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Results of congressional ag education efforts mixed

The boy in this 1937 photograph likely no longer has family on the land.
The boy in this 1937 photograph likely no longer has family on the land.
Louise Boyle

During the second half of the nineteenth century, through the early years of the 20th century, Congress took several steps to fund agricultural education. The 1862 Morrill Act was the beginning of public support of agricultural education. The 1887 Hatch Act and 1890 Morrill Act followed.

The 1887 Hatch Act funded an agricultural experiment station in each state, where research was conducted on various agricultural issues, with an eye toward problem-solving. The second Morrill Act funded additional land-grant colleges to provide opportunities for Black farmers. Lastly, the 1914 Smith Lever Act created cooperative extension, in part a means of delivering the results of this research to farmers where they lived and worked. We've covered the two Morrill Acts previously, and will talk about cooperative extension in a future article. Today, a snapshot (both literally and figuratively) of where we stand on some of these issues now.

Last week, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy released Justice and Health: Missing Ingredients in the U.S. Food System, an interactive look at the U. S. food system, where they highlight the injustice in the distribution of money resources currently involved in food production. In particular, the federal government has settled lawsuits over systemic discrimination against minority and women farmers. One result of this discrimination is that Black-cultivated farms declined from 16 million acres in 1920 to 3 million today. Black farmers themselves declined from fourteen percent of the total to one per cent today.

Additional points of interest include a book published by the University Press of Kentucky. For "Black Farmers in America", photographer John Francis Ficara spent four years photographing Black farmers throughout America. Author and Fox News correspondent Juan Williams wrote the text that accompanies these photos. Also, in an interview published today, Juan Williams exhibits his penchant for independent thought on today's political issues.

In a more positive development, students at Big 10 universities are forming the Big 10 Real Food Challenge Leadership Team, an endeavor to bring sustainable food to campus dining at the Big 10. According to a summary published by the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, "Leadership Team members will have the unique opportunity to make a big impact on the food system by working to leverage the purchasing power of Big Ten universities. The Real Food Challenge leverages the power of youth and universities to create a healthy, fair, and green food system by shifting university food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food and towards local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane food sources." Eight of the twelve Big 10 schools, as well as incoming universities Rutgers and Maryland, are land-grant colleges.