The LEAP Coalition

What is LEAP?

John Deere, in partnership with the National Black Growers Council (NBGC) and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), established the LEAP (Legislation, Education, Advocacy and Production Systems) coalition in 2020 to help eliminate barriers created by Heirs Property and provide resources to advance the lives and livelihoods of Black farmers. LEAP is dedicated to ensuring the long-term sustainability of less than 5 million acres of land currently owned or farmed by Black farmers.

A farmer standing next to his John Deere tractor

What is Heirs' Property?

Heirs' Property is land jointly owned by descendants of someone who didn't leave a legal will, thereby leaving them without a clear title. The land is passed to surviving family members by way of fractional ownership—meaning any heir can divide or sell the land. This is the leading cause of involuntary land loss among Black landowners. Other factors include lack of access to resources and information, and distrust in judicial and legal systems.

Supporting new legislation

For several years, Black farmers and landowners have experienced systemic discrimination, ranging from denial of federal farm assistance to unjust lending practices. To counter this, in February 2021, the Justice for Black Farmers Act was introduced to provide debt relief and create land grant programs to foster a new generation of Black farmers. LEAP and other advocates are pushing for additional legislation to ensure Black landowners have access to the resources they need to maintain and sustain the land they own and farm. The coalition is also working to eliminate Black farmers' clouded titles so they can leverage the full value of their land for generations to come.

Read a letter from Collis Jones, vice president U.S. Policy and Strategy, urging the USDA to fund efforts to help resolve heirs' property issues.

Education and legal assistance

To help Black farm families navigate Heirs' Property issues, John Deere is providing educational support in three ways:

  1. Funding two full-time attorneys and an annual legal internship program and fellowship with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. These attorneys and interns will support the federation's work.
  2. Funding three legal interns from Historically Black Colleges and Universities who will work with families this summer on Heirs' Property issues. These interns were identified by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
  3. Providing the families with pro bono legal counsel from its legal team

Through these efforts Black farmers will receive advice on estate and wills planning (to prevent involuntary loss of Heirs' Property).

Learn more about the interns

Khyla Morgan, Toria Rotibi and Michael Adams will be working with Black farmers this summer to help address their Heirs' Property issues.

Freddie Davis talking to the Ely family

Read about the Federation of Southern Cooperatives

Working with an estimated 600 Black farmers each year to help them maintain ownership of their land, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives focuses on outreach, education and technical assistance.

Read about the National Black Grower’s Council

Founded in 2015, by Black farmers for Black farmers, the National Black Growers Council (NBGC) partners with Black and other minority farmers, majority farmers and corporations to impact global food supply.

Portrait of Tharlyn Fox

Tharlyn Fox fights alongside Black farm families in their heirs’ property battle

Due to discrimination less than five million acres of US farmland is now owned by Black farmers.

Ely family member on a Deere tractor

Advocates for Black farmers

John Deere has partnered with and made five-year commitments to both the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and Thurgood Marshall College Fund to address Black farmers’ Heirs’ Property challenges. To date, Deere has supported and participated in FSC’s annual National Heirs Property Conference and annual internship program.  The company is also providing webcasts to help educate farmers on credit worthiness. These efforts will better equip Black farmers to reap the full benefits of their land.

farmer tilling on his tractor

History of John Deere’s advocacy

Dating back to its founder John Deere, the company has supported several underserved organizations and institutions. John Deere himself was an active proponent of abolition through his participation in anti-slavery petitions, and support of Black churches and abolitionist-led schools.

In 2020, over 40 percent of John Deere's contributions supported under-represented communities which includes a number of organizations specifically serving Black farmers.

In addition, John Deere deploys a multi-faceted approach to funding which includes not only monetary investments in programs but resource support. John Deere's investments include funding to support the National Black Growers Council, The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS), Thurgood Marshall College Fund and 1890 land-grant institutions such as North Carolina A&T.

Contact Us

To learn more about how you can get involved, go to LEAP Coalition.

 

The LEAP coalition wouldn't be possible without the expertise, support and leadership of:

National Black Growers Council

Thurgood Marshall College Fund

Federation of Southern Cooperatives