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USDA reappoints Oklahoma farmer to the Advisory Committee for Minority Farmers

Arnetta Cotton is shown loading boxes of food at the Rural Impact Food Pantry near Inola, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Conservation Commission
Arnetta Cotton is shown loading boxes of food at the Rural Impact Food Pantry near Inola, Oklahoma.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reappointed an Oklahoma farmer last week to a committee supporting minority farmers.

Arnetta Cotton has been farming and raising cattle in Wagoner for over 40 years. During her first appointment in 2020, she held meetings where local farmers could express their concerns and developed programs that help farmers in her community grow food sustainably and make money.

“My husband and I have community meetings. We invite the USDA. People come out to those meetings to get some questions answered,” Cotton said. “In addition to that, we have an agricultural, training program. It's called Agriculture in Action farm training program.”

She’s even traveled to D.C. to represent her community in some lawsuits, like Pigford v. Glickman, a class action lawsuit in 1999 between Black farmers and the USDA that alleged the government racially discriminated against them in its allocation of farm loans and assistance.

Cotton said she sees herself as a voice for her community and a liaison between minority farmers in Oklahoma and the federal government.

“Our farmers work in an industry where they very rarely make a profit. They need our human touch. They need not to be another number,” Cotton said. “They need to be humanized and they need to be served as they work so desperately to serve us.”

In 2021, Cotton and her husband Pastor Errak testified before Congress, calling for the House Agriculture Committee to implement USDA training programs with HBCUs like Langston University and new ways to stimulate interest in federal programs.

According to the USDA, the Advisory Committee for Minority Farmers was established by Congress in 2008 to ensure underserved farmers have equal access to its programs, including mental health services, grants and loans, and education on building streams of income and climate-smart agriculture practices.

Cotton said Black, Native and other “underserved” farmers have mistrust about receiving loans and resources from the government and that she listens to their concerns daily.

“We listen to a lot of people vent. We volunteer where psychologists are getting paid. We volunteer to help understand and then try to compile ideas that can be implemented,” she said.

Members serve terms of up to two years and were appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Cotton said she plans to continue growing her programs and help build trust between minority farmers and the government.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Britny reported for StateImpact Oklahoma with an emphasis on science and environment.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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