Long before the novel coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. was dealing with a pandemic of systemic racism, as TriplePundit has long reported. By expanding the market for Black farmers, the Hellmann’s Food Relief Fund, launched by the Unilever condiment brand sharing the same name, aims to tackle aspects of both pandemics: the COVID-related hunger crisis and the systemic bias against Black Americans working in agriculture.
The growing hunger crisis in the U.S. (reflecting a global hunger crisis) has been depressingly prominent in the headlines since the pandemic began last March — and it shows no signs of abating. More Americans went hungry in November (nearly 26 million, or 1 in 8 U.S. residents) than at any point during the pandemic, the Washington Post reported. As a result, food banks have seen a 70 percent increase in demand since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, American farmers have been forced to waste millions of pounds of fresh produce due to affected restaurant and food service supply chains, including farmers across Idaho and Montana forced to give away or destroy millions of potatoes. Farmers are desperately trying to find markets for their products — and that is especially true for Black farmers, who have long experienced economic disadvantages and disproportionate access to markets.
Hellmann’s saw a way to address this web of problems in U.S. agriculture with its Food Relief Fund, committing over $1.5 million to help those most in need in New York City, the brand’s birthplace. As part of that initiative, the brand is partnering with community-based organizations and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives to direct funding to the purchase of 200,000 pounds of food from Black farmers to support their businesses.
Overall, Hellmann’s set a goal to rescue more than 1.2 million pounds of food from farms that would otherwise go to waste, and feed more than 230,000 people in need by the end of 2020. In New York alone, an estimated 1.5 million people are now facing food insecurity, and as such Hellmann's program will continue into 2021.
“The goal of the Hellmann’s Food Relief Fund is to not only end food waste, but also tackle food injustice and food system inequities and its disproportionate impact on the Black community,” Ben Crook, senior marketing director for Hellmann’s North America, told TriplePundit.
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives is sourcing excess food from Black farmers and sending it to the East Side House Settlement (ESH), which then distributes the food to New York families in need. Each week, ESH distributes boxes of produce and pantry items for community centers in the South Bronx, as well as to partner pantries and families enrolled in ESH’s public school-based sites. “Currently, we’re helping feed over 5,000 people in need each week,” Daniel Diaz, executive director of the East Side House Settlement, told 3p.
“Through the Hellmann’s Food Relief Fund, our member farmers not only gain access to a larger market, but also have the opportunity to receive fair retail pricing for their produce,” added Chawnn Redden, regional marketing coordinator for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. “This translates to increased revenues that help sustain Black-owned farms, providing resources for necessary infrastructure and even helping save their lands.”
Black landowners have experienced a 90 percent land loss since 1910, and currently Black Americans own just 1 percent of rural land nationwide, Redden said. Further, Black farmers make up only 1.3 percent of all Americans working within agriculture.
Many Black farmers have also been especially hit hard by the pandemic, Redden adds. “In our early COVID-19 assessments, 84 percent of Black farmers reported a decrease in their markets as a result of the pandemic, leading to increased food waste and financial loss. The challenges faced by Black farmers and cooperatives are rooted in well-documented instances of discrimination, inequity and heir’s property issues that lead to land loss.”
Those involved with Hellmann's program are far from the only ones looking at this issue. The newly announced Justice for Black Farmers Act would transfer up to 32 million acres to Black farmers over the next decade. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, the lead sponsor of the bill, said it would enable Black farmers to acquire up to 160 acres apiece at no charge through a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) system of land grants. Under the bill, an Equity Commission would also study the legacy of discrimination at the USDA and suggest reforms that could reach the farmer-elected county committees that help guide operations at local USDA offices. An independent board would hear appeals of civil rights complaints decided by USDA officials.
If moved forward, the legislation could help begin to address racial disparities in U.S. agriculture in which both the government and the private sector will have a decisive role to play in the near future.
Image credit: Zachary Sinclair/Unsplash
Based in southwest Florida, Amy has written about sustainability and the Triple Bottom Line for over 20 years, specializing in sustainability reporting, policy papers and research reports for multinational clients in pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, ICT, tourism and other sectors. She also writes for Ethical Corporation and is a contributor to Creating a Culture of Integrity: Business Ethics for the 21st Century. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.