Latina Lista: News from the Latinx perspective > Palabra Final > Economy > Hispanic farmers struggling to survive against USDA-sanctioned discrimination and institutionalized racism

Hispanic farmers struggling to survive against USDA-sanctioned discrimination and institutionalized racism

LatinaLista — The life of a farmer has always been known to be a hard life. Throw in global warming, drought and a poor economy and a farmer’s life can teeter on financial ruin — if it weren’t for special farm credit and non-credit farm benefit programs to help farmers during rough times.

New Mexico farmer David Flores
Yet, it seems that not even those financial aid programs help farmers who are Latino.
Garcia v. Vilsack, C.A. No. 00:2445, is currently pending in the district court for the District of Columbia. A group of Hispanic farmers filed their lawsuit in 2000 against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for discriminating against Hispanic farmers and ranchers in how the USDA administers their farm credit and non-credit farm benefit programs. Farmers say the discrimination has gone back as far as 1981.
The ironic sidebar to this lawsuit is that black farmers, who filed an identical class action lawsuit in 1997, have so far received $2.25 billion — that includes a recent proposed appropriation of $1.25 billion by the White House.
However, Hispanic farmers still wait for some financial relief. Some just couldn’t wait any longer. These farmers have either been forced out of business, lost their farms to foreclosure or simply gave up.

What makes this case noteworthy are several facts about it:

Hispanic farmers question why they have been required to prove more than their black and Native American counterparts in order to have a class certified. Their case has languished for nearly nine years in the judicial system while an identical case has proceeded to a successful resolution.
In this punishing economy, farmers, as all small businessmen, must plan and capitalize their businesses carefully and frugally. Loan programs are an integral part of their planning cycle. Historically farmers, as other small businesses looking to prepare or purchase inventory, borrow money to buy raw materials (in this case seed and other equipment and services), use that material to produce inventory, sell their inventory and repay loans. Every element of that cycle is interdependent and critical for success. Without these USDA loans, Hispanic farmers are deprived of the vital funding needed to run their farms.
A judge has refused to certify classes in the Hispanic Farmers and Women Farmers cases despite the fact that two of his colleagues in the same courthouse have certified classes in both the Black Farmers and the Native American Farmers cases – cases that are virtually identical to the Hispanic and Women Farmers’ cases down to the exact wording of the complaints.

At a recent public hearing between El Paso, Texas farmers and ranchers with the federal government, an invited local TV broadcaster, invited by the farmers to cover the meeting, was ejected from the meeting by the new Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights for the Department of Agriculture — Joe Leonard.
While one print reporter was finally allowed to cover the meeting, it seems federal officials didn’t want anything recorded. It would be hard to explain to President Obama what one longtime Latino farmer had to say at that meeting:

Alfredo Alvarez Contreras, a local cotton farmer, told Leonard inside the closed door meeting how the Department of Agriculture admittedly discriminated against him and his farming colleagues for years.
Speaking in Spanish, Contreras said, “We’re all suffering because, you know, we’re asking help from friends – lend me a tractor-trailer. We don’t have money and nobody is lending to us because of this pending litigation.”

New Mexico farm that farmer David Flores was denied by the USDA in favor of a white farmer who only wanted the land to sell the water rights to the state.
And yet, when the federal government does say they will lend money, they suddenly change their minds.

David Flores is a third generation Hispanic farmer from Hagerman, New Mexico. He was born and raised on his family’s farm. In 1989 he saw an advertisement for a USDA inventory farm for sale to socially disadvantaged farmers. When he applied to purchase the farm he was told by the County Supervisor that because it was “late” in the season, he should lease the farm for the remainder of the year and purchase it in January 1990.
He used his money and the help from his family to get the farm in working order and produce a crop. During his lease the new USDA County Supervisor told him the USDA would not be honoring his lease/buy agreement and it would be reclassified so anyone could buy it. He would need to move off farm at end of lease.
His white neighbor told him the County Supervisor’s assistant had told him to bid on the farm he was leasing and even told him that the USDA would assist in the purchase. To make a long story short, after the local USDA Farmers Home Administration County Committee awarded him the right to purchase the farm his white neighbor appealed the decision and after numerous appeals; the USDA awarded him the farm.
The stated reason for the ultimate decision to award him the farm was his alleged greater need for the farm’s barn to support his ongoing farming operations on his neighboring farm. After buying the farm from the USDA, the neighbor never did farm it and did not use the barn. In fact, he immediately sold the farm’s water rights to the state.
To this day the farm still lies dormant and overgrown.

