Archives

Black Farmers in the USA and Michigan: Longevity, Empowerment, and Food Sovereignty

Journal of African American Studies volume 22, pages49–76 (2018)

OKT is sharing this important journal article in parts over the next few weeks. Here is part one.

Blacks have been farming in the USA for about four centuries and in Michigan since the 1830s. Yet, for blacks, owning and retaining farmland has been a continuous challenge. This historical analysis uses environmental justice and food sovereignty frameworks to examine the farming experiences of blacks in the USA generally, and more specifically in Michigan. It analyzes land loss, the precipitous decline in the number of black farmers, and the strategies that blacks have used to counteract these phenomena. The paper shows that the ability of blacks to own and operate farms has been negatively impacted by lack of access to credit, segregation, relegation to marginal and hazard-prone land, natural disasters, organized opposition to black land ownership, and systemic discrimination. The paper examines the use of cooperatives and other community-based organizations to help blacks respond to discrimination and environmental inequalities. The paper assesses how the farming experiences of blacks in Michigan compare to the experiences of black farmers elsewhere. It also explores the connections between Michigan’s black farmers, southern black farmer cooperatives, and Detroit’s black consumers.

Introduction

When one thinks of Michigan, the image that first comes to mind is not one of rural agriculture, yet Michigan is an important agricultural state in the USA. In 2015, Michigan lead the nation in the production of several categories of dry beans, blueberries, pickling cucumbers, tart cherries, and squash and is second leading producer of asparagus, all dry beans, carrots, celery, and Niagara grapes (National Agricultural Statistics Service 2016, p. 1). It is even more unlikely for people to conjure up images of black farmers when they think of Michigan, yet blacks—despite declines in their numbers—have a long and compelling history of farming in the state.

This paper uses the frameworks of environmental justice and food sovereignty to trace the history of black farmers in the USA and the state of Michigan. It analyzes the historical and contemporary constraints that black farmers face and their hardiness as it discusses how Michigan’s black farmers respond to these challenges. It also discusses ways in which black farmers in the state perceive of and try to empower themselves as they enhance food sovereignty and food security in black communities. This paper provides a fresh look at black agricultural experiences through its focus on Michigan. To date, very few research papers have examined the topic of black farmers in Michigan. The comparison between Michigan and the rest of the country has uncovered interesting and enduring North-South relationships that are understudied and deserve more scholarly attention. The paper is also important because if we are going to reverse the trend of land loss and decline in farming among blacks effectively, we need to examine farming among blacks in much broader contexts than have traditionally been undertaken.

Michiganders deserve independent investigations into failures by DTE, Consumers Energy

Increase power outage credits to customers
and make repairs come from utility profits

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters today is calling for the Michigan Public Service Commission and the Legislature to conduct oversight hearings on the failures by DTE and Consumers Energy to prevent outages and reconnect customers following summer storms.  

Michigan’s leaders also should demand DTE and Consumers increase the $25 power outage credit for customers that lost power in recent storms, make those payments automatic without a complicated paperwork process, and ensure that widespread improvements to Michigan’s energy grid come from utility profits — not more rate increases.

“For years now, our residential rates have been skyrocketing, eating up more of family budgets, and yet all we get is more blackouts, longer outage times, and less reliability.  DTE and Consumers seem content to rake in massive, windfall profits while families and businesses across Michigan suffer without power,” said Bob Allison, deputy director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “We need a full-on, independent state investigation, and our Legislature and the Public Service Commission should get to the bottom of why Michigan’s utility companies continue to fail their customers and businesses.  No family should ever be left in the dark for a week again.”   

FACTS

According to the independent Citizens Utility Board of Michigan (CUB), an independent organization representing interests of residential energy customers in Michigan, Michigan utilities lag far behind other states in terms of reliability:

  • Michigan utilities had the second-worst restoration time per outage in the nation — even on days without major storm events.
  • In the Great Lakes region, Michiganders experienced the most amount of minutes out-of-power on average annually.

In the last five years, DTE Energy has jacked up rates to the tune of $775 million with little improvements to service while Consumers Energy is currently proposing a $225 million rate increase — just months after they hiked our rates this past January.

While DTE had profits of $1.4 billion and Consumers Energy’s parent company, CMS, raking in $680 million, Michigan ratepayers are experiencing unreliable service. More than 800,000 Michiganders lost power during recent storms and the utilities are now saying customers will have to file paperwork to receive a small credit for their troubles.

Media reports show that DTE and Consumers Energy paid no federal taxes in 2020, with utility spokespersons saying it would ultimately trickle down into savings to customers.  Last year, both Consumers Energy and DTE spent more than $10 million paying their CEOs.

