*Country icon and Farm Aid organizer Willie Nelson has written a piece praising ousted Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod, particularly, her efforts to aid discriminated black farmers while working for the Georgia Field Office for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund.
Shirley Sherrod has been a great friend to me, Farm Aid and family farmers for 25 years. She has always worked to improve economic opportunities for family farmers in the South, going back to when I first met her as the director of the Georgia Field Office for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. Like Ms. Sherrod herself has said, she’s always tried to help those who don’t have so that they can have a little more.
The real story of Shirley Sherrod deserved to be told a long time ago. She has had an amazing impact on the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of families and communities throughout the South. Farmers of every race have struggled with the income inequities that have persisted for generations, and advocates like Ms. Sherrod have moved mountains to ensure that families can remain in their homes and on their farms.
While all family farmers in our country face an uphill battle to stay on their land, growing good food for rest of us, black farmers have lost their land at an alarming rate, faster than any other family farmers. Lending discrimination and inequities in agriculture programs are largely responsible for the shrinking number of black farmers. Farm Aid began supporting the Federation in 1985, where Shirley worked at the time, because of the group’s unique ability to reach out and help struggling farm families in the South. Many had owned their land for generations and were, and continue to be, under constant threat. We continue to support the Federation’s work to this day, and hundreds of farmers are still on their land because of Ms. Sherrod’s efforts.
During her time at the Federation, she fought to make sure that family farmers got what they needed to stay on their land. She has been a national leader for family farmers and a compassionate, courageous advocate for all struggling family farmers. Shirley Sherrod has dedicated her life to working on behalf of family farmers, civil rights and the alleviation of poverty and it’s up to Secretary Vilsack to right this wrong immediately.
This country desperately needs more farm advocates with Ms. Sherrod’s expertise. But this is not just about a job — it’s about ensuring that Shirley Sherrod has the opportunity to continue to support family farmers and the rural poor, something she has spent her life doing.