Real action we can take, re. racial justice in agriculture

Hi all, this is an post about important actions we can take today with regards to the recent racial justice movement with regards to year 2 OpenTEAM budget and perhaps our ag work generally.

At first glance, our community can’t take a lot of serious action to address the impacts of racism (from the far past up to the present). When I first thought about this, it seemed to me I had some but very few black colleagues in tech or ag, I saw no clear and significant racism impacting those that I did see, and most of the community we serve (farmers and supply chain folks) are white. So at first glance, I felt the problem was largely someone else’s to solve.

But… ‘why’? Why are only 1.4% of farmers black today, when the skillset of most black people on release from slavery was in agriculture? Why are there so few ag tech developers who are black? Because slavery happened in agriculture - our industry is the source of the original sin (and long ongoing sin due to USDA’s loan policies among many other things). Furthermore, the primary means of economic success for blacks after slavery was in agriculture. However, 40 acres and a mule was never provided. Post-reconstruction America scared, tricked, bullied, and sometimes just stole land, the engine of economic opportunity, from black people during the time that equity was most important. Part of the reason black families have 20% of the average wealth of white families is because the sector we work in denied the black community access to land and the freedoms to be successful.

Many people have a sense of personal responsibility to account for historical injustices. Others would like to address current-day inequities and create positive opportunities for minorities in ag. Either way, we can all do something good and we can do it better if we do it together.

I’ve talked already to a few OpenTEAM contractors, and Regen Network is also on board. Here’s what we’re going to do:

  1. Raise our billable hourly rate by $5/hr to OpenTEAM and other ag-related software contracts we perform.

  2. Donate that $5/hr towards a common charity supporting building black equity in ag. I don’t want to pick the charity, but I want to work with the black colleagues to do so. Based on that feedback so far from @ljodom , we’re planning to donate to the

I’ve talked to all the relevant parties, and we as contractors are in a unique position to do this. While FFAR and Wolfe’s Neck (as an implementer of FFAR funding) is hamstrung by racial justice not being part of their core mission, we are not. This isn’t to downgrade the great work FFAR and Wolfe’s Neck can do, but directly prioritizing real dollars is probably not one of those things. However, we can set our rates as we see fit.

To give a sense of impact, the Research Farm Roadmap section of OpenTEAM will raise $25,000 alone for this cause in the 2020/2021 . If we all took part, we could likely raise $100k+ per year or more. If we’re lucky, maybe others will catch on and we can really start to create some change. Yes - this means a small portion of our overall budget to build open source tools in support of soil health in ag will be going somewhere else, and ultimately the pot is only so large. But we believe it’s worth it, and in the long term, this will only build interest and commitment in our current shared goals, not reduce it.

I’m not a fan of promoting things without taking actual action… but this is real action! I think it’s critical that we promote this so we can find supporters and additional donors in other parts of the ag tech community. So, if we can make this a broader effort among GOAT and OpenTEAM dev’s, I’d like to set up a page describing who’s involved, the amount raised, and where it’s going.

So that’s the idea… what’s the next steps?

  1. Interested in donating $5/hr too? Do it! and please email me so I know you’re doing it and can put you on a contact list for the website if you want.
  2. Want to do it, but not sure if you technically can? Reply here, maybe others are in the same boat and we can get momentum around supporting you.
  3. Have questions / thoughts / concerns? Reply here, email me, or call me 919 545 1083.

at mentioning a bunch of people who may be interested: @mstenta @jherrick @ziamehrabi @sudokita @ircwaves @DanT @kanedan29 @Daniella @plawrence @Gregory @cjospe @aultac @Blundgren @clevinson @evadeeter @timhammerich @jgaehring @julietnpn @ldemmel @mark.easter @paul121 @wgardiner



Thanks for posting this and for the in-depth description of the issue we face. I’m on board and have been trying to figure out the best way to tackle this as well. Speaking as the owner of a very small organization, donating funds is probably one of the most effective ways to begin taking action right now. It would be easy to slow down and take the time to strategically plan how we holistically work on this issue, but I think the time for inaction is long past. It’s time to dive in, even if our first steps aren’t perfect.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t work to change the system as well. When I look at the whiteness of agriculture and the power structures that define modern farming, it is clear that there’s an immense amount of work to be done. I won’t expound here, but suffice it to say that I personally would like to dedicate sustained effort towards addressing the inequities that are so glaring and omnipresent in agriculture (and tech for that matter).


I have stated this in person with Greg and on the Podcast, but Regen is on board as well. Sorry I have not managed to make the working group meetings yet. Thanks for the leadership.