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(Keynote delivered in Dayton, Ohio, February 15, 2019)

Elizabeth Henderson

I feel truly honored to have been entrusted to speak to the theme of your conference, “Just Farming: the Path Before Us” in celebration of OEFFA’s 40th anniversary!  I was here once before – in 1996 when the theme was Cooperating for Change! NOFA is up to 48! Together with the other organic farming associations, we are part of an important social movement.

In the 2016 presidential elections, I suspect that had “neither of the above” been on the ballot, it would have won the farmer vote.  The sad reality is that both mainstream parties advocate the neoliberal, free trade, cheap food policies that the ever more aggregated seed/food/chemical corporations have imposed upon our country since WWII to the detriment of family-scale farms all over the world.

But before I launch into this depressing story, let me ask a few questions:

If you farm or work on a farm or on the land in any way, please stand up. (Over half of the people in the audience of about 600 stood up.)

Please remain standing if you do this work full time. (About half of those standing remained standing)

Please remain standing if you make your full living from doing this work with no off farm income. (Only about a dozen people remained standing)

Now, please stand if you buy any of the food that you and your family eats. (Of course, everyone stood up.)

Thank you – we all have a stake in creating agrarian justice – making work on the land a dignified, respected way of life in which people can support themselves and their families growing healthy food for our communities.

50 years of cheap food policy in the US and a few decades of free trade have driven family-scale farms all over the world to the point of desperation.

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Since 1950, the US has gone from 5.4 million farms to only 2.1 million, a loss of over 3 million farms, with important shifts from many smaller integrated farms to fewer large more specialized farms that grow even larger.[1] If you juxtapose this Agricultural Economic Insights chart

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with the previous chart, it is clear that loss of farm income corresponds with the loss of farms.  More than half of U.S. farm households lost money farming in recent years, according to the USDA, which estimated that median farm income for U.S. farm households was negative $1,548 in 2018. Farm incomes have dropped despite record productivity on American farms, because oversupply drives down commodity prices.[2]

Through a plethora of racist policies, African American farmers have lost land at over 5 times the rate of white farmers. (According to USDA data, between 1920 and 1990, African American farm ownership declined from 14% to 1 percent.)

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While profits in consolidated food businesses (farm inputs, retail stores) remain high with the returns on investment ranging from 8 to 35 %,[3] the farm share of the food dollar continues to shrink.

farmer share of food dollar compared to other sectors 2016

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A dairy farmer friend just sent me this note: “Scary here, our neighbors are liquidating their century cow herd next week.  Livestock worth nothing in auctions, bull calves you get a bill for, buyers more and more consolidated.  I have a couple of young farmers being foreclosed on.  Farmers trying to get through winter with minimal heating in house.  We have a route where we deliver crockpots of food to farmers in the morning before milk checks arrive if they run out of food. I pulled up to one milkhouse and the young woman came out crying that they were living on cereal till the next milk check.” (From Lorraine Lewandrowski.)

Ever larger corporations dominate the food sector resulting in shoppers paying more and farmers getting less. Note also that the prices consumers pay climb at a much faster rate than what the farmers gets.

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The orange line is the amount shoppers pay for bread; the blue line shows payments to farmers for wheat.

 

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This chart is for broccoli. The red line is what shoppers pay and the green line shows payments to farmers.

If you did not remain standing with those who make their full living from farming, you are not alone.  The household income for most family-scale farmers depends on someone working off the farm.

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The USDA Economic Research Service Agricultural Resource Management Survey breaks this down by farming sector for 2017.

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Wages for farm workers remain below the poverty line.

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Structural racism traps people of color and women in the lowest paying jobs and too many people who work in food jobs survive on SNAP payments.

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Deciding to become an agroecological farmer or gardener and join in a movement to create a just and equitable regionalized food system based on the organic principles of care, fairness, ecology and health is like jumping into a swiftly flowing river of icy water and swimming against the stream. Does anyone want to leave now? No one? All right. We may be swimming against the current, but we are not out there all alone. Let’s stop for a moment and look around – in this hall are the people with whom we are going to be working against the odds. And for our movement to succeed we need to ally ourselves with many more food workers and get the climate activists to recognize the critical contribution that farming can make.

