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One of the nation’s oldest organizations that represents and advocates for Black farmers and landowners celebrated 50 years with a renewed vision to take their mission to the next level.
This past summer the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (FSC/LAF) convened to observe and discuss what’s on the agenda for the decades to come.
“50 years is a milestone to be recognized and celebrated,” said Cornelius Blanding, the federation’s executive director. “It is a rare occasion for any organization to survive for 50 years, but especially an organization that is owned and controlled by its membership. A membership primarily of Black farmers, landowners and cooperatives … an organization and membership that owns it infrastructure.”
Blanding said that after 50 years, the state of the federation remains stable.
“This stability can be measured by the organization’s levels of assets and liabilities,” he said. “Our assets have increased with the attainment of an affordable housing subdivision in West Alabama, a pecan processing operation in South Georgia as well as a growing portfolio of investments. Furthermore, our debts are being serviced and have been drastically reduced. Our federation is stable and the net assets are increasing.”
The collective membership of the FSC/LAF owns the Rural Training and Research Center (RTRC), located between the towns of Epes and Gainesville in Sumter County, Alabama. The FSC/LAF and the Panola Land Buying Association together own more than 1,300 acres of farm and forested land, which form the land base of the RTRC.
Constructed between 1971 and 1974, the RTRC facilities provide meeting and training space for the FSC/LAF membership, according to the group. They also tout that they have title to 850 acres on three separate tracts of land, including the 375-acre tract where the RTRC is located.
The RTRC has an administrative office, a dormitory that can house up to 70 overnight guests, a multi-purpose building, agricultural research and demonstration sites, the southern regional agroforestry center, a silvopasture goat herd, nature trail and two fishing ponds. It also oversees the Wendy Hill Subdivision in Gainesville, Alabama, a 38-unit apartment complex serving low-income residents.
“Our impact in the communities in which we live and serve, as well as invaluable partnerships, are immeasurable,” Blanding said. “We have pooled our resources and know how, in order to build, to grow and retain cooperative businesses in our communities. We have worked together to save and expand Black owned land all over the Deep South and beyond.”
Blanding, crowned executive director in 2015 believes that the FSC/LAF well documented history will serve to help future generations.
“Our archives have been researched by many scholars and serve as a lighthouse for this and future generations of Black farmers, landowners and cooperatives,” he said. “Our archives and federation should also serve as a model for the world. Our history is a shining example of what is possible when limited resource people and communities pool their resources and work cooperatively to solve their common problems and build organizations that are owned and controlled by those that use and benefit from them.”
In his first address as executive director a few years ago, Blanding emphasized the organization’s three goals: cooperative economic development, land retention and advocacy.
“This non-profit cooperative association grew out of the Civil Rights movement and it grew out of the needs of many. It’s an organization that’s withstood many challenges.”
Blanding said to his constituents that the FSC/LAF will continue to be resilient, but that means more change.
“We must constantly change as a cooperation and as businesses, land owners and farmers,” he said. “As your server I embrace this change and I ask that you do to. This has been a time of transition for the organization and transition always means change. Change is hard but we must always change or parish. When we are finished changing we are finished.”