ON A HUMID South Carolina evening last summer, agricultural attorney Jillian Hishaw stood, exhausted, beside an empty truck bed. That afternoon she’d visited a church and the Florence branch of the Harvest Hope Food Bank, making much-needed food deliveries. On her long rounds, she’d personally dropped off 100 watermelons—more than 1,200 pounds total—that would go to communities where fresh produce is a luxury. The fruit was grown at Gamble Family Farms, a small operation about 45 miles down the road in Sumter. Because Hishaw is not only bringing food to the hungry, she’s also helping farmers—many of whom, like her, are African American—stay in business. As she puts it, “My heart bleeds for the small farmer.”
Hishaw’s grandfather was raised on a small farm in Oklahoma with chickens, pigs, and produce; when he and his mother left the area, they entrusted the farm’s tax payments to a lawyer who, they later learned, pocketed the money. Soon the farm was sold to pay a tax lien.
Farmers losing their land is sadly still common: In just 2016 and 2017, approximately 20,000 American farms shut down or were consolidated. Historically, black farmers have been particularly vulnerable; the seminal class action lawsuit Pigford v. Glickman, which Hishaw watched unfold while an undergraduate at Tuskegee University, brought this vulnerability into sharp relief. Filed in 1997 by Timothy Pigford and 400 fellow plain