By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
WASHINGTON D.C. — USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award of 70 grants to tribes, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations across the country to conduct training, outreach and technical assistance for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
The goal is to make sure everybody who applies for assistance at the USDA has the opportunity to participate in the programs offered, said Carolyn Parker, director of the Office of Advocacy and Outreach.
By definition, a socially disadvantaged farmer is one who has been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudices because of their identity as a member of a group, without regard to their individual qualities. Those groups include African-Americans, American Indians of Alaskan natives, Hispanics and Asians or Pacific Islanders. They may be farmers, ranchers or forestland owners.
“Those groups include all of those that are in protected classes, but primarily it is to address those that historically have not been able to participate in the programs, whatever the reason,” Parker said.
“The program is open to applicants who show that they have experience in working with socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers prior to submitting applications, and they have to show us they don’t engage in any activities that are prohibited under the Internal Revenue Act.”
The awards are made through the Outreach Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers (OASDFR), formerly known as the “2501 program,” Parker said.
“Nineteen million dollars was authorized as mandatory funding in the 2008 farm bill,” Parker said. “We hope to level the playing field, to ensure that regardless of color, ethnicity or social status, regardless of an external factors, that everybody is able to come to the table and apply for aid and, in many of our programs, funding.
“Although the programs are authorized for everybody, certain groups, for whatever reasons, they just have not historically participated in those programs.” she added. “So here is a program to make sure that every sector of the population is being serviced.”
Grants will enable recipients to work with prospective farmers as they acquire, build and operate farms and ranches, revitalize the rural economy and create new, sustainable economic opportunities in the region and nation.
Ohio received two grants. They were: The Asian Services in Action, Inc. Refugee/Immigrant Agricultural Project of NE Ohio (RAP-NEO), in the amount of $237,542; and the National Network of Forest Practitioners Southern Outreach and Assistance Resources for Forestry Project, for $300,000.