The historic institutional racism that Black farmers face, particularly from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, still persists.
Iberia Parish lies on the southern coast of Louisiana and wraps around the Gulf of Mexico, creating a tropical environment of humid air, zig-zagging bayous and wet, pliable land — perfect conditions for sugar cane.
Here, Eddie Lewis III, a Black man and a fifth-generation sugar cane grower, can be found diligently tending to nearly 2,000 acres of crop.
“I’ve carried on the same traditions as my great-great-grandfather, my grandfather and also my father,” Lewis said.
But the amount of land his family is leasing is shrinking. Lewis said his family once farmed nearly 4,000 acres of leased land, which is double what he farms now. And he said he’s not the only Black farmer or landowner who has taken a hit in this parish over the last several decades because of what he claims are racist policies.
This region has a long history of slavery and plantations that have served as the backbone of the sugar cane economy. Lewis said his family acquired this land over the last century by creating leases with white property owners and entering into sharecropping contracts
. “We maintain a lot of generational wealth through the leases on the land, we still have those relationships with the landowners,” he said. “With all the new white farmers in the area and the competition, you become automatic bait whenever you’re an African-American farmer in a predominantly white territory or white community.”
Now those leases are vanishing.
Across the country, Black farmers represent only 1.4% of the more than 3 million farmers in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since the 1920s, the number of Black farmers has dropped from nearly a million to around 50,000. Today, they own just around half a percent of the country’s farmland.