Green Gavel scoring system rates Michigan’s Supreme Court’s environmental impacts

Note from OKT: If you were at the Southeast Area Farmers Market last week, you may have talked with the Michigan LCV folks who ere sharing information there. Here’s an example of their good work.

Reposted from Rapid Growth Media

In collaboration with students at the University of Michigan Law School, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has updated its online Green Gavels tool. When a Michigan Supreme Court case concerns an environmental issue, the scoring tool rates the justices’ decision on the case either green, yellow or red, based on how it impacts the environment. 

“We want our Supreme Court legal system to be independent from political influence of all kinds and not independent from the best ideas and public desire for cleaner land, air and water,” says Nick Occhipinti, Michigan LCV’s Grand Rapids-based government affairs director.

A green gavel indicates a decision that was good for the environment, a red gavel means not only was the decision bad for the environment, but the justices could have chosen to rule differently. Yellow gavels indicate either that the issue had no impact on the environment, was bad but decided upon precedent or an unrelated issue, or was bad but based correctly on the existing law.

“It’s an opportunity for the public to gain better access to information that is not easily available. [The Green Gavel] is shining a bright light on what the Michigan Supreme Court is doing,” Occhipinti says. “The state Supreme Court is a third, coequal branch of the government.”

One case the Michigan LCV followed was Henry v. Dow Chemical. A unanimous 2018 Michigan Supreme Court decision reversed the lower courts and prevented residents from bringing lawsuits when negative health issues caused by pollution do not develop until after the existing statute of limitations had passed.

“Now it is harder for property owners to bring suits,” Occhipinti says. “Because we’re active in the legislative arena and connected to the legal realm, with this tool, we can put the pieces together. [We can] say, ‘Hey, folks, this legislation is critically important because it closes this legal gap.’ In this case, the statute of limitations, but pick your issue.”

Nick Occhipinti

Originally launched in 2012, Michigan LCV’s Green Gavels scored environmental cases from 1980-2012. The update adds cases from 2012-2020 and tracks scores for current justices. Cases and justices’ scores are updated regularly. Currently, the website reports that Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack has the most green gavels, seven, while Justice Brian K. Zara has the most red gavels, seven.

“Connection of the legal outcomes at the State Supreme Court, at that highest level, connection to statute and legislative change within the Michigan legislature, that is how we connect to issues,” Occhipinti says. “Finding that there are holes and a legal recourse for protecting [people from] contaminated sites, protecting Michigan’s land, air and water. My job is to improve our legislative policy that will then protect communities.”


Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Michigan League of Conservation Voters

In solidarity with Michigan food workers

Strikes Waged Across the Country Come On the 12-Year Anniversary Since the Last Increase to the Federal Minimum Wage

Today, starting at 12:00, dozens of restaurant workers in Detroit will conduct a ‘wage strike’ at Mcdonald’s on 14142 Fordham in solidarity with McDonald’s cashiers and cooks going on strike. One Fair Wage leaders are demanding a full minimum wage plus tips in order to remain in the industry, with the overwhelming majority of them citing low wages and tips as a core reason for finding new employment.

The ‘wage strike’ is being organized by One Fair Wage, a national nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of tipped subminimum wage workers, and the Fight for $15 coalition, just before the July 24th date, which marks 12 years since the last increase to the federal minimum wage. 

WHERE: McDonald’s, 14142 Fordham, Detroit, MI
WHEN: Tuesday, July 20, 12:00pm EST
LOCAL CONTACT: Chantel Watkins, 313-623-9022

According to a report from One Fair Wage, 53% of all workers say they are considering leaving their restaurant jobs, with the overwhelming majority of them citing low wages and tips as a core reason for finding new employment. The report comes as restaurants (and other low wage paying businesses) across the country are reporting difficulty hiring new workers, with nearly 40% of restaurant companies saying they’re having trouble finding servers, cooks and other workers.

“The restaurant industry doesn’t have a worker shortage – it has a wage shortage. Tens of thousands of restaurant workers do not want to go back to work to earn poverty wages putting their lives on the line,” said Saru Jayaraman, President of One Fair Wage. “Now is the time to change that. With strikes taking place across the country this week, workers are demanding One Fair Wage – a full minimum wage wage with tips on top: the only way to put our nation back on the road to economic recovery and to ensure that restaurants and their workers can thrive as we rebuild our economy.”

