Land Loss Among Local Area Farmers
Jillian Hishaw is the founder and director of Family Agriculture Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.), which provides legal services to aging farmers in the Carolinas and donations of produce to high-poverty communities. She has more than 12 years of professional experience in the area of agricultural law and asset protection, a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, a law degree and a legal Master in Agricultural Law.
She states, “Due to my own personal family land loss experience and the study of discrimination class action suits filed against USDA by farmers of color and women farmers while in law school, I knew I wanted to form F.A.R.M.S. in November, 2005. Most of our clients are African-American. However, the past few years, we are beginning to see more diversity in our clientele, which is what we welcome.” The current mix is 85 percent black and 15 percent white—90 percent male and 10 percent female.
The organization connects farmers with lawyers that are willing to accept their case pro bono or for a small fee and offer donated produce to hunger relief agencies such as food banks, eldercare centers and child care centers in low-income areas. They also provide book scholarships to a child or grandchild of a farmer majoring in agricultural science, and volunteer internships to women studying agriculture.
“We offer services strategically designed to help the farmer make money to ensure the farm stays in the family. Not all of our competitors have a founder that has worked for USDA in D.C. and EPA in D.C. and has a legal Master in Agricultural Law. Having a leader with this extent of experience helps in meeting many diverse needs of our farm clients,” says Hishaw.
Hishaw published Don’t Bet the Farm on Medicaid, a booklet about how becoming a Medicaid recipient opens up a family’s home and land to a potential Medicaid lien if there is an outstanding debt owed to a long-term care facility.
The organization has donated more than 220,000 pounds of fresh produce to hunger relief agencies in seven states over the past four years. “We have saved a local farm from foreclosure due to a predatory lender with the help of an area attorney; we have hosted estate planning and Medicaid workshops for landowners; we have published a book to educate landowners and homeowners about Medicaid liens; we have given out book scholarships the past four years; and more!” notes Hishaw. “In September, we plan on hosting a fundraiser at a local Chipotle restaurant.”
“Due to development and urban sprawl, land is being taken through eminent domain by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which is why there was a meeting in the winter to encourage the Charlotte City Council to support the adoption of Voluntary Agricultural Districts (VAD). The purpose of a VAD is to encourage the preservation and protection of farmland from non-farm development. Mecklenburg County is one of 12 counties in the state that has not adopted VAD, as opposed to the other 88 counties that have, including Union county,” says Hishaw.
“Mecklenburg and Union and Anson Counties have not adopted a Farmland Protection Plan program either. There needs to be more land protection; right now, landowners and farmers are frustrated because they have to pay an extra tax for water and sewer assessment. The farmers feel like they are paying for developers to come and take their land, because once sewer is laid, that's when development comes in and eminent domain is enforced by state and county entities,” says Hishaw.
“Additionally, we have received reports of nursing homes placing Medicaid liens on the homes and land of owners due to an outstanding debt owed to the nursing home. Some people do not realize that when you qualify for Medicaid, that opens up your assets to a lien if an outstanding debt is owed to the nursing facility, forcing the sale of one’s home and land. Last year we received notice that an elderly farmer in Union County, who had no loved ones to care for him, experienced the loss of his family farm due to a Medicaid lien.”
Hishaw also offers consultation services for farmers regarding industrial hemp business development.
For more information, visit 30000Acres.org and JillianHishaw.com. Don't Bet the Farm on Medicaidis available at Amazon.com.