2015 — student winner
Michael Santiago (b. 1980) is a documentary photographer based between New York and Oakland, CA. Michael's work focuses on issues concerning people of color and their communities; obesity, cancer, race and identity, family relationships, healthy eating, youth empowerment and more. A senior at San Francisco Art Institute, he studies Documentary Photography and brings a strong cultural awareness to his work. His long term projects "A Promise", "250" and "Michael" have won several awards and news media recognition.
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.