DNA, and we use methods tried and true for centuries. Our methods do not rely on chemicals and do not exhaust the soil through mono-cropping. In other words, we don’t gear up for short-term profit over the long-term health of the land. 
Your advocacy has won some victories when the federal farm bill gets re-negotiated every five years.
Yes, we’ve made gains since 2008. If you’re from another country, you want certain foods —  like jicama and chayote —  to be able to prepare your native dishes. But you’ll often only find these foods available at local farmers’ markets. We won the right for low-income folks to use food stamps at those markets. To stop discrimination, we also succeeded in creating an assistant secretary for civil rights position in the USDA. And we’ve established a grant program for small producers who have historically faced discrimination.
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In 2014, we got industrial hemp legalized. Chemical fertilizers and pest control products have contaminated a lot of soil with toxins. Hemp can cure the soil. Some of our farmers are now also working in the new CBD industry. Advocacy opened up these new opportunities. 
What’s your view of the Biden administration and the proposed Farm Modernization Act? Do you have hope for real change? Biden’s choice for head of the USDA, Tom Vilsack, was once named Monsanto’s “Man of the Year.” We call him “Mr. Monsanto.” It’s now well known that Roundup, Monsanto’s weed killer, causes cancer. Monsanto products have cost farmers and farmworkers their health and lives, their harvests, and their farms, and run-off has contaminated nearby water sources affecting whole communities. The Farm Modernization Act allows immigrant farmworkers to come only as H2-A temporary workers. Small farmers can’t use the H2-A program even if they wanted to. Meeting its requirements simply cost too much.  We have faith in the of millions of small farmers, landless people, migrants, and agricultural workers worldwide who have now become an organized force through the Via Campesina movement. We defend peasant agriculture for food sovereignty and oppose corporate-driven agriculture.  Who produces our food? How do they do that producing — and for whom? The answers to these social questions will determine the future of our people and planet.

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