WASHINGTON - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has just announced the appointment of members to the Minority Farmer Advisory Committee to advise him on implementation of outreach and assistance efforts to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. The advisory committee also will promote the participation of minority farmers and ranchers in USDA programs and support civil rights activities with USDA. Appointment of the committee is authorized under the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Farm Bill).
"The Obama Administration is committed to ushering in a new era of civil rights at USDA. This advisory committee will provide guidance that will ensure that all eligible applicants for our programs are served in an equal and fair manner and will enable USDA to enhance opportunities for minority farmers and ranchers," said Vilsack.
Members of the committee are appointed for two year terms by the Secretary. The nominees include socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers; representatives of nonprofit organizations that work with minority farmers and ranchers; civil rights professionals; representatives from institutions of higher learning; and other persons the Secretary deems appropriate.
The following individuals are appointed to the Advisory Committee:
Robert Anderson, Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project, Earlsboro, Okla.
Donna Brew, Farmer/Rancher, Gooding, Idaho
Ben Burkett, Farmer/Rancher, Petal, Miss.
William Buster, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Kalamazoo, Mich.
Jeannie Crittendon, Farmer, Jackson, Mich.
Archie Hart, Farmer, Knight Dale, N.C.
Paula Garcia, New Mexico Acequia Association, Mora, N.M.
Omar Garza, U.S. Mexico Border Coalition, St. Elena, Texas
Dr. Dewayne Goldman, Black Growers Council, Pine Bluff, Ark.
William Hudson, Florida A & M University, Tallahassee, Fla.
Richard Molinar, University of California, Reedley, Calif.
Brian Thomas, Farmer/Rancher, Owyhee, Nev.
Baldemar Velasquez, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Toledo, Ohio
Randall Ware, Farmer/ Rancher, Fort Cobb, Okla.
John Zippert, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Eutaw, Ala.
The Secretary has moved aggressively to improve the civil rights process at USDA and the Department's outreach efforts to socially disadvantaged producers during the last two years. On his first day in office, he hosted a live webcast with employees and communicated his commitment to improving the Department's record on civil rights. Last year, USDA worked with the Department of Justice to enter into a settlement with black farmers known as Pigford II. USDA and the Department of Justice also announced the settlement of a class action lawsuit filed against USDA by Native American farmers (Keepseagle) alleging discrimination by USDA. The settlement, which must receive final approval by a Federal court, ends litigation concerning discrimination complaints from Native Americans generally covering the period 1981-1999. In addition, on February 25, 2011, Vilsack and the Department of Justice announced the establishment of a process to resolve the claims of Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who assert that they were discriminated against when seeking USDA farm loans.
Under Secretary Vilsack's leadership, USDA is addressing civil rights concerns that go back decades, and today's announcement of the appointment of an advisory committee is another step towards acheiving that goal.