If you are still in this room, it means you believe that there are things we can do to make a difference in these trying times.  How can we respond? Do we conform to the logic of greed – buy more, use more, expand, compete?  Or can we build alternative local living economies based on real production and a way of life that is grounded in fairness, cooperation and frugality? Can we achieve justice for farmers together with justice for those who work on our farms and the people who support us by buying our food?

At the NOFA summer conferences, we hold a fair which culminates in a horseback riding demonstration.  Dale Perkins rides bareback with his feet first on one, then two and finally bridging 3 horses as they leap through a flaming hoop.

 

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This is a stirring metaphor for what we need to do!

Horse # one – fighting back, reacting to the endless flood of negative actions we must stop – we must protest against the use of endocrine disrupting, carcinogenic inputs like glyphosate that lure farms into the corporate-dominated system with its packet of gmo, chemical and mechanical technology.

We must demand transparent labeling of foods so that shoppers can make intelligent choices about what to eat and denounce the new bioengineered label that adds confusion instead of clarity about GMOs.

We must support raises in the minimum wage, increased health and safety regulations that protect food workers, and stand up for undocumented farm workers who organize and then are targeted for deportation by ICE.

We must resist the gaggle of cynical billionaires who surround #45 who want to gut social services and protections for the environment and widen even further the income inequality that puts democracy at risk.

Also in the Horse #1 category I include protecting and making incremental improvements in the programs our sustainable agriculture movement has already achieved – led by outstanding organizations like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and the National Organic Coalition (NOC). OEFFA and NOFA are active participants pushing to increase conservation payments to our farms, increasing research in organic agriculture, keeping the cost share for organic certification fees, maintaining the integrity of the organic label.

Horse #two – building our farms, gardens, coops and local food networks, the alternative solidarity economy, our liberated territory where we practice food sovereignty. Over the past 40 years through organizations like OEFFA, we have made tremendous progress in learning how to produce food without damaging the planet and how to nurture community around food.  Farmers are sharpening their business practices, making their farms more “lean,” extending the season, diversifying crops to also improve the jobs on their farms by making them year round rather than seasonal. Together with NOFA and other organic farming associations, OEFFA has helped create the organic label, the gold standard eco-label that has helped build a market that supports our farms. Conferences like this one where we share what we have learned are happening all over the country.

I have spent most of my life and most of my energies helping build this alternative through organic farming, CSA and helping define and protect the integrity of the organic label.

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I have been inspired and guided by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) Principle of Fairness to create a community farm enterprise that allowed my farm partners and me to make a modest living and to have the satisfaction of providing high quality food for people who became our friends. With the support of CSA members and an active core group, we covered our costs of production, and paid ourselves modest salaries with health insurance and a small retirement fund.

I call your attention to the comprehensive language of the Principle of Fairness:

Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.

Fairness is characterized by equity, respect, justice, and stewardship of the shared world, both among people and in their relations to other living beings.

Natural and environmental resources that are used for production and consumption should be managed in a way that is socially and ecologically just and should be held in trust for future generations. Fairness requires systems of production, distribution, and trade that are open and equitable and account for real environmental and social costs.

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One of the four hoop houses at Peacework Organic Farm in Newark, New York.

Let me share some of my own farming story. Peacework Organic CSA is one of the oldest in the country – we are looking forward to our 31st season in 2019. When I moved back to New York State in 1988, my farm partner and I agreed to run the farm as a commercial enterprise and make our certified organic farm our main source of income. In Wayne County, NY, we were not located close to a farmers’ market where we could expect sales of more than $100 a week, and we could already see that much larger organic farms in CA would be able to undersell us in grocery stores.  We needed to sell direct so that we would have some control over the prices we received and we needed loyal supporters.

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One of my first undertakings was to start a CSA. I had learned about CSA from Robyn Van En, a friend and a visionary. I understood CSA as a flexible concept for a new eater-farmer connection, an alternative system of distribution based on community values.

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Members help harvest garlic greens in May at Peacework Organic Farm. For each full share, members worked three four hour shifts at the farm and two 2 1/2 hour shifts on distribution which took place at the Abundance Co-op in Rochester, an hour’s drive from the farm in Newark. Instead of harvesting or distribution shifts, some members served on the core committee that took care of administrative tasks – publishing a newsletter, creating and maintaining a website, scheduling member work at the farm and distribution, serving as treasurer to collect member payments so that the farmers did not need to hound anyone for money.

