Minnesota farmer declares victory as state modifies discriminatory grant program

"We encourage other states to follow Minnesota's about-face and stop violating the Constitution's guarantee of equality before the law," the farmer's attorney said in a statement.

Nistler lives in northern Minnesota and has farmed since he was a boy. He hopes to "one day have his own farm near his home." (Photo courtesy of Pacific Legal Foundation)

Northern Minnesota farmer Lance Nistler has prevailed against a regulation which his attorneys say prevented farmers from accessing grant funds based on characteristics like race and sex.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed legislation on May 24 which dispensed with the regulation that prioritized giving racial and sexual minority farmers funding from the Down Payment Assistance Grant Program.

Nistler applied for the program on July 20, 2023, and his application was the ninth drawn in the award lottery. However, Nistler said his application was subsequently downgraded to position 102 on the application list. As a result, Nistler said he was ultimately passed over when the first 68 applications were selected to receive grant awards.

The regulation which Nistler says caused him to miss out on the grant award specified that “emerging farmers,” including “women, veterans, persons with disabilities, American Indian or Alaskan Natives, members of a community of color, young, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual (LGBTQIA+), or urban, and any other emerging farmers as determined by the commissioner,” were to be given preference in the grant lottery.

Nistler filed suit against Gov. Walz and Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen in January with pro bono representation from the Pacific Legal Foundation and Upper Midwest Law Center (UMLC), on the grounds that the regulation violated his Fourteenth Amendment “constitutional right to equal protection of the law.” UMLC framed the case as a matter of upholding “‘One Minnesota,’ where opportunities are equal for all and not based on race and sex discrimination.” Nistler hoped that the regulation would be overturned, and also sought attorneys fees and a token dollar in damages.

The parameters of the Down Payment Assistance Grant Program contrast sharply with the actual demographic makeup of Minnesota farmers. Ninety-nine percent of farmers in Minnesota are white, according to the most recent available Department of Agriculture census from 2017, and 69 percent are male.

The Pacific Legal Foundation issued a statement crediting Nistler’s decision to file suit with the ultimate decision to repeal the discriminatory regulation, declaring, “thanks to the courage of a small farmer, equality before the law has been restored in Minnesota.”

“We are thrilled that Governor Walz and the state legislature responded to Lance’s lawsuit by amending the Down Payment Assistance Grant Program so that it does not unlawfully discriminate against Minnesota’s hardworking small farmers,” Attorney Andrew Quinio added. “We encourage other states to follow Minnesota’s about-face and stop violating the Constitution’s guarantee of equality before the law.”


Evan Poellinger

Evan Poellinger, the Alpha News Summer 2024 Journalism Fellow, is a native Minnesotan with a lifelong passion for history and politics. He previously worked as a journalism intern with the American Spectator and an investigative journalism fellow with the Media Research Center. He is a graduate of College of the Holy Cross with degrees in political science and history.