The Green New Deal Must Include Regenerative Agriculture and an End to Factory Farming

This week, a petition signed by more than 100,000 people was delivered to Congress, outlining issues that should be addressed in Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey’s (D-MA) Green New Deal. This petition shows overwhelming support for the Green New Deal, and calls for more attention to be brought to how our food system can be reformed to combat climate change. With the food and farming sector being the United States’ largest employer, and the country being one of the highest contributors toward climate change, citizens are calling for action to be taken to protect our world.

As someone in their mid-twenties, I have grown up seeing how climate change is actively impacting me and my community. Here in California, I expect droughts in the summer and extreme wildfires or mudslides in the fall; learning from a young age to always conserve water because the next shortage is just around the corner. Young activists from all across the U.S. have seen similar changes in their home states, and we recognize that our future depends on action being taken to stop the climate crisis before it is too late.

A unique opportunity to address climate change can be found in our agriculture sector—an area which must be made sustainable if we’re going to survive. Climate scientists have identified agriculture as one of the largest contributors to climate change. This an opportunity to shift agricultural practices away from the large scale, conventional farms that currently dominate our food system to a regenerative, locally-focused, small-scale system that values the welfare of the land and those who work it. CFS has identified several focus points that should be implemented with the passing of the GND resolution to cut back greenhouse gas emissions and create a healthier, more sustainable food system.

1. Invest in regenerative, local agriculture

The future of agriculture lies in the shifting of practices away from large scale monocultures towards small and medium-sized diversified farms. We must wean away from the mass amounts of toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers being used, and instead integrate regenerative practices such as cover cropping, the use of compost, and the implementation of hedgerows as alternatives that not only add nutrients into the soil, but provide many other ecosystem services. Among these, regenerative agriculture protects biodiversity, including the native bees and pollinators that are currently being decimated by conventional agriculture. Our “Regenerating Paradise” video series covers many practices currently being practiced in Hawai’i—including several that can be implemented nationwide—to reduce carbon emissions and protect our soils. Implementing these practices can sustain our food production all while sequestering carbon, protecting pollinators, and promoting on-farm biodiversity.

Switching to these regenerative agriculture practices will not be easy, but it will be beneficial. Despite research showing the vast benefits that come from cover cropping and other regenerative practices, farmers have been slow to start implementing them. Government and university grants, technical assistance, and further research should be funded to help promote these practices, transition farms, and aid the continuous education of farmers and farmworkers. This investment will have far-reaching effects on farms—preserving native pollinator habitat, sequestering carbon, and providing climate-smart food to local communities.

2. Cut meat consumption and shut down environmentally-harmful animal factory farms

Disinvestment from factory farms is necessary, not only from a climate standpoint, but from a larger human and environmental health perspective as well. Large scale animal operations pollute the water, lead to a higher risk of disease in humans, and contributelarge amounts of methane and other greenhouse gases into the air. Cutting back meat consumption, purchasing meat from local sources, and shifting toward plant-based sources of protein are all ways that individuals can help. More people than ever, especially young people, have recognized the harmful impacts of meat consumption and we are turning toward a flexitarian diet, vegetarianism, and veganism as a way to cut back on our carbon footprint. The government has the opportunity to support this effort on a larger scale by providing financial support and technical assistance to ranchers to help them transition to pasture-based and integrated livestock operations that reduce livestock’s impact on climate change and help sequester carbon in the soil.

CFS’s recently launched EndIndustrialMeat.org, a website that highlights some of the negative impacts that come with factory farming, including the vast amount of carbon released into the air and heavy metals being drained into the ground; serious consequences that disproportionately affect rural populations and disadvantaged communities. The GND’s goal to secure clean air and water, healthy food, and a sustainable environment for all communities mean that shutting down these harmful operations is imperative.

3. Reverse the trend of consolidation within the agriculture sector

For decades now, there has been increasing consolidation of seed, livestock, and other agriculture-related companies. These mega-corporations have purchased vast quantities of land and set the rules for how a farm has to run, undercutting disadvantaged farmers and farmworkers, and wrecking rural communities. GND policies can be used to break up these mega-farms, and empower local communities to take back the food system. Breaking up these predatory mega-farms would not only reinvigorate the economies of rural areas, but it would also give these communities access to the healthy, climate-friendly food necessary to slow the rate of climate change.

The growth of small and medium-sized farms would allow farmers and farmworkers to set fair wages and provide safe and humane conditions for themselves and a future for their children. Doing so would not only allow current farmers to continue their operations, but also would open the door for young farmers to have access to the land, resources, and funds needed to operate for a viable, sustainable farm. 

4.  Support young and disadvantaged farmers

Finally, we must utilize the GND to support disadvantaged and young farmers, paving the way for a climate-friendly food future. For a long time, people have been turning away from farming, instead opting for job opportunities found in cities. For the past several years, there has been a renewed interest in working the land in a regenerative, holistic manner. We must support these new farmers, along with the farmworkers who have been subjugated to the abuses of industrial agriculture, to forage a community-focused, regenerative food system.