The economics of direct sales make this a win-win solution for farmers and their customers.  The farmer gets a decent price and the customer pays less, since there is no middleman. For the farmer, CSA offers the possibility of a broad support group of people who genuinely care about the farm’s survival and who are willing to share the risks.  Non-farmers have the opportunity to connect with the earth, know and trust the people who grow their food and support the local economy.

As an experiment, in starting the Genesee Valley Organic CSA (GVOCSA, renamed Peacework Organic CSA after the name of our farm), we proposed that to keep the price of the shares as low as possible, everyone would participate either in the farm work in distribution, or by doing administrative jobs as members of a core committee

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The core group meets with farmer Doug Kraai to talk about Peacework CSA moving to land on his farm.

We also set the share price on a sliding scale so that no one would be excluded because of inability to pay.  The farm was already authorized to accept food stamps. Share pick up was at the farm and in Rochester at the Abundance Food Co-op – cooperation between cooperatives, the 6th principle of cooperation, has proven its value over and over.

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Jennifer Wiser, a member of the core group, instructs other members on getting set up for distribution outside the Abundance Co-op in Rochester, New York. When the weather was good, distribution took place outdoors. On rainy weather, it moved into the warehouse area of the store.

 

The farm work turned out to be as popular as the vegetables and as the CSA grew to over 300 households, members continued helping with the harvests and serving on the core group.

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Harvesting carrots, a popular activity with the many children who came with their families to work their harvest shifts at the farm. I am the person in the straw hat loosening the carrots with a fork, a job I did not trust inexperienced members to do. Hiroko Kubota, a member of the board of the Japanese Organic Agriculture Association, took this photo on a visit to the farm.

As the CSA became a more significant portion of our farm sales, we began to share the farm budget with the members. We did this to educate them about the realities of farming, but it had an unexpected result.  Members told me they were shocked at how little we farmers earned. The core group became our best advocate for making the contract between the farm and the CSA members something more resembling a fair deal.  I wish that farmers were braver about asking more of their members.  CSAs with more member involvement actually retain members better. Even after my retirement and the leasing of the farmland to new farmers who no longer do CSA, the active core group continues providing shares to members from another farm, Mud Creek, whose farmer worked at Peacework for four years.

We were very successful in turning social capital into meaningful financial support for the farm. I could lead a whole workshop on this topic. Initially, my partners and I rented from a farmer-friend, Doug Kraai. When Doug passed away, within 14 months, members contributed enough money to the Genesee Land Trust to purchase the farm and the Trust then leased the land back to us with a 25-year rolling lease.

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4 My partners, Katie Lavin, Greg Palmer, Ammie Chickering, and I sign all the paperwork for leasing the land from the Genesee Land Trust. Gay Mills, in the blue turtleneck, facilitated this complicated process. Signing everything took us four hours! Gay and I worked on the lease with help from Equity Trust, Susan Witt and the Pioneer Valley Land Trust.

We renewed it every year, so we always had tenure of 25 years without the burden of a heavy financial investment. We farmed on community owned land.  In 1989, we were the first CSA within two hundred miles of Rochester.  We resisted encouragement to get bigger and taught others to do it instead. Today, there are more than 20 serving the Rochester area.

Although our CSA farm could have gotten along without organic certification since we were selling direct, we chose to certify as a way to stand up and be counted. In the early 1980’s, I met my future farm partner Ammie on the NOFA certification committee where I was one of the NOFA farmers who reached out to our customers to work together on defining organic standards and establishing an organic certification program in Massachusetts.

Peacework benefitted from the legitimacy resulting from the National Organic Program (NOP) which saved generational family-scale farms and allowed new ones like ours to come into being.

However, the NOP never encompassed the full values of organic agriculture and in particular the Principle of Fairness. As a member of the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, I sent in comments to USDA when the first Rule came out noting this absence and the answer came back –“this is not in our purview.” So together with the Farmworker Support Committee (CATA), Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA) and Florida Organic Growers (FOG), I represented NOFA in creating the Agricultural Justice Project, and its Food Justice Certified as an add-on to the organic label.

