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Feature Spotlight: Angela Dawson and the Forty Acre Co-op

In 1920, there were nearly a million Black farmers in the United States. 

Care to guess what that number is recently? 45,508.  

That number represents just 1.3% of the nearly 3.4 million farmers in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2017 census. And Black-owned farms constitute just 0.4% of total U.S. farmland.  

How did this decline happen?  

Black farmers have faced considerable challenges in owning and independently operating land. Various factors have led to a notable decrease in farm ownership and control. Some of these include discriminatory policies, unequal access to federal farm subsidies and loans, and barriers to obtaining credit for investing in agricultural technology.  

Clearly, there are imbalances that need to be addressed and fixed within the agriculture industry. Amidst these challenges, there are individuals within the agricultural sector who are advocating for change and fostering innovation. One such individual is making history, leading the charge to rebalance opportunity. 

Meet Angela Dawson.

Ms. Dawson is the president of the Minnesota-based Forty Acre Co-op. A 4th-generation farmer specializing in climate-friendly, regenerative farming practices, Angela is carrying on her family’s lineage by establishing the first nationwide black farmer co-op in the U.S. since the Reconstruction Era. 

Forty Acre Co-op is the first (and only) Nationwide Cooperative Supporting Socially Disadvantaged Farmers

Forty Acre Co-op uses a human-centered, equity-based co-ownership model to foster equity and sustainability in farming. This model enhances market strength and evenly spreads risks among members so that individual farmers don’t have to bear them alone. The co-op is committed to ensuring farm success and longevity. It provides essential services like seed access, industry information, and credit facilitation to reduce costs and supports farmer livelihoods. Ms. Dawson works with farmers who are just starting out and who are interested in regenerative farming and learning about the hemp and CBD market. She assists members by guiding them in monitoring their crops to comply with licensing standards for medicinal hemp. Her extensive knowledge and dedication in this field have not gone unnoticed. 

In recognition of her leadership within the cooperative and her expertise in hemp farming, the State of Minnesota recently appointed Ms. Dawson to the Office of Cannabis Management Cannabis Advisory Council. In this role, she serves as an Expert in Farming, representing the interests of farmers. 

In addition to being the president of Forty Acre Co-op, Ms. Dawson is also the president of The Great Rise, which is Minnesota’s only cannabis equity public education and advocacy organization.

The mission of The Great Rise is to provide access and opportunity for marginalized community members to build wealth with the legalization of cannabis in Minnesota. 

The Great Rise advocates for BIPOC and rural communities in Minnesota to be given priority for cultivation and dispensary licenses, as well as other supports to ensure fair access and opportunity. 

Ms. Dawson collaborates with Charlotte’s Web as an Impact Partner and recently spoke in our monthly Speaker Series. We took the opportunity to ask Angela more about her passionate, determined leadership.  

What motivates you? 

“If I were to narrow down one main force that motivates me, it would be the idea of legacy. I believe that we are all both living in and creating legacies of our own, and ever since I was young, especially around the time of my college years, I realized that the legacy I inherited was rich with culture, beauty, and aesthetics. However, it was also lacking in justice and fairness, equity, and stability. So when I began my career in agriculture, I quickly realized that the legacy of farmers and farming in these lands is something that I care deeply about. Farming, by its nature, is a historical, legacy-based occupation, the oldest occupation in the United States, and it is the occupation that my predecessors practiced. It took up a significant amount of their lives. So, when I decided that I would fully take on the cloak of the farmer, I was confronted with my own legacy and my own family history in this occupation. This is when I understood that my assignment involved repairing, restoring, and reclaiming those parts of my legacy that needed me. It wasn’t only about me but the need to leave a better agricultural system for future generations. This is what motivates me on a regular basis.” 

What is your vision for Forty Acre Co-op? 

