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Kentucky Black Agribusiness Group Receives Large Donation For High Tunnels, Education Efforts

Black Soil.jpg
Courtesy Farm Credit Mid-America
Black Soil Kentucky Co-founder Ashley Smith speaking at Thursday's announcement.

An agribusiness organization seeking to reconnect Black Kentuckians to farming and locally-grown food is receiving a six-figure donation to build dozens of community high-tunnels in three cities and create starter kits for beginning gardeners.

Louisville-based lender Farm Credit Mid-America announced Thursday it will give $200,000 dollars over four years to Black Soil Kentucky: Our Better Nature to support diversity and education efforts in farming.

The funding will build 48 high-tunnels -- in partnership with Grow Appalachia and Seedleaf -- in West Louisville, Lexington, and Hopkinsville that will help new and beginning farmers and bring more specialty crops into local communities. High-tunnels are covered structures that can help extend the growing season for some crops by containing heat on smaller amounts of land.

The funding will also help create hundreds of “Grow Kits” sent annually to high school and middle school students that’ll let families start their own gardens. These “Grow Kits” will be accompanied with virtual learning sessions featuring Black farmers to provide information about career exploration and how to finance a farm operation.

“Diversity is needed not only socially, but it is critical to the application of agriculture,” said Black Soil Kentucky Co-founder Ashley Smith in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be able to partner with Farm Credit Mid-America to advance our cause in fostering a greater market share for black farmers and producers across the Commonwealth.”

This donation comes amid efforts in other states and at the federal level to address centuries of discrimination against disadvantaged farmers of color. The U.S. Department of Agriculture last month said thousands of Black farmers across the country could begin to see thousands of dollars in loan relief in June, as a part of $4 billion set aside in the American Rescue Plan Act of loan relief for disadvantaged farmers.

Mark Barker, a senior vice-president of lending with Farm Credit Mid-America, said there’s opportunity around the increased awareness of diversity in agriculture. He said he hopes these efforts can be a part of building the next generation of farmers in the state.

“We also know that we can have agriculture that can take place in neighborhoods around Louisville,” Barker said. “What that takes is people to step in to offer expertise, assistance to get these things started.”

In 2017, Black farmers made up 1.4% of the country’s 3.4 million producers, according to USDA statistics. In that same census survey, less than half of one percent of Kentucky farmers surveyed were Black.

Lexington-based Black Soil Kentucky hosts farm tours and has supported dozens of Black farmers and food entrepreneurs throughout the state since the organization’s founding in 2017.