Thumbnail image for this story (this will show up on the stories page of the site):
Relevant issues for this story, separated by commas (eg. war, race, gender):
Race, Economics/Industry
Geographical region for this story (eg. Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia):
North America
Relevant key words for this story, separated by commas (eg. Africa, Hurricane Katrina, Mother Teresa):
Agriculture, California, Farming, African-American, Farmers
A short summary for this story that will go on the stories page (1-2 sentences):
Black farmers have fought to acquire and maintain land throughout the country, despite having to face extreme difficulty along the way.
Michael Santiago

2015 — student winner

James McGill is a third generation pig farmer, and at 71 he has been farming for over 50 years. After returning from Vietnam he, along with a partner managed a 320-acre farm, McGill Farms, from 1976 to 1987. They lost it all due to alleged suspect practices by a USDA lending agency and has been fighting to regain or be compensated for his land since. He currently still farms on his father’s property which itself dealt with land loss but were able to retain just 5 acres of the land. For farmers 5 acres is not enough land to be able to be self sustainable. He can only hold between 20 and 30 pigs at a time, and usually sells half of them at auctions every 5 to 6 months for roughly $300 per pig.

He was involved in the Pigford lawsuit against the USDA alleging racial discrimination towards African-American farmers, but the compensation was not enough to put him back where he wants to be. Within this past year, his property is once again possibly facing foreclosure and he is doing everything in his power to make sure that he does not lose the remainder of his land.

Mr. McGill's story is not an uncommon one for farmers, especially African-American farmers in the United States. In 1920 African-American farmers made up approximately 14% of all farmers in the United States, and owned a combined 15 million acres of land. Since then they have faced the effects of aggressive globalization, changes in technology, racist lending policies, corporate farm buyouts and changes in the policies by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. African-American farmers today now account for less than 1 percent of the nation's farmers.

There have been several articles since the 1970’s that have been published that discuss several causes of black land and farm loss. Forced sales due to "heir property," lack of access to government programs, and continuing racial discrimination by lenders and government agencies are some of the issues that are discussed. In 2001, the associated press released their findings on an 18 month investigation, where interviews with more than 1,000 people and the examination of tens of thousands of public records in county courthouses and state and federal archives documented 107 land takings in 13 Southern and border states. 406 black landowners lost more than 24,000 acres of farm and timber land plus 85 smaller properties, that included stores and city lots.

Today, virtually all of this property, valued at tens of millions of dollars, is owned by whites or by corporations. Organizations like Farms to Grow Inc. based out of Oakland, CA and  The Land Loss Prevention Project, a group of lawyers in Durham, N.C., both who represent and help African-American farmers in land disputes, receive new reports of land loss on a regular basis.

I propose to continue document the work of Mr. McGill and other African-American Farmers in California and photograph their commitment to continue to do what they love to do despite the challenges that they have faced and still continue to face. I will use a Canon 6D to make black and white digital still images. The stories of these farmers who have been around for so many generations cannot be forgotten. With the globalization and corporate buyouts that seem to be happening at such alarming rates, farmers like Mr. McGill will just be an after-thought in American History.

Read more
Images of Black farmers capture a fading period of time of American life. They are seldom seen or thought of when one brings up farming today. Michael Santiago/Alexia Foundation
After being castrated, a tranquilizer is given to the pigs to help soothe the pain. Michael Santiago/Alexia Foundation
Early in 2015, the Central Valley received some much needed rain. Even though it was still seasonably very low, it was enough for weeds to grow throughout Mr. McGill's farm. Michael Santiago/Alexia Foundation 
The only habitable structure that sits on the property was given to the family. Prior to their ownership it was a known “cathouse.” Michael Santiago/Alexia Foundation
In May 2015, with the help of Farms to Grow, Inc. Mr. McGill received a $5,000 grant that allowed him to purchase his latest batch of pigs that he is currently preparing for sale in the next coming months. Michael Santiago/Alexia Foundation
Ms. Shirley spent 20 years as a nurse in California. After her mother and aunt became sick and ultimately passed on, she knew that she needed to return to their farm and continue to do what she was raised to do. Michael Santiago/Alexia Foundation
While she does have some help on her farm, feeding and cleaning of the pig pens usually fall into Ms. Shirley’s chores which oftentimes can be tough. Michael Santiago/Alexia Foundation
While Mr. McGill’s nephews all have agricultural experience and help out from time to time, they do not see themselves becoming full time farmers. Michael Santiago/Alexia Foundation
Trophies from sporting events and county fairs, family photos, including one of his Choctaw mixed grandparents who were sharecroppers, now decorate the unusable fireplace. Michael Santiago/Alexia Foundation
For now his farm is safe, he is content with what he has and at this point does not see himself doing anything else. Mr. McGill knows that in order to be self sustainable he needs a larger farm. He doesn’t qualify for loans because of the size of his farm and doesn’t qualify for any loans to buy a larger one. Michael Santiago/Alexia Foundation