The case of the Hispanic farmers against the USDA has gone on for long nine years with no effort made to resolve the issue and address these real concerns. These farmers believed in the US judicial system and because of that respect for the law have maintained their silence hoping that one more of their friends isn’t forced out.
But nine years is a long time and patience runs its course. Finally, the farmers are reaching out to tell their story to all who will listen.
Latina Lista listened and we ask:
1. Why does the USDA refuse to grant equal access to Hispanic farmers to their loan program?
2. Why does a federal judge refuse to certify classes in the Hispanic Farmers and Women Farmers cases when similar cases for Native American and black farmers were resolved?

These Hispanic citizens who are trying to carve a working legacy for their own families and are being prevented from doing so by blatant discriminatory practices and attitudes deserve to have their cases resolved quickly.
On top of that, the USDA needs to undergo a thorough review of how they implement policy and ferret out what has obviously become institutionalized racism.
Only then will every farmer, male and female, be treated with the dignity, equality and respect warranted for those who grow this nation’s food.

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  • Karen
    June 10, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Thank you for covering this story. These are the substantial issues that we need more coverage of.
    I do not have any faith that the Obama administration will be any better than the Bush Administration on this issue. People need to call their Congressmen and push for action.
    From what I have observed about Obama since the primaries he seems to have problems in these areas: women’s rights, Mexican-American, rights, and gay rights. Plus he lies. My initial misgivings about him have turned out to be true.
    If the election were held tomorrow, I would vote third party or stay home.

  • cookie
    June 10, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Discrimination against any citizen of any ethnicity is wrong but I would like to know more about this story from the Dept. of Agriculture and their basis for their rulings.
    Also, I couldn’t help but note that Contrares who admitted he is a third generation American citizen was speaking to the Dept. of Agriculture in Spanish. Guess he didn’t assimilate, did he?

  • Horace
    June 11, 2009 at 6:31 am

    “if it weren’t for special farm credit and non-credit farm benefit programs to help farmers during rough times..”
    This is a euphemism for welfare.

  • Marisa Treviño
    June 11, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Yes, since you know that farmers don’t pay back their loans I guess you know best. Worked on any farms lately Horace?

  • Marisa Treviño
    June 11, 2009 at 8:30 am

    Cookie, ContrEras (you misspelled it) lives on the border where his use of Spanish is as natural as his use of English. You’re making a rather “racist” assumption. Care to substantiate it?

  • Marisa Treviño
    June 11, 2009 at 8:33 am

    Karen, Don’t think I would go that far but what is happening to these farmers clearly started long before Obama took office. Obviously, the comfort level that these federal officials feel in knowing they can continually get away with discriminating against certain groups does need to be called out and reviewed.

  • cookie
    June 11, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Marisa, are you saying he doesn’t know how to speak English after being a third generation American? If he is bi-lingual, why would he converse with the Dept. of Agriculture in Spanish? This is just one example of how Hispanics are defiant when it comes to speaking the language of this country. I can give you tons more examples and these Hispanics don’t live near the border.

  • John
    June 11, 2009 at 9:17 am

    There have been numerous Congressional and GAO reports proving that USDA has a long sorted history of discriminating against minority farmers. USDA admitted to this history of discrimination when they released the 1997 CRAT Report. Under the Clinton Administration Black farmers were paid out a Billion dollars in damages for past USDA discrimination. President Obama has just committed to giving Black farmers another 1.25 Billion. Where is the fairness??? Does President Obama honestly believe that only Black farmers were discriminated against? Hispanic farmers have always been treated like second-class citizens, and many of these farmers are responsible for the produce on our tables. President Obama has turned a blind eye to Hispanic farmers. We need to call the White House (202-456-1111)and demand that Hispanic farmers receive the same compensation and remedial relief that have been afforded to Black farmers. There is no place for discrimination, especially in a tax-payer funded agency.

