Stolen Land, Stolen Future

Michael Santiago


James McGill is a 3rd-generation pig farmer, and at 71 he has been farming for over 50 years. After returning from Vietnam he, along with a partner managed a 320-acre farm, McGill Farms, from 1976 to 1987. He lost it all due to alleged suspect practices by a USDA lending agency and has been fighting to keep his land since 1987. His family was able to retain just five acres of the land which he is still farms, while he dreams of self-sufficiency and being able to reclaim ownership of the rest of his family's land. Mr. McGill's story is not an uncommon one for African-American farmers in the United States, but it is a seldom told one.

Winner of the 2015 Alexia Foundation Student Grant

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  • But the drought has raised the price of the feed Mr. McGill buys for his pigs. The lack of rain and high temperatures have led to disappointing corn crops, driving the cost of feed to record highs and making it difficult for small farm owners like Mr. McGill to afford the feed his pigs need.

  • James McGill, is a 3rd-generation African-American pig farmer in the San Joaquin Valley. In the 1980’s, he lost almost all of his land due to alleged suspect practices by a USDA lending agency.

  • Since Mr. McGill is the only one maintaining the farm, much of it is left untended, leaving piles of debris that have accumulated throughout the years.

  • Mr. McGill’s Duroc and Bluebutt show pigs need to have daily exercise to keep their physique looking strong so they will please the judges at the annual Kern County Fair.

  • “Me and a friend of mine, we assumed a loan that was in foreclosure, and the federal land bank made us all these deals before we assumed the loans and after it got tied up they reneged on their promises.”

  • Land that used to be part of Mr. McGill’s family farm is now fenced off and is up for sale by the county.

  • Unable to hire help, Mr. McGill does all the work on the farm, from feeding and bathing to spreading the pigs’ bedding, with only occasional help from family members.

  • Mr. McGill builds all of the enclosures for his pigs from whatever scraps he can find, so there are piles of wood, lumber, old pallets, and tires all over the five-acre farm.

  • The drought in California has not harmed Mr. McGill’s farm directly. Unlike other farms,his land benefits when it stays dry: it keeps the smell of pigs at bay.