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Farmers function on two levels – as employers and suppliers. The AJP standards address both roles. [4]

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As suppliers, farmers need the guaranteed right to freely associate to have greater power to negotiate for prices and other conditions of trade without fear of retaliation. Especially in the current context when buyers are consolidating into fewer and fewer entities, farms as small and very small businesses must have protection against predatory and unfair contracts, whether verbal or written. Food Justice Standards also require that buyers provide transparent information about market conditions and pricing and only break contracts for just cause.

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At the same time, the standards for labor apply to all farms and food businesses that hire labor, as little as one or two workers.  It is very unlikely that workers on a small farm will want to join a union, but freedom of association recognizes their right to approach the employer about working conditions, wages, hours, safety, etc. without fear of retaliation.  Every FJC entity must have a way to resolve disputes fairly.

The Food Justice Certified label signals to shoppers that a farm receives a fair return and treats farm workers with respect, recognizes their right to freedom of association, and pays living wages. We realize that another certification is a heavy burden, but the farmworkers on our standards committee wanted to be certain that the fair relationships we wrote into the standards were carefully verified. It has been our hope that farms that are passionate about fairness would take the plunge despite the hassle – the way we took on organic certification back in the 80’s before there was much market recognition or reward.

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The goals of the Food Justice label are also both broader and deeper than most other labels. AJP is working for dramatic, long-term transformation in our food system (not just at the farm level) through a cultural shift away from power consolidation and towards empowerment, transparency in labeling, justice and fairness for all who work together to bring food to our tables. Various polls, like this survey from Consumer Reports, show that there are people willing to pay a little more for the comfort of knowing that the people providing their food are living in dignity.

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Taking time for work on social relation on the farm builds stronger teams, mobilizes the talents and observations of all participants – and saves money by retaining workers and makes work more enjoyable. It is also the key to building social capital and empowering everyone involved to contribute to getting us through this climate crisis.

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Soul Fire Farm, one of the most recent to receive FJC, put a lot of time and effort into relations among the farm crew.  They use a method called Real Talk: “Farmers and apprentices alike share a commitment to open, honest, and non-violent communication, and solution-oriented dialogue and process. A weekly meeting will be held where apprentices can bring feelings, concerns, and questions to the space and except respectful listening and response. There will also be a 1-month reflection when progress toward each volunteer’s goals is assessed. In addition to this structured time, please bring up concerns and questions in a timely and direct manner.”

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With the mainstreaming of organic has come increasing pressure on the NOP to make allowances for the corporate approach to organic production.  NOP auditors have failed to censure the certifiers that allow mega-dairies to skimp on pasture and source replacement heifers from conventional farms.  Despite a 2010 NOSB resolution that opposed certifying hydroponic operations, the NOP has allowed certifiers to approve major companies like Driscoll’s and Wholesome Harvest to flood stores with hydroponic berries and tomatoes that undersell local produce grown in soil.

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Kate Duesterberg of Cedar Circle Farm and Enid Wonnacott (the much loved and lamented Executive Director of NOFA-VT) carry the banner in a demonstration against the NOP decision to allow hydroponics in organic.

Organic farmers and independent businesses have sprung into action to resist – there are currently two new add-on labels in the pilot phase – the Real Organic Program (grown in soil, no CAFOs) and Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) (all that plus humane and fair). These add-ons may give the USDA organic label a few more years of usefulness for family farms.

In making choices for our farms, it is crucial that we stick with the peasant wisdom that councils us to depend on our own resources and those of our closest cooperators, neighbors and supporters so that we can enlarge our autonomy from the concentrated wealth and power of agribusiness. The sustainable agriculture and local foods movements have halted the downward trend in farm numbers:

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Nevertheless, something like 84 percent of existing farms are in debt and as I mentioned earlier most farms depend on someone’s off farm job for health insurance and other benefits.[5] In the most successful centers of the buy local movement, we have managed to reach 12% of the food market. 12 % of the market is an enormous achievement and a truly impressive amount of liberated territory, but it means that we still move 88% of farm products through brokers, distributors, processors and retailers, entities which are predominantly entrepreneurial, that is, aimed at taking over the resources of others and profiting from the value that others produce. This sobering reality brings us to

