For decades, the USDA-Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the Section 2501 Program) has served as the only farm bill program dedicated to addressing the specific needs of minority farmers and was recently expanded to also serve military veterans. The 2501 Program helps institutions and nonprofits provide critical resources, outreach, and technical assistance to serve these historically underserved producers.
The STAR School and its partners awarded the “Outreach and Assistance Program for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers in Navajo Nation” to extend the existing school function to an Education Center, providing on-going assistance to the socially disadvantaged (SDA), veteran, and beginning farmers and ranchers in the 110 Chapters of Navajo Nation. The service areas cover several Strike Force counties and the former “Bennett Freeze” areas in Navajo Nation, where the development was frozen for 40 years. The majority of Navajo Nation is also considered as “Food Desert”.
• Arizona has the third largest American Indian population in U.S., with 22 federally recognized tribes and over 350,000 Native Americans.
• 47.3% of Arizona population is socially disadvantaged based on race (2013).
• Unemployment rate of Arizona reservations was 24.4% (2012).
• Over 500,000 Veterans live in Arizona.
• About 200,000 Veterans are under age of 55 and ~20% are unemployed.
The Overarching Goal of the Program is to assist SDA, veteran, and beginning producers in owning and operating successful agribusinesses, while increasing their participation in USDA programs and services.
o They are interested in learning the following topics: solar and renewable energies (100%); energy efficiency improvement (80%); water conservation and rain water harvesting (100%); ranching and meat processing (61%); on-site water treatments (41%); irrigation and water management (81%); and crop and yield improvements (81%).
o 61% of the surveyed people stated that they have never worked with USDA assistance programs in the past, while 40% indicated they have worked with NRCS – about 19% worked with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), about 19% with NRCS – Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG), and 2% worked with the Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG).
o The people interviewed stated they would like to see these programs implemented in their community: farm-to-institution programs (100%); community garden plots (80%); agribusiness assistance for community members (80%); sustainable farming and ranching classes (81%); renewable energy and technology demonstration events (80%); commercial incubator for businesses (59%); and a local farmer’s market (98%).
o Preliminary results of 54 surveys showed that 22% of the people surveyed were farmers, 19% ranchers, 56% are both, and 4% are neither farmers nor ranchers. All of them agreed that the main challenge faced is the lack of water. Communities do not have reliable water sources and/or proper infrastructure to have a continued water supply. About 50% of them stated that weed control and pest control challenges affect their lands, while the rest believe that lack of education, funding, markets, soil, fencing, irrigation, and man power are also challenges that need to be addressed.
o Finally, when the surveyed people were asked which improvement they would do if they have funding available, all of them said they would improve the water infrastructure, water lines, and wells to have a better access to the resource. Other improvements include soil amendments, fencing, rain water harvesting, solar and wind renewable energies, man power force, and crop yield improvement.