National Co+op Grocers Invests in Black Farmers

Portrait of happy black farmer couple holding a crate of bio vegetables in the farm. Smiling african man and mature woman showing box of vegetables and looking at camera. Satisfied farmers holding a basket of harvested vegetables.

Saint Paul, MN—National Co+op Grocers (NCG) is continuing its investment in Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund Food Box Program, which connects Black farmers who have lost market share due to the pandemic with families in their communities that don’t have enough to eat.

“Food co-ops gave NCG a mission that includes growing the size and scope of the cooperative grocery sector,” explained C.E. Pugh, Chief Executive Officer for NCG. “Focusing on racial equity and food justice in our supply chain is well aligned with that mission. Today, just 1.3% of farmers in the U.S. identify as Black. Our support for the Federation is an investment in building a strong and resilient domestic food system that is truly inclusive from farm to food co-op to fork.”

The social and economic toll of the pandemic has hit the Black community harder than non-Hispanic White adults, even when pre-pandemic socioeconomic disparities are taken into account, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s experimental Household Pulse Survey. Among the findings: Black adults living in households where someone lost employment income since the start of the pandemic were 11.1% more likely than White adults to report that they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in January; Black adults were more likely than White adults to have taken on debt to pay for household expenses in January, especially when someone in the household lost employment income; and Black adults in households where someone had lost employment income were more likely than White adults to report uncertainty about their ability to pay for housing in February. The survey further noted that the pandemic will have a longer impact on Black households than White households, due to the debts taken on in order to make ends meet. The survey concluded: “The cumulative effects of job loss, food insufficiency and financial insecurity resulted in uncertainty about how to pay for housing as well as more generalized anxiety.”

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, now entering its 55th year, assists limited-resource farmers, landowners, and cooperatives across the South with business planning, debt restructuring, marketing expertise, and a range of services to ensure the retention of land ownership, with an overall mission of reversing the trend of Black land loss and catalyzing the development of self-supporting communities via cooperative economic development, land retention, and advocacy. The Federation began the Food Box Program in 2020 in response to the pandemic, but noting the continued need, has integrated the initiative into its overall disaster relief efforts. You can donate here.

“The Federation values our relationship with NCG and its support of our member cooperatives and farmers through its direct investment in our work to support rural communities, and their commitment to providing equitable opportunities for Black farmers within their supply chain,” said Chawnn Redden, Regional Marketing Coordinator for The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, in the press release.

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NCG supported the program last year as well, in line with its increased support for smallholder, fair trade, and/or cooperative farmers. The cooperative, which helps unify food co-ops in order to optimize operational and marketing resources and strengthen purchasing power, is working towards a commitment to increase its support for these groups by 30% by 2030, in keeping with a UN Sustainable Development Goal.

“We are on track to meet this goal, which we have historically met by funding farmer-led development projects, usually within food co-ops’ supply chain, in places such as East Timor, Peru and Kerala, India, because these are places where fair trade has a foothold as a worker and human rights movement,” explained Allie Mentzer, Senior Director of Advocacy and Sustainability for NCG. “While we continue to champion fair trade abroad, we are energized by our new partnership with the Federation in the American South, and excited to apply our commitment to domestic supply chain development.”

NCG is in discussion with the Federation about other potential opportunities for partnership, as well.