Today, there are 300,000 fewer farmers than in 1979. Many small farm operators have either left the farm or been forced to find off-farm jobs to supplement their income. This group of small farmers contains many African-American farmers. The number of African-American farmers has dramatically declined since 1910, when 1 million African-American farmers owned 15 million acres of land. In 1998, fewer than 20,000 African American farmers owned 2 million acres. A major concern of these farmers is the reduction and eventual elimination of Government intervention in commodity markets, including tobacco, cotton, and peanut commodity programs, as a means to provide income and price stability for the farming sector. Small farm operators are eager to find other income to offset the loss of these commodity subsidies.
Farmers are receiving less and less of every consumer dollar spent on food. In 1980, the farmer received 37 cents of every consumer dollar spent on food, compared to 23 cents in 1998. Part of the reason for this decline is that consumers are increasingly using processed, ready-to-eat products and meals. This trend has resulted in a shift of income and opportunities from the farms to the companies that process, package, and market agricultural products. This pilot project takes place in northern Florida, centered around Marianna. The needs and hardships of the small farmer in northern Florida are fairly representative of those of farmers in the southeastern United States.