Warming up!

Warming up!

This past Winter Market was another great success! On a rainy Saturday morning, vendors began lining up as market staff and volunteers helped load their wares into Ciclops Cyderi and Brewery. Making light work of the crates, tables, and tents, the February Market kicked off without a hitch.

I wanted to point out some trends I see arising at the Winter Markets, perhaps a result of people being cooped up too long for the winter. One I’ve observed is the tomfoolery of Mr. John Mark, the proprietor of Full Circle Farm (FCF).

Like clockwork, FCF sells out of produce within an hour and a half of the market opening. Then, left to fill the remaining hours, John Mark engages in various hyjinks with the other vendors, or, as he did this past Saturday, stood outside in the rain. Throwing his head back, Crocodile-Dundee hat off, smiling widely, noted “This is perfect weather, I want to go home and get on the tractor!”

We at the Market take pride in keeping our vendors happy, so it is great to see that they can have fun after a successful morning of sales. Winter is lean times for many in the agriculture business, so rays of joy are welcomed at a time when the belt gets tightened.

Reality is that farming is one of the most challenging ways to earn a living.

Reflecting on February, which was Black History Month, I wanted to discuss the trials faced by many farmers in the United States. I wanted to speak on programs that were designed to offer farmers relief in their time of need.

But what happens if help never comes?

This was the situation for many farmers during the 1980’s, when farm loan reforms and interest rate hikes took black farmers out at the knees.

Problems often arose when applying for assistance through local USDA committees, the decision making body at the time. Mired with backlogged records as a result of the USDA Civil Rights office closure in 1983, it made it almost impossible to get fair and timely treatment as a black farmer.

Widespread practices of discrimination in loan distribution, debt restructuring, and subsidization characterized the 1980’s and 1990’s. These issues resulted in a class action lawsuit by black farmers in 1997, coined Pigford v. Glickman.

During the time period described above, one of our own vendors experienced financial hardship as a result of discrimination.

Mr. Jackson, owner of Jackson Farms II, had to sell his farm in the mid 1980’s. As I spoke briefly with him at our last market, he wanted to be clear that no farmers were without struggles at that time. He, along with many others had trouble keeping their heads above water in the wake of economic reforms during the 1980’s.

To settle his debts, Mr. Jackson sold his Spartanburg County farm, moving to Connecticut to manage a farm there. While residing up north he was contacted by other plaintiffs in the Pigford v. Glickman case who wanted to ensure fair settlement for all affected.

He remembers meeting with other farmers in Virginia, working through the details of this class action suit. With the help of lawyers, he and many other farmers were able to stake their claims, presenting strong evidence that they had been discriminated against.

Eventually, he would return to South Carolina.

The reparations made as a result of Pigford v. Glickman paled in comparison to with what the farmers lost. In the case of Mr. Jackson, the farm he sold was worth $2.5 million, and his settlement totaled only $160,000.

By the end of it, the government allocated $1.6 billion, making reparations to 22,721 eligible class members. Victims were restored in one of two ways: some were provided a lump sum of $50,000, while others received tailored relief based on evidence of discrimination provided to the court.

Black History Month speaks to the progress of civil rights, though many strides that occur are long overdue. In the case of black farmers in America, Pigford v. Glickman serves as a benchmark for fair treatment, and has been used as a precedent in other cases of discrimination in the agriculture industry.

I hope you enjoyed the Winter Markets as much as I have, please be sure to make it to our last one on March 17, at 197 E. St John Street. The following weekend begins our weekly markets that run through December!