Horse # three – Thanks to the dogged persistence of NOC, NSAC and our allies, we kept most of the sustainable agriculture programs we have fought for over the past 3 decades, however, the newly passed Farm Bill barely touches the structural and fairness issues that led to the on-going disaster that family-scale farms and food security are suffering in this country. While we must continue to campaign for what is practical and possible this year in the legislative arena, the moment has arrived to make big, “unrealistic” demands.[6] To bring to life our vision of a just, agroecological farming system that is worth sustaining, we need comprehensive domestic fair trade that balances the interests of farmers, farm workers and the land, while constantly expanding access to local high quality organic foods for more and more people of all income levels.

An alliance of social movements and members of Congress led by newly elected Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) has proposed a Green New Deal. The Green New Deal (draft resolution) would initiate an emergency mobilization with massive social investments to address economic inequities and reverse our blind march toward catastrophic climate change. The resolution proposes the formation of a Select Committee to develop a plan to transition the US to a carbon neutral economy within ten years, together with a comprehensive package including guaranteed living wage jobs, public banks, and a “Just Transition” for all workers.

For us, the agrarian wing of the food movement – organic farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, and supportive activists, this is the opportunity of a lifetime to create a program for a just transition for agriculture with the social and policy changes that lead toward our vision without throwing any family-scale farmers, whether organic or not, to the hounds and to put our program out there in the public arena.

To overwhelm the power of the corporate lobby, in the words of Eric Holt- Gimenez: “The Green New Deal will need copious amounts of political will, and there are only two ways to create that: big money or the power of social movements. Compliant politicians and the unbridled accumulation of wealth got us into this mess. It’s up to social movements to get us out.” Our movement for Agrarian justice is one of the most critical social movements of our day. Turning sunlight into food – we may hold the key to transforming the whole system.

What do we want for organic farming in the Green New Deal?

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First of all, instead of subsidies that prop up constantly falling farm prices and really only subsidize the big processors and import-exporters, we must have a system of fair pricing with supply management. We need to dust off and refresh the concept of parity.  Does anyone remember parity or what it means? (A few hands go up in the audience!) It is a national policy of price supports which we had in this country from 1933 – 53. It was challenged in the courts, but upheld as legal. As Iowa farmer George Naylor points out, demanding “parity prices” means we intend to correct the misallocation of resources inherent in the pricing of resource use in free markets. We overuse soil because it is priced too cheaply.  Parity pricing functions like a minimum wage for farms.  Farmers should know this history. Let me read a passage from “Crisis by Design: A Brief Review of US Farm Policy by Mark Ritchie and Kevin Ristau[7]

The parity program had thee central features:

 (1) It established the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), which made loans to farmers whenever prices offered by the food processors or grain corporations fell below the cost of production. This allowed farmers to hold their crops off the market, eventually forcing prices back up. Once prices returned to fair levels, farmers sold their crops and repaid the CCC with interest. By allowing farmers to control their marketing, the CCC loan program made it possible for them to receive a fair price from the marketplace without relying on subsidies.

 (2) It regulated farm production in order to balance supply with demand, thereby preventing surpluses. Since government storage of surpluses was expensive, this feature was crucial to reducing government costs.

(3) It created a national grain reserve to prevent consumer prices from skyrocketing in times of drought or other natural disasters. When prices rose above a predetermined level, grain was released from government reserves onto the market, driving prices back down to normal levels. From 1933 to 1953 this parity legislation remained in effect and was extremely successful. Farmers received fair prices for their crops, production was controlled to prevent costly surpluses, and consumer prices remained low and stable. At the same time, the number of new farmers increased, soil and water conservation practices expanded dramatically, and overall farm debt declined. What is even more important is that this parity program was not a burden to the taxpayers. The CCC, by charging interest on its storable commodity loans, made nearly $13 million between 1933 and 1952. 

Twenty-first century parity should provide price supports and supply management for the basic commodities and reestablish farmer held reserves for grains as buffer stocks in case of poor harvests or climate disasters that also protect farmers against price volatility.

