In late summer 2020, as discussions of racial social justice arose throughout social media and the political realm, John Deere created a coalition that focused on improving the livelihood of Black farmers and addressing the long-running issue of heir’s property. That coalition, known as LEAP (Legislation, Education, Advocacy and Production Systems), now has a website dedicated to advancing its mission. It can be found here.
The website is intended to serve as a comprehensive resource that helps explain why LEAP is important to farmers. The LEAP initiative unites Deere with the National Black Growers Council and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and while there is a broad effort of the coalition to improve the lives of Black farmers, there has been an emphasis on heir’s property, a complex issue that involves land passed from generation to generation without standardized legal paperwork, often the result of an ancestor who died without a will.
“Land is a farmer’s most valuable and productive asset, yet 60 percent of Black farmers operate on property that has been passed through their families for generations but for which they do not have secure title. Without secure title, Black farmers cannot leverage the full value of their land,” said Dr. Dewayne Goldmon, Executive Director of the National Black Growers Council.
The coalition is working with organizations like the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and others to provide awareness, expertise, and legal resources to help Black and other traditionally under-represented farmers gain clear title to their land. LEAP intends to help ensure the long-term sustainability of over 60 million acres of land currently owned or operated by Black farmers
John Deere “has a rich history of advocating for and investing in opportunities to advance social and economic change,” said Tharlyn Fox, who was hired by Deere in November to manage the implementation of LEAP’s mission. “If you combine that history with the leadership and expertise we have in agriculture, John Deere is uniquely positioned to help address issues such as heir’s property and to further unlock the economic potential of all farmers.”
Deere has said that its commitment to the LEAP coalition involves a multi-year, multi-million dollar investment. The company is funding three Thurgood Marshall College Fund internships to provide legal support to Black farmers with heir’s property issues, is funding two full-time attorneys and an annual legal internship program and fellowship with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, and is providing the families with pro bono legal counsel from its legal team.
Under the initiative of Marc Howze, Group President for Lifecycle Solutions and Chief Administrative Officer at Deere, the farm machinery manufacturer has been doing a lot to connect with and support the Black farming community.
For example, the advancement of the LEAP coalition’s public face comes almost a year after Deere & Co. pledged $1 million to the NAACP Empowerment Programs to fight racial inequality and had encouraged employees to donate to social justice causes, promising to match some funds.
“We have connected with and made significant commitments to Black farmers through our partnerships, and we are dedicated to their success and sustainability,” Fox said.