Hispanic farmers fight to sue USDA for discrimination they claim cost them their land

SALINAS, CA — In their straw hats, rolled up sleeves and work boots, a dozen or so Latinos gathered by a field of ripening strawberries still look like farmers. All but one of them, however, have lost their land.

Now they ring up purchases in stores, drive tractors — and hold the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for denying or delaying the loans that could have saved their farms.

“I used to be a farmer — now I’m a farmworker, working on someone else’s fields,” said Juan Atayde, who lost his 90 acres of strawberries when he couldn’t get loans to recover from the one-two punch of lower prices and a flood in the mid-1990s.

A lawsuit filed nine years ago on the behalf of Hispanic farmers from Texas to California alleged the USDA discriminated against Hispanics such as Atayde by refusing them help that was extended to white farmers in similar situations, then neglecting to investigate complaints. A similar suit, filed by black farmers, led to a billion-dollar settlement.

Hispanic farmers are still waiting. While they wait, some have lost their livelihood, some their homes and others have died.  To read the full story click here.