Parity pricing and supply management should also be extended to other crops.  Since fruit and vegetables are perishable, the GND should invest in value-added enterprises that could be farmer or worker-owned coops in every county where these crops are grown.  If excess supply of fresh produce threatened to lower prices, the fruit and vegetables would be frozen, canned or dried, or made into products that can be stored for use year round.  Investing in local and regional processing would stimulate local economies and provide many jobs. The GND would return livestock onto family farms, in place of large-scale Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that have eliminated the need for diverse crop rotations.

The strong thrust in the GND for higher wages for the lowest paid workers means that they will be able to afford the very small increase in food prices (3 – 5 % is the estimate) that might result from paying farmers a fair price. If we want farmworkers to be our allies in this campaign, it is crucial that they be included in the higher wages.  Please keep in mind, fair prices means prices that cover fair wages! These two issues must be in lock step.

Secondly, we need contract reform.  Farmers that sell to bigger entities need legislation that supports them in getting fair contracts. They need the protected right to freedom of association without threat of retaliation from buyers so that they can form groups or cooperatives to strengthen their bargaining position.[8] A limit must be set on the middlemen’s share of the final shopper dollar: if prices go up, middlemen must pay farmers more; if the prices processors pay to farmers go down, the final point of purchase price for shoppers should also go down.

Third, our local foods movement needs to get behind measures that are essential to establishing farm work as a respected and fairly remunerated profession. Farm worker advocates and department of labor staff agree that over 60% of farm workers on US crop farms are undocumented. To protect the 60% of current farmworkers who are undocumented, we need the GND to include or be linked to immigration reform based on human rights that includes a path to legal residency and citizenship for farm workers who choose to remain in the US without punitive measures like high fees and lengthy rigmarole to get to legal status. So far even the more liberal bills include mandatory e-verify that will make our lives as small employers miserable.

The exemption for farmworkers from the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) must be ended.  Like farmers, farm workers need freedom of association and the legally protected right to organize.  Same for the exemption for farmworkers in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  Farmworkers should be entitled to a decent minimum wage and time and a half for overtime like the people who work in other sectors.  I hear the frustrated screams from farmers that this will wreck our farms – we can’t possibly afford this. It’s true, under the current cheap food regime, we can’t and we never will until we break away from neo-liberal logic, dismantle systemic racism and achieve justice for ourselves. [9]

This country desperately needs more family-scale organic farms.  The GND can invest in farmer training, including enabling farm workers to become farmers, and provide access to resources and land. With parity pricing and supply management, fewer new farmers will be tempted to quit after five years and get a “real” job.

Once we stand up for the changes that low income food workers need, we will find ourselves in effective alliance with the most energized social movements of our time– Black Lives Matter, the Dreamers, Cosecha (organizing the undocumented for a general strike), and the Fight for $15. We also need to make sure the climate change activists – the Sun Rise Movement and Extinction Rebellion – understand our issues and don’t run off on well-meaning tangents that damage farming. .

Without farm workers and all the food chain workers as allies, we will never get a GND that includes what we need to make our farms the radiant centers of well-being that we dream of. We have to figure out a way forward together and bring the entire food movement with us. And when the 17% of all workers who are food workers earn $15 an hour or more, they will get off food stamps (a savings for us as tax payers) and be able to afford to buy our good food from their own earnings. Another essential big ask addresses the other part of food justice – food access.  We need to reallocate the billions of dollars that go into commodity payments and subsidizing crop insurance for the biggest farms into increased funding for SNAP and other nutrition programs so that low-income people can afford the high quality food we produce.

In addition to fair prices, the GND should include sources of revenue that can keep market prices down while compensating farmers. Our farms protect the commons of clean water and air, and restore soil carbon. The public can pay us for these services as is done in Europe.

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To conclude, we are ready for this emergency crash program like Roosevelt’s New Deal or the WWII Victory Gardens.  People are coming to understand the seriousness of the climate crisis.  Our agrarian movement is bursting at the seams with great ideas and we have been learning how critical it is to have a good process – that not just what we do, but also how we do it – is essential to our success.  To achieve agrarian justice, we must have a stakeholder driven process that is respectful of differences, diverse, honoring our ancestors and the indigenous roots of our practices while making space for feisty young innovators as well as voices from the margins.  Together we can build the giant coalition based on the intersectionality of soil health and social justice so that we can bring to life a food system grounded in agroecology, health, justice and equity!

