“From the beginning, organic regulations set a high bar for advancing cultural and social values in agricultural production. We propose a return to this foundation by rededicating organic to an ethical food and agriculture system that honors the values of fairness and basic rights. Fairness includes fair trade; fair pricing (and contracts); fair access to land (and credit), and fair access to quality, organic food and seeds. These basic rights also encompass the rights of all people to follow their own cultural and traditional knowledge systems and the rights of farmers and farmworkers to have an empowered voice in the continued improvement of an ethical food system. This should apply directly to both domestic and foreign agricultural policies with the recognition of organic agriculture’s contributions to local food security and the alleviation of hunger both nationally and internationally.” From the National Organic Action Plan – On “Social and Cultural Change” (p. 32)
By Elizabeth Henderson
I call upon fellow organic farmers and all friends who want to put the above statement into action to help develop a program that will take us in the direction of the highest ideals of the organic movement for local, just and clean food for all.
Despite the impressive growth in organic markets – organic products are widely available in conventional groceries– the farmers I know are not having an easier time economically and farms continue to go out of business, especially dairies. Conventional farms are going out of business too. When the NOFA-NY Board made a public statement in support of raising the minimum wage, carefully balanced though the statement was with the need to raise the farmer share of the food dollar, farmers called into the office to complain of the hardship this will cause for their farm businesses.
These next few years will build towards the next farm bill. I invite others to join me in projecting where we would really like to go. Instead of limiting ourselves to incremental adjustments even to very good programs, let’s put together an integrated program of policies and cultural changes that will lead to a more radical transformation towards organic, biodynamic and agroecological farming, in support of carbon farming, fair labor and pricing practices, renegotiating power relations in supply chains, and an end to industrial agriculture. I realize that many of these proposals are not “realistic.” The majority of the US Congress will not vote for them at this time. The full realization of this program will happen together with other radical changes in power when Occupy, Black Lives Matter, the Bernie people, the labor movement, the Greens, merge into a determined movement for social change. In the meantime, let’s be sure the eater members of this movement know what the people who work the land – farmers with and without land and farmworkers – need so that we can thrive and create a food system worth sustaining.
Here are some measures that will increase family-scale farmers’ share of the food dollar, provide greater equity and justice for farmworkers and beat back corporate control:
Market Management for Economic Justice:
- Establish Price Floors backed up by Supply reductions, as needed to balance supply and demand, with Price Ceilings, for rare price spikes, backed up by Reserve Supplies. In other words, provide a sort of minimum wage for farmers by reinstituting parity price supports along with price ceilings (see Brad Wilson videos: See this link of (4 minute video) data charts that tell the story. (https://vimeo.com/115986303 )
This is a 19 minute video that is more comprehensive. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQkeDza3bM0&list=PLA1E706EFA90D1767&index=2 ). Supply reductions could be dependent on farming practices and favor organic farmers, new farmers, and farmers who have been marginalized historically – native peoples, farmers of color
(* The definition of Parity Pricing is: ‘Selling price of a product or produce should go up in the same amount as the prices of the inputs used in its production go up’. Parity pricing for agriculture became part of the 1933 Federal Farm legislation. The period between 1909 – 1914, was chosen as the base for calculating parity prices because there seemed to be an equilibrium between the purchasing power of city and country at that time.)
- Pass legislation supporting fair contracts for farmers. Freedom of association for farmers without threat of retaliation from buyers so that farmers can negotiate prices that cover full costs of production plus a margin of profit. Expand GYPSA provisions to all markets
- Ban non-family corporation ownership of farmland and farm businesses, as in Nevada and North Dakota.
- Limit processors’ share of final consumer dollar: if prices rise, processors pay farmers more; if prices processors pay to farmers go down, reduce final point of purchase price for consumers
5 .Eliminate packer ownership of livestock, which gives them a captive supply, in competition with the independent farmers selling to them.
- Reignite anti-trust actions to break up the concentration and control of agricultural markets, processing and retail outlets by a few mega-corporation,
- Repeal existing patents on living organisms, and prohibit the future patenting of life.
- Vote down the TPP, TIPP, and repealing existing “Free” Trade Agreements such as NAFTA
- Pass immigration reform based on human rights that includes paths to legal residency and citizenship for farm workers who choose to remain in the US. Give priority in land access and farmer training programs to immigrants who qualify based on their experience in farm work.
- Eliminate college debt for young farmers
- Ensure that the local Farm Service Agency committees that oversee the distribution of federal program funding are representative of the farmers in each area and that discriminatory practices are eliminated, that all farmers are given equal treatment and respect
- Increase the number of farmer and farmer/consumer/worker cooperatives
- Change tax policies to provide incentives to farmers who stock carbon in the soil and to landowners who sell to new farmers
- Create development banks that will fund land access and resources for “under-resourced” (farmers of color, first nation people, landless farmers)
- Ban tax loss farming – wealthy people farm without concern for meeting costs since they take the losses off their taxes for earnings in other sectors
- Amend the National Labor Relations Act to include farm workers and raise the minimum wage so that the 17% of workers who make up the food chain workers can afford to buy good food from their earnings. This will reduce nutrition program and SNAP costs: currently, many fast food and big box workers earn so little that they qualify for food stamps and their children qualify for free school breakfasts and lunches.
- Increase conservation incentives and technical assistance to farmers to stock carbon, provide other ecosystem services, rotate crops, use cover crops, reduce tillage, and make compost
- Provide more support for farmer training so that farms have an easier time finding well-trained employees and people with the skills to take over the farms when the current managers retire.
- Cost share the installation of renewable energy systems on farms
Eliminate toxic contaminants
- Discourage use of synthetic fertilizers, fossil fuels and toxic pesticides/herbicides
- Polluter pays – tax pesticides and chemical fertilizers
- Hold manufacturers of contaminants (including gmos, nanos, synbio) liable
- Raise taxes on fossil fuels and direct some of the revenues as incentives to farms that reduce energy use and increase soil carbon
- Tax carbon emissions of all kinds and invest the proceeds in collective efforts to reduce emissions and restore soil carbon.
This program is far from complete, but hopefully it will stimulate others to jump in with their ideas and to write background papers explaining and justifying the various aspects of this program and their additions to it.
This country needs radical changes so that all the people of the land – farmers, with and without land and farmworkers – can focus on the essential, life-giving work that we do.
Christopher D. Cook | 07.18.2016
Remember the great 2016 presidential campaign debate about food and agriculture, the backbone of human nourishment and survival? Remember when the candidates were forced to articulate their stances on soil regeneration, farm subsidy inequities, labor abuse in the food industry, and how to rein in pesticides and GMOs while expanding organic diversified farming? Remember when the media pressed candidates to explain how they would make food and farming equitable, truly sustainable, and deeply healthful for generations to come?
You didn’t forget—it never happened.
In an often-riveting and raucous election season that saw Bernie Sanders push inequality and climate change to the front burner of the political hot stove, integrally related food and agriculture issues (including mass hunger, food insecurity, and the food industry’s huge role in climate change) were left neglected on the shelf.