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The Daily Tar Heel

White-owned farms outnumber black-owned farms in Orange County

Joe Thompson, a black farm owner, understands firsthand the difficulties of obtaining a loan to start his farm.

“I’m going to be truthful and honest with you,” Thompson said. “The people at the government offices, they made it so hard for people who were black to obtain financial loans.”

Thompson said when he received his operating expense, a woman at the U.S. Farmers Home Administration, which operated until 2006, held his check in her desk for about 20 days after he signed that he had received it.

“(They did) stuff like that to get you behind, get you frustrated, make you quit,” Thompson said.

In another instance, when Thompson tried to put in an irrigation pond on his farm, he was told he needed 10 acres of available land to build it. He had 9.6 acres of land — four-tenths of an acre short.

“(Agency workers) had no business at all in the position that they were holding to not help one farmer that was just as good as the rest of them,” Thompson said.

Thompson’s Prawn Farm began in 1979 as a tobacco farm. After Thompson had a hip replacement, he said he had to find something he could handle, so he switched to prawn farming.

In 2010, Thompson won the Gilmer L. and Clara Y. Dudley Small Farmer of the Year award from N.C. A&T.

“I’m not a quitter,” Thompson said. “I’m a go-getter.”

There are 1,689 black-owned farms in North Carolina and 47,868 white-owned farms.

Valee Taylor, co-owner of Taylor Fish Farm, said the disparity between the number of white- and black-owned farms in Orange County could be attributed to taxes.

“It might be because it’s probably easier for others to get financing,” Taylor said.

Taylor said Taylor Fish Farm, a fourth-generation tobacco farm, started farming organic tilapia in 2009.

Taylor said the farm sells the tilapia to Whole Foods Market and Publix, but he said it was difficult to compete with the foreign market.

“It’s hard, and I can see what’s happening with black farmers,” Taylor said.

“As you transition over to a more mainstream market — like the grocery store chains, the hospitals — it’s hard to get in the door.”

Taylor said the market is primarily interested in price point and not the health benefits of organic fish.

Taylor and Thompson both attended the Orange County Agricultural Summit on Feb. 29.

“I know both of those farmers — (I) have met them — and we’re very proud of the fact that they had acknowledged their role in the community during the agricultural summit,” said Richard Reich, assistant commissioner for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

@janelittle26

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