Skip to main content

Agriculture in America: Deeply Rooted in Black Culture

Posted by Chavonda Jacobs-Young, Acting Under Secretary, Research, Education, and Economics in Equity Research and Science
Feb 25, 2021
Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, Acting Under Secretary for the Research, Education, and Economics mission area
Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, Acting Under Secretary for the Research, Education, and Economics mission area.

The story of agriculture in America cannot be told without acknowledging the contributions of Black people. Black people have been and are an integral driver in the success of U.S. agriculture. From farming and cultivation to scientific research, the agriculture narrative is fortified by the many roles played by black leaders. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the premier food research agency in the world, and it wouldn’t be nearly as successful or impactful if not for its rich, diverse history of scientists.

The story of agricultural scientist George Washington Carver and his work to improve the living standards of American farmers is well chronicled. Dr. Carver is best known for his research in developing uses for the peanut and sweet potato, but he also collected and analyzed types of fungi that were causing diseases of crop plants.

Black scientists first joined ARS in the early 1960s, and a half-century later, I was appointed ARS’ first Black administrator, one of the proudest moments of my life. Our strides for equity for all Americans continue to gain momentum. ARS scientist Malcolm Thompson, internationally recognized for his contributions to the fields of insect and plant biochemistry, became the first Black person to be inducted into the ARS Science Hall of Fame in 1994. Nearly a quarter century later in 2017, Ernest Harris, internationally known for finding innovative ways to control fruit flies that threaten crops around the world, entered the ARS Science Hall of Fame. In 2019, ARS entomologist Alvin Simmons became the first Black person to lead the Entomological Society of America, the largest entomological organization in the world.

Today, more than 600 African American women and men are fulfilling ARS’ mission to solve America’s biggest agricultural problems, and we join USDA in honoring our Black farmers and ranchers. Together, we are cultivating food, clothes, and energy production for a brighter future, while inspiring children of color to learn more about agricultural science. Just as Black history is American history, a rich diversity is essential for agriculture to continue to grow and prosper.

Category/Topic: Equity Research and Science