From the Blog

Perspectives in Farming: T.D. Holub shares his experience as a Black farmer in Iowa

Barb Danielson February 2 Category: Grower Stories

History of Black Farmers in Iowa

Iowa has a rich history of Black farmers in our state, with farmers of color on record since the 1830s when Iowa became a US territory.

Black-owned farms now account for 1.4% of total farms nationally. Comparatively, Black-owned farms accounted for 12-14% of farms in the 1940s.  

There are only 72 Black farmers in Iowa, according to the latest census data.

Predatory lending practices, land seizure, isolation, and other factors have contributed to the decline of Black representation within the farming industry. 

Knowing the lack of representation in the farming industry, we spoke with one of our local New Pi producers, T.D. Holub of Garden Oasis Farms, to share his perspective as a Black farmer in Iowa.

T.D.'s Start in Farming


T.D. grew up in a farming family, helping out his grandfather and uncle on the family farm in Coggon, IA. 

“If you are a farm kid, you know what I mean. There is just something about the life of a farmer that is addicting from day one and I was no different as I immediately fell in love with all aspects of the farm," says T.D.

Having that base of farming knowledge accessible to him through his support network was a big help when it was time to start farming on his own. 

Garden Oasis Farm


T.D. and his wife, Sarah, now own and operate a 10 acre specialty crop farm in Coggon, focusing on organic vegetables and mindful land stewardship. 

Starting slow and taking time to research everything has been critical to the growth and success of Garden Oasis Farm. 

“Farming by nature and because of nature, is a slow-moving enterprise...All things in farming take time and so should the farmers.”

Things like finding funding for land, equipment and other supplies can be a challenge, especially in the early years.

“Before we had the experience of actually growing and selling, we were not able to apply for things like microloans or other financial programs to help farmers. This was kind of a chicken and egg scenario. How do we gain experience and sales data without having the infrastructure we need to do so?” 

T.D. acknowledges that he’s had lots of advantages in his farming journey thanks to the farming support network of family, friends and neighbors. But not everyone has access to such a network.  

Need for Community

Farming is an incredibly challenging industry for anyone, regardless of race, as T.D. points out. But the isolation that may come from not knowing other Black farmers, can make accessing support even more difficult.  

“Many people in the agricultural world are not black, so to be able to relate to the special needs of Black farmers becomes a challenge in many of the farming programs now available. Coupled with trying to work in a niche field of specialty farming, it can start to become very challenging to access the resources and knowledge needed to move forward.”

Understanding the need for community and connection with Black peers, the first annual Iowa Farmers of Color Conference was held in Des Moines in December 2023, led by the Western family, a 6th generation Black Iowa farm family.

The Iowa Farmers of Color Conference aims to bring together Black farmers in Iowa to network and find resources to help improve and innovate. 

“There is no greater resources than connecting with other farmers. Being able to connect with other farmers who grow like you, think like you and sometimes look like you can be the difference in whether a farm succeeds or shuts its doors," says T.D. 

Also in 2023, the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids hosted a “Black Agricultural Fair” to spotlight the work of Black Iowans, illustrating a growing trend in creating community. 

Improved Resources

In addition to the networking efforts taking place at the state level, there is work being done at the national level to improve equity in agriculture.

An NPR analysis last year found that Black farmers are still being disproportionately denied from USDA programs.

36% of Black farmers were approved for direct loan applications in 2022, compared to 72% approval for white farmers. 

The Biden administration charged the USDA and other agencies with promoting equity and inclusion initiatives, prioritizing improved programs.

“We’re going to draw a line in the sand and give you better access to resources, capital, personnel. It’s important that we do that. It’s important for agriculture that we do that,” says Dewayne Goldman, USDA senior advisor for racial equity. 

One program, part of the American Rescue Plan of 2021, provides debt forgiveness for socially disadvantaged farmers. 

The Discrimination Financial Assistance Program, included in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, provides financial assistance to people who were discriminated against in farm lending programs. 

To learn more about available programs and resources, visit the USDA website at

Barb Danielson About the Author

Barb Danielson Marketing Specialist

Barb is a passionate advocate for local food economies, spending much of her free time in the growing season out in her own garden. She is a professional photographer and artist, now using her varied skills on the marketing team here at the Co-op.