The report, “It’s A Wage Shortage, Not A Worker Shortage: Why Michigan Restaurant Workers Are Leaving the Industry, and What Would Make Them Stay,” identifies how the core problem with restaurants recruiting workers isn’t the lack of workers available, but rather, the lack of workers who will go back to jobs that pay so little. The report finds that: 

  • 64% of Michigan workers are considering leaving their restaurant job with the pandemic. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of Michigan workers report that they are leaving restaurant jobs due to low wages and tips. ‘Low wages and tips’ was the most popular reason for leaving the industry, nearly 7 percentage points higher than the second most popular reason — COVID health risks.
  • The vast majority of all Michigan respondents (77%) report having a full, stable, livable wage would make them consider staying at their job. Again, ‘full, stable, livable wages’ was by far the most popular factor that workers reported would make them stay at their job, nearly 30 percentage points higher than the second most popular factor — better COVID safety measures.
  • Nearly 9 in 10 Michigan workers (89%) say their tips have decreased during the pandemic, and nearly three quarters (76%) say their tips are down 50% or more.
  • Michigan workers report leaving their restaurant jobs due to hostility and harassment from customers at a rate 24% higher than the national average.
  • 82% of Michigan workers reported coming into contact with maskless individuals at least once per shift. 62% know someone that has died from COVID. 
  • Women in Michigan were most than twice as likely as men to report a noticeable increase in the levels of sexual harassment during the pandemic (51% v 24%).

SEE THE FULL REPORT HERE: https://onefairwage.site/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/OFW_WageShortage_MI-1.pdf

Grand Rapids Public Schools wants your opinion

TAKE SURVEY HERE

Take 10 minutes to help GRPS develop a plan to guide the district for the next five years. GRPS writes, “The success of our school district affects everyone in our community, and we want to be sure all of our residents have the opportunity to provide input to this process.” Your response will be anonymous. Results will be posted on the GRPS website later this summer. The survey will be open until June 25th.

Catalyst Conversations: Re-designing Our Food System.

Tuesday, May 25th, 2:30-4 p.m. 

Virtual. Register here.

The Michigan Local Food Council Network is launching an interactive discussion series, Catalyst Conversations: Re-designing Our Food System. These conversations will invite all advocates and community members – from novice to seasoned expert in topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion – to build relationships and share ideas to mobilize communities for transformative action. The Catalyst Conversation series will use deep-dive discussion to frame a spectrum of food systems change across individual, organizational, and institutional levels; equip participants with practical, accessible change models; and incorporate healing and restorative practice.

The first of these interactive conversations will take place Tuesday, May 25th from 2:30-4 p.m.  During this initial event, a panel of “relatable experts” will ground participants in cultural understandings of food systems engagement and transformation. We will invite participants to engage in small group discussions with these experts and one another.  The MLFCN will also seek input on future discussion topics for this series.

We will send more detail on the first in this series in the coming days, as speakers are confirmed. Meanwhile, please save the date!  You can also register for the May 25 event at: https://msu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJElfumvqzopGtZYwxMcWwtpRmW4bsPJbvSE

This series has been created through the MLFCN’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Team, a small (but mighty) group of MLFCN members from across Michigan, that has worked to build a framework for this series that is inspiring, educational, and action-oriented.    

Workers rally in celebration of the Raise the Wage Act

Workers in DC, NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, Phoenix & Detroit Hold Socially Distanced Rallies in Support of $15 Minimum Wage & Raise the Wage Act

Today, starting at 2:30pm, Detroit essential workers will hold a socially distanced rally in celebration of the Raise the Wage Act, legislation that would end the subminimum wage for tipped workers and raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and that is included in President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID package, at Senator Gary Peters’ Office. Speakers will include:

  • Davante Burnley, an executive chef for an upcoming restaurant in Detroit, who has 12 years of experience in the restaurant industry in every kitchen position. He’s an activist because he notices that fair wages make all the difference for quality of work and life.
  • Godwin Ihentuge, owner of beloved Detroit restaurant Yum Village
  • Lisa Ludwinski of Sister Pie, a bakery in Detroit

WHERE: Senator Gary Peters’ Detroit Office, 477 Michigan Avenue Suite 1837 Detroit, MI 48226
WHEN: Monday, February 22, 2:30pm EST
LOCAL CONTACT: Chantel Watkins, 313-623-9022, chantel@onefairwage.org

Nestle gets richer while Michigan waits for better water protections

House Bills 5290, 5291 and 5292 introduced almost a year ago languish awaiting a hearing

While water shut-offs and lead poisoning still threaten Michigan’s vulnerable citizens, late last week, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) dismissed a challenge to Nestle Waters North America’s 2018 permit that allows the multinational corporation to extract Michigan’s groundwater at an extraordinarily minimal cost. Under the current Safe Drinking Water Act, EGLE is authorized to issue permits for water extraction, but may not charge a fee for groundwater extracted for bottled water.