  • Hissy
    June 11, 2009 at 10:58 am

    He probably spoke Spanish because that’s how the Dept. of Agriculture spoke to him. Even the public park signs are in Spanish now.

  • Carlos in DC
    June 11, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Thanks for posting this but please correct this mistake as soon as you can:
    Please stop racist discrimination. Those ARE NOT HISPANIC farmers!
    They are Indigenous, Native Americans. The people that Hispanics tried to exterminate and slave centuries ago.

  • hissy
    June 11, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Some small farmers do have it rough in my area lately. (midwest) Long gone are the fruit/vegetable stands that they would sell food from the farms. WIC gives free milk,butter and of course food stamps pays for groceries. They don’t even sell many fresh eggs anymore because the Dollar General and Family Dollar now accepts WIC for thier eggs and butter! If you don’t believe me…stop in and check it out.

  • Horace
    June 11, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    The government (read taxpayers) is on the hook for these loans, and they are subsidized. We pay if they go into default. Such loans are money that wouldn’t be lent by private lenders because of risk their risk. Regardless of who the borrowers are, be they Hispanic or otherwise, the taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize or lend to private enterprise, period. You ignore this because you know nothing of free enterprise and financial matters.

  • Marisa Treviño
    June 12, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Carlos, they’re identified as Hispanic farmers and while it may be true that they have indigenous blood, I have to go with the official description. Thanks for writing.

  • Marisa Treviño
    June 12, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Cookie, I don’t know the man. What I can tell you definitively is that I don’t know how proficient he is in either English or Spanish and which language he prefers to use. So, if I can’t make that determination, how can you?

  • Arturo
    June 12, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    I assisted the Mexican American Farmers in Texas and New Mexico collect the list of farmers to sue the USDA similiar to the Black Share Crop farms did during the Clinton Administration for not giving the Mexican American Family Farms the same loans to operat their farms and Ranches. Rose Garcia from Tierra del Sol in Las Cruzes New Mexico got us over three hundred Mexican American Farm,s to join the law suite against USDA and Arnoldo Cantu from San Juan Texas asked our non profit to write up their co-op bylaws and collect farmers to join their organization to sue USDA for discrimination. The balck farmers won $40 million dollars in their suit

  • Karen
    June 12, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    I think more Latinos should resgister an independents instead of as Democrats. The Democrats would not be in the White House without our votes, but they seem to think that they can discriminate against us.
    If millions of us became Independents they would have to WORK for our votes, campaign in our communities and listen to our concerns. Right now, they have the attitude that we have nowhere else to go.
    I have just registered as an Independent after 20 years as Democrat.

  • Karen
    June 12, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Here is an article about a similar lawsuit filed by Native American farmers. They are going to trial this fall.
    “BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — An attorney for American Indian farmers suing the government over alleged farm loan discrimination says the group continues to prepare for a trial despite statements by the Obama administration indicating a willingness to resolve such disputes…”

  • humberto zamarripa
    June 16, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Very good information for your readers. This and many other things are happening in the hispanic community. Everyone needs to know about it. Thank you for presenting it. As for Cookie, as far away from topic as you traveled, you obviously do not know anything about Chicanos and you definitely have not traveled to New Mexico. Pobesita. Marisa, don’t even worry about this “individual”. But back to do so much for San Antonio and the area. Vaya

