We’re into February now, which marks National Black History Month. The occasion was first celebrated in 1969 at Kent State University in Ohio. The idea caught on and by the mid-70s it was observed nationwide every February. President Gerald Ford formally recognized National Black History Month in 1976, the same year of the Bicentennial.

It is a great time to reflect on the many contributions of the Black community to the sciences, art, and culture. Recently I wrote a blog about how new farm practices have gained popularity in recent years. We can thank several Black innovators for their contributions to American Agriculture, from Henry Blair, who patented a corn planter in the early 19th Century, to Frederick McKinley Jones, who invented the refrigerated truck, allowing perishable foods to be shipped to further distances and foreign markets.

Fred Jones

Frederick McKinley Jones patented his truck refrigeration system in 1940.
The invention led to other innovations including frozen foods and container shipping.

It is also a time to reflect on the challenges our country has had to grapple with and consider what more we can do to advance equity in society. Throughout the Department and at RMA we are currently examining any potential barriers to our services that historically underserved communities may face. This week, Secretary Vilsack selected 12 members to serve on the newly formed Advisory Committee for Urban Agriculture to provide input on policy, address obstacles producers may face, and promote urban farming in cities across the country.

We are not only focused on removing barriers but also providing resources and education to farmers of color. We recently earmarked $2 million to fund Risk Management Education for historically underserved farmers and ranchers. We are also fostering a closer relationship and dialogue with HBCUs in our outreach efforts.

And finally, within our own agency we embrace diversity, inclusion, and access in the workplace with a well-trained staff committed to our customers.

I encourage everyone to reflect on these themes during the month of February. While COVID concerns and weather may pose challenges to travel, the Smithsonian has incredibly interesting online exhibits for you to view and learn from this National Black History Month.

– Marcia