Black-owned farms are disappearing. One Alachua County man is fighting to preserve what’s left

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently directed $2.2 billion to compensate farmers for historic lending discrimination. The lack of credit access caused the loss of Black-run farms nationwide. The number of Black farm operators dwindled from almost one million in 1900 to less than 50,000 today.

Listen below as WUFT’s Report for America Corps Member Katie Hyson tells the story of John “Ronnie” Nix, a 69-year-old farmer in eastern Alachua County who is working to save the Black farms that are left and hold onto his own.

To Nix, it’s about more than just economics or food. It’s about Black independence.

John “Ronnie” Nix farms in Rochelle, a historic community in eastern Alachua County. (Katie Hyson/WUFT News)

His grandparents started the farm he now runs. His great-grandparents were enslaved here. Katie Hyson/WUFT News)

Like most Black farms in the U.S., Nix’s farm used to be much larger. Over two thousand acres of crops and livestock is now just a few dozen cattle. (Katie Hyson/WUFT News)

Above, Nix holds seeder plates for a horse-drawn planter, which he still keeps in a 1901 building on his farm. When the industry became mechanized, white farmers took out loans for things like tractors and irrigation, but Black farmers often couldn’t. The USDA discriminated against Black farmers in their lending. Without access to credit, they couldn’t afford to compete. Today, Black farms in the U.S. are about 50 times less profitable on average than white farms. (Katie Hyson/WUFT News)

Nix is trying to solve the puzzle of making the farm profitable again, something he says is necessary to get the next generation of Black farmers interested. His grandson, Keilyn Fuller, intends to take over the farm. Nix says Fuller is rare – most younger Black people associate farming with slavery and aren’t interested in the work. (Courtesy of John Nix)

Fuller, 21, says people usually don’t recognize him as a farmer. He’s used to being underestimated in agriculture spaces. Along with making his family farm thrive again, he hopes to show his peers that “this field is also for Black people.” (Katie Hyson/WUFT News)

Nix says the association with slavery ignores the other role of farming in Black history. Land ownership and growing their own food, he says, was the foundation for Black people gaining their independence. “And they sacrificed so much for that . . . I think it’s important for Black people in general, Black farms, to try to hold onto that.” (Katie Hyson/WUFT News)

About Katie Hyson

Katie Hyson is a Report for America Corps Member at WUFT News covering racial and rural inequities in East Gainesville and north central Florida. She can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org. Click here to learn how you can support her reporting.

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