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Agriculture and race: Kentucky's dark history

Posted at 7:42 PM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-08 19:46:06-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — As protesters continue to fight for equality for black Americans, some businesses have taken a hard look at how they may be part of the problem.

In an Instagram post, the Lexington Farmer's market said they have "not done enough."

Part of the problem, they say, is that they "have not properly acknowledged" the dark history of the market's downtown location.

The area is called Cheapside and was formerly the site for Lexington's slave trade.

"That was a place where human beings were commoditized for the purpose of agriculture," Trevor Claiborn, the co-founder of the social enterprise, Black Soil: Our Better Nature, said. "The name in itself meant you can get your slaves for cheap on Cheapside."

Claiborn added that the painful history extends far beyond Cheapside to the fields, where slaves were forced to work.

"My ancestors did a lot of free work," Claiborn said. "A lot of blood, sweat, and tears, embarrassment."

That embarrassment, Claiborn said, has lingered throughout the years, discouraging young black Americans to become farmers. Claiborn said he wants to be part of the movement to change that narrative.

"I have a responsibility to make sure that this is part of our culture," Claiborn said. "This is not something to be ashamed of."

He said he believes one of the solutions can be found in educating the younger generation that there are successful black farmers who they can strive to become themselves.

Claiborn referenced an initiative in Georgia that seeks to increase agricultural education opportunities for students, and he said he would like to see similar legislation in Kentucky.

He also seeks legislation that would incentivize landowners to teach and allocate resources to black farmers.

Another way Claiborn seeks to increase representation is through diversifying farmer's markets. He said they are crucial in not only connecting farmers to the community but also allowing them to market themselves to a wider audience.

Black Soil acknowledged that Lexington's Farmer's Market, in particular, has done a good job working with them to increase representation.

Evidence of the lack of representation in agriculture can be found in the USDA's Census of Agriculture.

In 2017, there were only 333 farms fully owned by African Americans in Kentucky compared to about 58,287 fully-owned white farms.

When you control for population, there are nearly 17 times more farms owned by whites than African Americans.

Despite the multitude of challenges black farmers face, in addition to agriculture's dark history, Claiborn said he wants to look ahead.

"It does frustrate me," Claiborn said."It is frustrating and I'm very aware of the reason why it is frustrating, but I come from a place of how can we be constructive."

He said he hopes we can use this time in history take a serious look at how we can move toward equal representation in agriculture to ultimately better all Kentuckians.

"To have a more equitable, just outcome, we need to have a more equitable, just income," Claiborn said. "That includes all hands on deck."