In late 2019, state Reps. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids), Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) and Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) introduced legislation that would explicitly include all waters of the state in the public trust, expand the Department of Natural Resource’s authority to manage Michigan’s water supplies, and remove the small-container exemption to the prohibition on diverting water from the Great Lakes that allows for Nestle’s operations.

“Tomorrow will mark exactly 50 weeks since my colleagues and I introduced legislation to secure and protect Michigan’s water resources,” said Hood. “While the decision that EGLE reached in this challenge is no surprise, the refusal by the legislative Republican majority to give this package of bills a hearing in committee is both shameful and disappointing. Over 80,000 Michigan citizens have documented their concerns about Michigan water resource give-aways to benefit the shareholders of an international corporation. The citizens of Michigan have been waiting for years for legislative action to stop this foolish ‘blue light special’, allowing corporations to privatize our state’s greatest natural resource, freshwater. This has been an issue in our state for far too long, and we must act quickly to enact policies that protect Michigan’s natural resources and secure the rights of all Michiganders.”

House Bills 5290, 5291 and 5292 were introduced on Dec. 10, 2019, and have been awaiting a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee since that time.

Read OKT’s take on Water Justice here.

Michigans’ for-profit colleges target low income students, fail to provide graduates high-quality outcomes

New report shows many for-profit colleges use deceptive practices to recruit students in order to gain access to federal aid

For-profit colleges in Michigan are overpriced, under-regulated and target students who have low incomes, according to a new report from the Michigan League for Public Policy. The report, For-profit colleges in Michigan: Path forward or dead end?, shows that most for-profit colleges in the state—there were 77 of them in 2018—cost more money than traditional public schools and don’t provide opportunities or degree value that aligns with that high price tag. The schools target students with low incomes, Black and Latinx students and veterans largely because those students are more likely to receive federal aid like Pell grants.

“We see predatory behavior when it comes to the way these for-profit institutions advertise. They’re aggressively recruiting folks earning low wages, nontraditional students trying to raise a family, our nation’s veterans, and Black and Latinx students. In fact, nearly three-quarters of students in for-profit schools in the United States had an income of $24,000 or less in 2016. Meanwhile, the students are graduating with massive debt and lower employment rates than their counterparts at traditional public and nonprofit private schools,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, President and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

All told, Black students are overrepresented in for-profit schools when compared to the overall population of potential Black students in the state. In 2018, on average 30.6% of the student body at a Michigan for-profit school was Black. This percentage of Black enrollment was at least 20 points greater than that in other

types of institutions in the state. Systemic inequities in postsecondary education by race and targeted, aggressive marketing strategies likely compound, creating overrepresentation of Black students enrolled in for-profit institutions in the state.

Eighty-three percent of graduates from for-profit colleges in the U.S. took out student loans and graduated with an average of $39,000 in debt. That’s 41% higher than graduates from other types of four-year colleges. What’s more, 30% of students at for-profit colleges in Michigan defaulted on their federal student loans, compared with just 4% of students at public colleges. 


“By definition, for-profit colleges aim to make money for investors. So what incentive do they have to keep tuition and other costs down? They’re not only shortchanging students, they’re exploiting them in order to benefit from federal aid like Pell Grants.The influx of students receiving federal aid means taxpayer money is flowing right into these schools and helping them profit. These for-profit schools prey on students who are in need, promising a way forward to the ‘American Dream,’ but they’re not delivering on that promise,” Gilda Z. Jacobs said.

For-profit college recruiters have used misleading claims about cost, time commitment and job placement in order to attract students. This, along with other deceptive practices, has led to several for-profit colleges and their parent companies being prosecuted for consumer protection violations and other protection violations. Attorney General Dana Nessel has signed Michigan on to several multi-state lawsuits against for-profit educational companies that defrauded students.

The League recommends a variety of solutions that state and federal policymakers can adopt, including requiring institutions to disclose all federal funding, encouraging high school counseling offices to provide materials on how to weigh costs and benefits when choosing a college, and restoring student borrower protections that were enacted during the Obama administration and eliminated by the Trump administration. 

The higher education needs of all Michiganders, especially students of color and those with lower incomes, continues to be a focus of the League’s policy work. A report released in May 2020, Expanding the dream: Helping Michigan reach racial equity in Bachelor’s degree completion, found that Michigan ranks third-worst in the nation for the number of bachelor degrees earned by Black students. Another recent report looked at COVID-19’s impact on college students and their basic needs.

The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.