The principles of equity and justice outlined in the GND must guide our transition away from industrial monocultures, and toward a food system that supports and uplifts disadvantaged groups, providing the economic assistance and infrastructure needed to improve these communities, and ultimately improving our economy as a whole. Likewise, many young and disadvantaged farmers have limited access to the equipment and mentorship needed to run a successful farm enterprise. Having grants and training programs available to take on the huge costs of tractors, land, and resources necessary to start a farm should be central to the Green New Deal.

Young people have paved the way for the Green New Deal and our future depends on immediate action being taken to stop climate change. Not only will this resolution allow for the huge changes needed to prevent climate change, but will allow for new opportunities for farmers. While the challenge ahead of us won’t be easy, there are many things that can be done to mitigate current greenhouse gas emissions that aren’t being implemented. The GND is an opportunity to reform our way of farming to allow for huge cuts to current emissions, all while creating a more equitable food system.

Posted with permission from Common Dreams

Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal: Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the national coalition of Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal?

A. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal is a bipartisan national coalition of rural and urban farmers and ranchers, and organizations that represent farmers and ranchers. Coalition members share a commitment and work together to advance food and agriculture policies that support organic, regenerative, agroecological and biodynamic food production and land-management practices.

Q. Why was the coalition formed?

A. The Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal coalition was formed for the purpose of ensuring that farmers and ranchers—not just corporate agribusiness lobbyists—have a voice in future agriculture-related policy reforms. The timing of the coalition’s formation coincided with the February 7, 2019, introduction of the Green New Deal Resolution which calls for a 10-year national mobilization to enact massive policy reforms to address, among other issues, global warming, income inequality, corporate monopolies and the lack of access to clean air, water and healthy food for millions of Americans.

Q. Why is the coalition focused on food and farming policy reforms?

A. Many of America’s small- and mid-scale farmers and ranchers, struggling to make ends meet, are at risk of losing farms that have been in their families for many generations. Rural communities are in economic decline. Industrial agriculture practices have led to widespread water and air pollution, soil erosion and degradation, food deserts, and public health crises related to the reckless and excessive use of antibiotics and the mass production of nutritionally deficient food. Current agriculture policies artificially prop up this system, which externalizes the real cost of producing “cheap” food, including the system’s harmful and costly impact on climate, the environment and human health. Yet these policies prevail and persist because powerful agribusiness corporations can afford to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year lobbying Congress. Policies that would support family farms are closely aligned with policies that would achieve the goals laid out in the Green New Deal. For that reason, politics aside, the Green New Deal presents an unprecedented opportunity for farmers and ranchers whose practices provide social, economic and environmental benefits to demand reforms that will improve their prospects for financial success by leveling the playing field.

Q. What will members do to advance the coalition’s policy goals?

A. Coalition members will be invited to participate in any or all of these activities:

  • Collaborate on and build support for legislation that supports farmers and ranchers engaged in or transitioning to regenerative practices.

  • Participate in farm tours, Congressional hearings and/or Capitol Hill briefings aimed at educating members of Congress about the potential of regenerative agriculture to draw down and sequester carbon, and revitalize rural economies.

  • Help educate consumers about the difference between good food and cheap food, and how regenerative farmers and ranchers can play a role in improving air, water and soil quality.

  • Identify and build support for a new USDA secretary of agriculture who will represent the interests of the coalition, not multinational agribusiness corporations.

Q. How does the coalition fit into the Regeneration International network?

A. One of the most urgent questions facing the Regeneration Movement is, “How can we scale up regenerative farming, ranching and land-management practices in time to address the climate emergency?” Scaling up internationally will require a combination of consumer education and demand, farmer training and policy reform. In the U.S., up until the Green New Deal Resolution was introduced, food and farming policy reform was tied to the slow and onerous process of revisiting the U.S. Farm Bill once every five years. Fortunately, the Green New Deal has sparked a national conversation around the intersection of food, farming and climate. The Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal can seize this opportunity to lead that conversation so that it results in transformational, rather than incremental, change in the U.S.

Q. In addition to Regeneration International, who else is assisting in building the coalition?

A. Regeneration International (RI) was tapped by the Sunrise Movement to anchor the Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal coalition. RI is also working with organizations like Family Farm Action, the Institute for Ag Trade & Policy, American Sustainable Business Coalition, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and others to build and support the coalition. The coalition also benefits from input provided by a dedicated Congressional Advisory Committee comprised of members of Congress who support the coalition’s goals and have agreed to assist in reviewing proposed legislation, organizing Congressional hearings and briefings and building support for key pieces of legislation.

Q. How can interested farmers, ranchers and organizations join the coalition?

A. To get involved, farmers, ranchers and organizations should sign this letter to Congress. All letter signers will be consulted on policy questions and USDA secretary nominations, and will be invited to help in education and lobbying efforts. In an effort to fairly represent the policy needs of all farmers engaged in regenerative practices, the coalition seeks to include members from all geographic areas of the U.S., and from all sectors of food and fiber production. The coalition also strives to achieve both gender and ethnic diversity.