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Hands of Peace. Photo by Missouri farmer Tom Ruggieri.

[1] IATP NAFTA Primer on Ag. “The integration of agricultural markets has led to a decline in the number of farmers in all three countries. The USDA does not monitor agricultural trade related job loss, and there is no NAFTA Trade Adjustment Assistance program for farmers as there is for some classes of industrial workers. However, USDA data shows a dramatic increase in the number of very large farms and a sharp drop in the number of mid-sized farmers after NAFTA. From 1992 through 2012 the U.S. lost 245,288, or 22 percent, of small-scale farmers (under $350,000 annual gross farm income) and 6,123, or 5 percent of mid-sized farmers (under $999,999 annual gross farm income). As farmland ownership consolidated in the U.S., large-scale farms ($1 million and over annual gross farm income) increased by 35,066, or 107 percent.27 The number of farms responsible for 50 percent of U.S. agricultural production was cut in half from 1987 through 2012.28 The loss of many U.S. farms during this period, linked to low commodity prices, is also connected to major changes in meat production. The CAFO model depends on cheap animal feed, often sold below the cost of production. In effect, cheap corn and soy, aided by the 1996 Farm Bill, served as a subsidy for CAFO production, according to research by Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute.29 The expansion of factory farms, particularly in poultry and hog production, has led to most of U.S. meat production coming from fewer, big operations. The growth in CAFOs has coincided with the disappearance of independent poultry and pork producers—now nearly all under contract with multinational meat companies like Smithfield and Tyson. Contract farming has been highly criticized for being unfair to producers, burdening them with up front costs, associated debt, and other financial risk, while not paying fair prices to cover those costs. P. 5

Farmers and ranchers in Mexico and Canada have also been hurt by NAFTA. Based on Mexican Census data, Tufts University researcher Tim Wise estimates that more than two million Mexicans left agriculture in the wake of NAFTA’s flood of imports, or as many as one quarter of the farming population.31 And over the last 30 years, Canada has lost one-third of its farm families. Today, there are just under 200,000 Canadian farmers. P. 6

[2] Nov. 21, 2018 Morning Ag Clips: OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Federal Reserve says farm income continued to decline across the Plains and western states this fall because crop prices remain weak.The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Missouri, says more than half the bankers in the region say that farm income is lower than last year because the ongoing trade dispute has hurt crop prices.The bankers say farmers are borrowing more money because their costs are increasing at the same time that they are bringing in less income.The 10th Federal Reserve District covers Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, northern New Mexico and western Missouri.–Associated Press

Nov 29 Morning Ag Clips MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The number of farms filing for bankruptcy is increasing across the Upper Midwest, following low prices for corn, soybeans, milk and beef, according to a new analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.The analysis found that 84 farms filed for bankruptcy in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana in the 12 months that ended in June. That’s more than double the number over the same period in 2013 and 2014.“Current price levels and the trajectory of the current trends suggest that this trend has not yet seen a peak,” said Ron Wirtz, an analyst at the Minneapolis Fed.The increase in Chapter 12 filings reflect low prices for corn, soybeans, milk and beef, The Star Tribune reported. The situation has gotten worse for farmers since June because of the retaliatory tariffs that have closed the Chinese market for soybeans and held back exports of milk and beef. Chapter 12 bankruptcy allows for repayment of debt over three years.

‘This one here is gonna kick my butt’ – farm belt bankruptcies are soaring,”The Wall Street Journal, Jesse Newman & Jacob Bunge,February 6, 2019

And an update this month by Brad Lubben from University of Nebraska Extension (“Farm Programs, Payments, and Prospects“) stated that, “Barring significant market recovery or further trade assistance, producers will be managing for relatively low market prices and relatively little farm program support in 2019. A new farm program decision in 2019 could provide additional payments in 2020, but regardless, producers will need to manage their risk carefully, including not just farm programs, but also production, insurance, and marketing decisions that all contribute to a portfolio approach to risk management.”

 

[3] General Mills reported total profits of $2.5 billion in 2018. Net sales rose 5 percent to $4.41 billion, but missed the average estimate of $4.51 billion. In 2015, some top competitors — Campbell Soup, ConAgra Foods, and Mead Johnson Nutrition — reported revenues of $2.2 billion, $2.7 billion, and $978 million, respectively, just for the last quarter.

