On October 31, Senator Jones addressed the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (FSC/LAF) in celebration of National Co-op Month. The FSC/LAF was founded by civil rights leaders in 1967 to assist and support farmers of color. Today, the organization’s mission statement includes “[assisting] limited resource farmers, landowners, and cooperatives across the South with business planning, debt restructuring, marketing expertise, and a whole range of other services to ensure the retention of land ownership and cooperatives as a tool for social and economic justice.”
National Co-op month celebrates and highlights the role of cooperatives in modern-day farming. Cornelius Blanding, the Executive Director of the Federation, said that “in the South, cooperatives are still being formed out of necessity to combat issues that are relevant to today’s economic, social, and political landscape. Access to credit and markets, food security, land preservation, and climate change are all issues directly impacting the longevity of rural families. Cooperatives are vital and continue to enable rural families to retain their land, expand upon it and pass it on to a new generation."
In his address, Jones pointed to recent bipartisan legislation that would further protect and provide opportunities for minority farmers across the country. “The Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act of 2018” is included in the 2018 Farm Bill and would expand federal support available to farmers operating on inherited land, known as “heirs’ property.” According to the FSC/LAF, an estimated 60% of all land owned by black farmers is heirs’ property, and previous legislation limits these farmers’ ability to access federal assistance programs. The bill would also require the USDA to collect demographic data on farmers and their land. Jones introduced the bill and it is supported by Democrats and Republicans in both chambers of Congress.