“My vision for Forty Acre Co-op is that it continues to be a disruptive force of the old and oppressive norms that have kept agriculture so separate and unresponsive to community needs. In addition to its important role in leading the conversation around equity and our national agricultural system, Forty Acre Co-op also must be a source of information, empowerment, connections, support for farmers who are seeking to engage in agriculture and a sustainable way. I envision us being a hub for the kinds of beneficial resources that farmers really need in order to operate in the way that farming was intended to be, as well as being a voice for people who have not had a voice in recent history and who have much to contribute to our agricultural system both now and in the future.” 

Your biggest career moment? 

“I have had a few instances lately where it dawns on me that my work is having an impact. I was invited to sit with President Joe Biden a few months ago and that was pretty significant. I’d never gone to an official White House event. So, it was exciting to receive official emails from the White House and it made me feel like the work that I am doing is official. In addition to that, I feel like the ways in which I have been able to communicate to people on the federal level about my own story in agriculture in a way that allows them to both understand and act on injustices that have lingered for many decades are memorable moments in my career.  Similarly, when I shared the stage with former Vice President Al Gore alongside Dr. John Boyd who is a legend in the Black Farmer movement and Leah Penniman, who is also very integral to our collective healing to speak about Climate and Racial Justice in Farming, those are pinch-me career moments when I’m able to share the stage or proximity to people who are or have been so instrumental in our country…and for me to be counted among them, I count as a pretty bad ass career moment!” 

What does equity in the hemp space look like to you? 

“My version of equity in the Hemp space looks very different than what we currently have. I hope that through more engagements and intentional partnerships, we will see a leveling of the planting field, so to speak, that isn’t based on fear or exclusion or inequity/ inequality. The way that I am oriented to understand business success is very closely aligned to the cooperative model, and so with the cooperative model, the way we define success and the way we create opportunity is through Diversity, equity, and the inclusive empowerment of people based on skill and scale and values which also includes people who have been historically marginalized. I say this knowing that there are times when that isn’t the most efficient way to get things done, but there are also modifications to the co-op model that I’ve seen amazing examples of around the world with different businesses where people practice hybrid models whether it’s collective capitalism or some form of Economic progress that is balanced with human and community needs and so I would love to see more large companies reaching out to smaller companies for partnerships. I’d love to see more mentoring in the industry and technical assistance as we grow into more sectors. I’d love to see more diversity in leadership that will result in a stronger supply chain, and of course I’d be excited to see more farmers of color establishing successful hemp growing operations in the country and across the globe. I’ve been talking to folks in different parts of Africa who are really excited about bringing hemp to their country to help address the needs of the people there. There are many ways we can address human needs through partnering and bringing hemp to more communities and this time have more opportunities to be intentional about what a more just and equitable hemp marketplace looks and feels like.” 

What is the most important next step in the fight for fair access? 

“I think what’s most important on a personal level is that folks continue to engage and not run from the hard questions, and not be discouraged by the challenges and not allow misunderstandings to defeat our mission of shared sustainable future where we all can thrive. More specifically, there’re some hard issues that are coming up in the 2023 Farm Bill that all of us should be aware of, as it will eventually impact the way we access healthy foods. There is also the Justice for Black Farmers Act that has been introduced by Senator Cory Booker, and a lot of sustainable farming and climate measures are being discussed at the national level when it comes to the Farm Bill. It’s my hope that, over time, these discussions will help create a more inclusive and resilient food system for future generations.” 

We are thankful for the impactful work that Ms. Dawson is doing to move the agricultural community towards greater equity and sustainability. As the leader of the Forty Acre Co-op and The Great Rise, her work emphasizes community needs, regenerative practices, and fair access in farming and hemp cultivation. In addition to the national recognition she has received, we know that she will continue to have an impactful role in advocating for change and shaping a more inclusive future in agriculture. Ms. Dawson’s commitment to justice and empowerment for other farmers makes her an essential contributor to the evolving landscape of American farming.

The post Feature Spotlight: Angela Dawson and the Forty Acre Co-op appeared first on Charlotte’s Web™ CBD Education Blog.

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