USDA is working vigorously at getting farmers to sign up or take full advantage of the new federal farm law. American agriculture is struggling right now, and the department wants everyone who is eligible to fully access their allowable entitlements in the 2002 Farm Bill.
If the Fresno farm bill briefing meeting held recently is an indication it is commendable, if not a bit of overkill. The phrase “I'm from the government, and I am here to help you” never rang more true as USDA paraded one administrator after bureaucrat before a packed residence dining hall on the CSUF campus detailing what is available to almost everyone.
However, the meeting was not just an informational farm bill meeting. It was also to satisfy a discrimination lawsuit settlement filed by minority farmers. When told that this was one of the primary purposes for the meeting, I chuckled a bit at the notion that Fresno was selected to address a USDA minority discrimination problem.
California likes to brag about having 350 different commercial agricultural crops. There are probably that many nationalities represented in California agriculture.
Mentally running down the heritages of farmers and agribusiness people I have interviewed through the years, the list became endless: Hispanic, Basque, Portuguese, Hmong, Italian, Armenian, Cambodian, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Israeli, Indian, Pakistani, Russian, Canadian, the California exclusive Ditch Bank Okie and many more. One of my best friends calls himself a Ditch Bank Okie from Tulare, Calif., so I guess it is a nationality.
California is a melting pot of nationalities not only in urban areas, but on the farms as well. I don't mean to minimize or ignore the fact that, unfortunately, there is discrimination in today's society whether in government or in business. Discrimination on the basis of race is morally and legally wrong.
However, to somehow single out Fresno County or California as seething hotbeds of discrimination today to hold an anti-discrimination meeting is ludicrous.
I point to the influx of Southeast Asian farmers who began immigrating to the San Joaquin Valley after the Vietnam War as one example of a nationality being quickly assimilated into American farming. At first these new American farmers struggled with the language; farming practices; pesticide use, marketing — you name it and they were clueless in the beginning. However, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisors and others in commercial agriculture stepped up to help these new Americans become safe and productive farmers.
If you drive through Fresno or other valley towns during the spring and summer, you will see many small roadside stands selling strawberries and other vegetables. However, that is only the visible part of the story. What you don't see are the truckloads of high value produce grown by these Southeast Asian farmers going to markets throughout the U.S. and Canada.
To say that these struggling farmers were not discriminated against would be a lie. However, more importantly many Californians stepped forward to help. Their success in a very short period of time is testimony to the lack of discrimination.
It is a bit ironic that USDA selected Fresno, Calif., as a site to mitigate a discrimination lawsuit.