Chemicals, Agriculture, and Land Access

Food production in the United States is tightly connected to cause of ecological degradation, racial inequality, and harm to human health. Ecologically, these inputs are harmful to important organisms, consistently pollute waterways, and degrade the health and nutrients of the soil. Farmers are often caught in a chemical use treadmill, having to keep up with the latest pesticides to ensure high crop yield and allocating a portion of income to using chemicals to stay afloat for commercial export markets. Farmworkers are exposed to these chemicals not only when handling and applying chemicals, but from pesticide drift from neighboring fields and residue on crops and soil. Agricultural chemical residues are also found in the homes of farmworkers, meaning these toxins impact entire families and communities.

These chemicals and their associated health impacts disproportionately affect Communities of Color. In addition, disparities in land ownership in access are evident across the country; while People of Color are the majority of agricultural laborers, white people own most agricultural land. This, in conjunction with the cost of associated health burdens for People of Color due to toxic exposure, contributes to wealth and health disparities and further concentration of wealth and power into the hands of a few major producers. This corporate consolidation and depletion of ecosystem health means our agricultural system now relies on continued petrochemical inputs in order to continue producing food, resulting in a self-perpetuating loop of racialized health inequalities, ecological degradation, and toxics exposure to workers and consumers.

“Because agriculture is a simultaneously social and environmental practice, racism oriented around agriculture always has environmental dimensions and implications1.

Over 1 billion pesticides and toxic chemicals are applied to crops and land in the United States each year2.

Latinx people comprise 80% of farmworkers in the country3.

Pesticide and herbicide exposure can cause immediate health impacts (dizziness, vomiting, skin and eye irritation) as well as long term and chronic issues (multiple forms of cancer, kidney/liver damage, reproductive and developmental harm, neurotoxicity, and more)4.

Farmers of Color (Black, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander, and those reporting more than one race) comprised less than 3% of non-farming landowners and less than 4% of owner-operators. Meanwhile, white people comprise 97% of agricultural landowners5.




  • Land Loss Prevention Project: working to curtail the loss of Black-owned land and advocating for sustainable agricultural practices for small family farms.
  • National Black Food and Justice Alliance: a coalition of Black-led organizations working towards cultivating and advancing Black leadership, building Black self-determination, Black institution building and organizing for food sovereignty, land and justice,
  • Herbicide-Free Campus: A youth led non-profit focused on eliminating synthetic chemical usage at college campuses and dismantling corporate influence and power

3. ACT


1. Williams, Brian. “‘That We May Live’: Pesticides, Plantations, and Environmental Racism in the United States South.” Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, vol. 1, no. 1–2, SAGE Publications Ltd STM, Mar. 2018, pp. 243–67.  

2. Alavanja, Michael C. R. “Pesticides Use and Exposure Extensive Worldwide.” Reviews on Environmental Health, vol. 24, no. 4, 2009, pp. 303–09.

3.  Horst, Megan, and Amy Marion. “Racial, Ethnic and Gender Inequities in Farmland Ownership and Farming in the U.S.” Agriculture and Human Values, vol. 36, no. 1, Mar. 2019, pp. 1–16.

4. Das, R., et al. “Pesticide-Related Illness among Migrant Farm Workers in the United States.” International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, vol. 7, no. 4, Dec. 2001, pp. 303–12.

5.  Ayazi, Hossein, and Elsadig Elsheikh. The US Farm Bill:Corporate Power and Structural Racialization in the United States Food System. University of California, Berkeley, 2015,
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