  • Horace
    June 25, 2009 at 10:48 am

    No one to avalailable to pick your vegitables? Maybe they’ll hire some of U.S. citizens that you ethnocentrists claim won’t engage in farm work. Read it a weep.
    This from:
    Read it a weep.
    Farming jobs being picked clean by U.S. residents
    LAFAYETTE – It is hot, there is no shade from the unforgiving Colorado sun, other than the hats that protect their faces.
    Three people are helping Jason Condon and the Isabelle Farm grow organic radishes, lettuce, tomatoes and potatoes for sale mainly here, in Colorado.
    Anne-Marie Cory got this part-time job at the Lafayette farm last year. This is her job away from her other part-time office gig.
    “I have to have my hands in the dirt,” Cory said.
    Cory loves this job, a job that’s becoming increasingly competitive.
    Farmers can use what’s called the H-2A program to recruit foreign workers to do temporary or seasonal work here in the U.S.
    From July to September of 2008, there were 171 H2-A jobs posted. Thirty-nine Americans applied for those positions.
    The very next quarter, in the final three months of 2008, 887 Americans applied for the 981 H-2A available. And as unemployment jumped at the beginning of 2009, so did applications from Americans; 1,799 applied for 726 jobs. That means instead of the jobs being filled by foreign or migrant workers, they are mostly going to U.S. residents.
    “A lot of the American workers are now applying for farm jobs that maybe they may not have applied for in the past,” said Olga Ruiz, state monitor advocate with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. “People who started out in agriculture or even field labor who got out of that field maybe went into construction or other types of work, who maybe got laid off for whatever reason, decided they wanted to go back to farm work, because it’s a paycheck and they need it.”
    Condon posted two farm hand positions on Craigslist in April. He said he had to turn people away. Thirty-eight people applied.
    “We had people with doctorates, we had people with masters degrees we had people with all sorts of different career backgrounds,” he said. “Carpenters, people who’ve worked on farms in other countries, people who have managed museums, all sorts of things you would never suspect you would find on a farm labor application.”
    Condon says it’s great for his small organic farm.
    “Growing food for people is kind of a powerful thing and once you kind of do it, it’s surprisingly addictive,” he said.
    Condon says he’s kept some of those applications for the time he might need extra help.
    Those looking for the available jobs on farms can find listings at their local workforce centers.
    You can learn more about Condon’s farm at or visit the state unemployment Web site at
    (Copyright KUSA*TV, All Rights Reserved)

  • cookie
    June 26, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    You know I am from a small town in the midwest which unbelievably these days is made up of mostly white people. The winters are harsh and the jobs are few so there isn’t a big immigrant draw there. In the summer the local citizens pick rasberries, strawberries and kinds of crops by hand. So anyone who wants to claim that American (especially of the white variety)will not do those jobs is nothing but rubbish. Sure they won’t usually do them full time out west but because it doesn’t pay a livable wage but Americans will do what they have to do.
    I am all for a temporary, seasonal worker’s program to pick up the slack but that can be done through legal immigration and should never be done through illegal immigration.

  • Debbie
    July 9, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    My husband and I were fortunate enough to purchase a cherry fruit orchard. We are in our fifties. Orchard work requires the help of farm workers. Farm workers happen to be primarily people who have come to this country from Mexico. The people work hard, most are treated as second class citizens by the community and live marginally without the benefits of fully participating in the rewards that can come with farming which includes access to fair loans from government agencies. Most just want to raise their families and earn a decent wage. I am highly educated and physically fit. After doing orchard work, I have come to the conclusion that White Americans (I’m one.) cannot and will not climb orchard ladders 10 feet high, load a box with heavy fruit strapped to their shoulders and go up and down the ladder for six hours a day. Historically White Americans did at one time do this hard labor but that is not the reality in our “soft” society. Going to visit a farm and picking a few berries is far different than the tedious labor required using ladders, buckets, day after day, year in and year out. I know farm workers who have done this kind of work for 30 years. We Americans should appreciate the beautiful fruits we see in the market and remember that a “white” guy managed the farm while the farm worker did the back breaking labor. Should this scenario be reversed?

  • Jane
    October 12, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Hello John,
    The whole discrimination practice started way before President Obama. Try calling up your former President Ronald Regan and his buddies. Oh ,I forgot he’s dead.

  • cookie
    October 13, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Debbie, so these are foreigners not authorized to work in this country that you hire? If so, you do know you are breaking the law, don’t you?
    There are many visas available for foreign workers for farm work but go unused. Why? Because certain farmers (is this you Debbie?) find it cheaper to hire unathorized workers. Making higher profits is never an excuse to break the laws of this country. I hope you aren’t doing that as a law abiding citizen.

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