Kroger’s return on equity in 2015 was 35.1%. For General Mills it was 28%; for Kellogg, 12.9%; and for Whole Foods, 13.67%. Farmers often see a return on equity only when they sell their land for a retirement nest egg.

https://csimarket.com/stocks/KR-Return-on-Investment-ROI.html – over 15% for 2018.

http://www.geekwire.com/2019/amazon-reports-record-profits-3b-crushes-wall-street-expectations-holiday-quarter/ Amazon posted $72.4 billion in revenue, a rise of 20 percent over a year ago, beating analyst expectations of $71.87 billion.Profits: Amazon’s increased profits continued this year as the tech giant posted $3 billion in net income for the quarter, or $6.04 per share, an increase of a whopping 61 percent over last year. Analysts were expecting Amazon to post earnings of $5.67 per share for the holiday quarter. Profits more than tripled in 2018, to $10.1 billion. Amazon’s profits for the fourth quarter of this year were slightly less than profits for all of 2017 combined, $3.027 billion versus $3.033 billion.

http://www.quarterly-report-2018-q2.bayer.com/management-report/sales-earnings-and-financial-position.html: Bayer -2018 net income €2,753 million (

[4] As Jess Culley, the General Coordinator of CATA says, “We all need to realize that the creation of an alternative food system has to include the needs of workers in a measurable way… It is very nice to have locally sourced food, but if that food is produced by people who are on food stamps themselves and don’t have health insurance, then you really don’t have a sustainable food system.”

[5] https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Newsroom/2016/12_20_16.php USDA Releases Results of First Local Food Marketing Practices Survey WASHINGTON, Dec 20, 2016 –More than 167,000 U.S. farms locally produced and sold food through direct marketing practices, resulting in $8.7 billion in revenue in 2015, according to the results from the first Local Food Marketing Practices Survey released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The report results cover both fresh and value-added foods, such as meat and cheese.

 

[6] This is a maximum program, the “Ecological Civilization” Fred Magdoff has described so well in his article by this name. (See Fred Magdoff, “Ecological Civilization,” Monthly Review, January 2011, pp. 1-25.) See handout.

 

[7] CRISIS BY DESIGN: A BRIEF REVIEW OF U.S. FARM POLICY Mark Ritchie & Kevin Ristau League of Rural Voters Education Project 1987, pp. 2 – 3. Ritchie and Ristau make a very important point: (p. 14) “Paying farmers a fair price would result in a one-time increase in food prices of only 3 to 5 percent, less than a nickel on a loaf of bread. Since the supply management proposal also contains provisions for doubling the funds available for food assistance, the poor would not be hurt by this small increase in food prices.”

Also see “Parity and Profits” by Charles Walters. Posted on July 30, 2001 on Weston C. Price website. Remarks of Charles Walters, Executive Editor, Acres USA Given at the Acres USA Conference December 1999, Minneapolis, MN, and “Parity and Farm Justice: Recipe for a Resilient Food System,” by Patti Edwardson Naylor, George Naylor and Ahna Kruzic, Food First Backgrounder, Vol. 24, #2, Summer 2018.

[8] There has been a tiny bit of progress in this direction with the improvements to GIPSA (the Grain, Inspectors, Packers and Stockyards Administration provisions), but this should be extended to all livestock producers including dairy and milk. See the new documentary Under Contract from RAFI-USA for the story of contracted chicken farming.

[9] In “The Green New Deal: Fulcrum for the farm and food justice movement?” Eric Holt-Gimenez writes: “Social movements have an opportunity to join together as never before—not just to get behind the Green New Deal—but to form a broad-based, multi-racial, working class movement to build political power. Visionary leaders from these movements are already knitting together strategies for solidarity, education and action…The Green New Deal just might be the fulcrum upon which the farm, food and climate movements can pivot our society towards the just transition we all urgently need and desire.” The Green New Deal: Fulcrum for the farm and food justice movement? Eric Holt-Gimenez, Food First, 12.17.2018: https://foodfirst.org/the-green-new-deal-fulcrum-for-the-food-justice-movement/