Old New Deal shows path to Green New Deal

One hundred years ago, English-born Catherine and Thomas Naylor, bought the farm we farm today in Greene County, Iowa. They built our house we live in that year, too, when prosperity from World War I markets gave them the courage to go in debt for the farm and house. This destination came after a Greene County coal mine shaft caved in on my grandfather’s tools, and hopscotching from farm to farm cast my family’s status as family farmers, which gave George, their only grandchild, the opportunity of becoming a family farmer. The Jochimsens, George’s mother’s parents, were always tenant farmers.

Long before that, Patti’s ancestors settled in Guthrie and Audubon Counties in Iowa, as farmers from Denmark. This was shortly after the U.S. government had ruthlessly driven the Native American Indian tribes from this land, a fertile prairie Garden of Eden between two rivers, the Mississippi and Missouri. Some of Patti’s family participated in the Underground Railroad helping freed African Americans escape the brutal slave system of the South. There’s no doubt our families’ inclination to being our brother’s keeper and valuing freedom cast their lot with the Republican Party—the Party of Lincoln.

Our families have seen good times and bad times over the years. Stories of the Great Depression and the oppressive heat and failing crops of the Dust Bowl years were recounted many times. Our families’ farms recovered because of the Roosevelt New Deal parity farm programs, yet emotional stories of neighbors that weren’t so lucky stamped a sense of empathy and appreciation on our hearts to this very day.

There is no doubt we have lived privileged lives, and there is no question we, as white Americans, can never forget the sacrifices of generations of Native and African American human beings before us. Nor can anybody living today, ignore the fact that the system of family farms whose future had been guaranteed with New Deal parity farm programs has been under attack from exploitive and extractive agribusiness since the those programs were dismantled beginning in the early 1950’s. When discussing the plight of family farmers with a member of a Nebraska tribe during the 1980’s farm crisis, he said, “Well, you’re next!” meaning that this extractive economic system will eventually swallow us all.

Our one glimmer of hope and that which has crystalized the thinking and focused the energy of many food and farm activists like ourselves is the initiative called the New Green Deal, which borrows inspiration from policies that addressed the sick economic development and final catastrophes of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl—the old New Deal of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration. Progressive activists with an international perspective have underlined the necessity of addressing the undemocratic nature of global markets with the principles of food sovereignty and agroecology. “Supply and demand”, wealth accumulation, cheap labor, mountains of debt, and cheap commodities can no longer rule our economic lives and future.

Having been corn and soybean farmers living in a landscape that has become devoid of biodiversity, devoid of neighbors, devoid of thriving small towns, and devoid of clean air and water, we are most familiar with the U.S. problems we see firsthand. Frighteningly, the agronomic problems inherent in ignoring the science of ecology, raising genetically engineered corn and soybeans year after year, are being addressed by the chemical-genetic engineering companies who prescribe more patented chemical monocrop solutions that already created this disastrous course. We are inspired by Old New Deal policy—both domestically and internationally—of combining price floors for commodities that adjust with inflation, i.e. applying the parity principle, coordinated supply management to stop wasteful over-production, and creating food security reserves (basic storable commodities) to avoid famine when climate change or volcanic eruptions bring crop production crashing down. In the same international spirit, the International Coffee Agreement stabilized profitable prices with price floors and country quotas—like a parity progron—but those features were abandoned when the United States withdrew from the agreement in 1989. With parity policies in place, we can bring livestock production back to family farms and out of the grip of vertically integrated meat, milk and egg companies. Farmer can then incorporate hay, pasture and small grains into a sound crop rotation with responsible use of manure so that artificial nitrogen will be unnecessary and weed control will not be dependent on more chemical warfare. Small town economies will be restored and the new balanced economy will create purposeful jobs and tax revenues for new democratic priorities.

A major focus of the Green New Deal is combatting climate change. It’s been recognized that the current agricultural system promoted by agribusiness depends on fossil fuels to power giant machinery, processing, transportation, manufacturing of chemicals, and fertilizer. The production of two main crops, corn and soybeans year after year on millions of acres of North and South America, and soon Africa leads to soil erosion, water pollution, and feeding cheap corn to animals in corporate feedlots and confinements. We believe, as does the many farmers of La Via Campesina and as expressed in a civil society statement, Our Land is Worth More Than Carbon (at COP22), that family farm and peasant agriculture practicing agroecology can better address climate change with a holistic analysis of our global climate and environmental problems rather than many of the proposals that simply focus on carbon emissions. Agroecology emphasizes agriculture as a social activity connected to community, culture, and ancestral wisdom. It’s been a self-serving trick of agribusiness to claim that their system of agriculture creates a smaller “carbon footprint”, and a big benefit to farmers will be if governments and corporations pay farmers to sequester carbon. Of course, none of these solutions including chemical intensive no-till farming or the application of “regenerative practices” will get in the way of the global corn-soybean-processed food-confined animal bulldozer. Besides, such thinking invites land grabbing to gain payments for planting tree plantations, etc. International solidarity with family farmers and peasants using the concepts of food sovereignty and agroecology is the answer. As the civil society statement says, “Farming land cannot become an accounting tool for managing the climate crisis,” nor can we accept the “financialization of Nature.”

George Naylor is an Iowa farmer and a member of the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal.

A Young Farmer’s Plea for a Green New Deal

We have come into farming at a terrible time. As I have written about before – very few people in farming make a living. But it is not just a bad year, or that sustainable farming is hard. It is that farming is not working in the US, as shown in the two graphs below.

And so, we are huge supporters of the “Green New Deal.” If you have not yet seen the “Letter from U.S. Farmers & Ranchers to Congress” about it, you should go check it out. And if you are a farmer or rancher – organic, conventional or somewhere in between – you should think about signing. I recorded my own two cents about it in a video (below). I think it is high time we made farming a viable career option in the US.

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal Policy Goals

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OVERVIEW

The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal national coalition views the Green New Deal not as a partisan political initiative, but as a framework for transformational policy reform, across all sectors of the U.S. food and farming system. 

The coalition supports policy reforms that expand economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers whose practices and businesses:

  • combat climate change by reducing emissions and drawing down and sequestering carbon
  • contribute to a clean environment and restore natural habitats
  • provide access to locally produced, contaminant-free, nutrient-dense food
  • help build and support resilient local and regional food systems and economies
  • provide safe working conditions and living wages for farm workers

The coalition is committed to working with Congress to ensure that farmers and ranchers have a seat at the table when it comes to defining and finalizing the specific policies and programs that will form the basis for achieving the goals outlined in the Green New Deal Resolution. The coalition is also committed to ensuring that the next administration appoint a USDA Secretary of Agriculture who supports the coalition’s policy platform.

GENERAL POLICY GOALS

Fair Prices for Farmers/Ranchers

The coalition supports policy tools—similar to those under FDR’s New Deal—which are intended to keep surpluses low and prices high by paying farmers to cut back production of some crops, especially soil-degrading, fossil fuel-intensive crops, and/or by buying and storing excess production for future sale, when adverse weather or other conditions result in food/crop shortages. Policy examples include:

Reward Farmers for Eco-Services and Hold Corporate Polluters Accountable 

The coalition supports policies that reward farmers/ranchers for restoring soil health and natural habitats, mitigating water and air pollution and sequestering carbon by employing practices such as cover crops, no-till, rotational grazing, silvopasture and agroforestry that enhance the soil’s capacity to sequester excess carbon from the atmosphere and retain rainfall. 

The coalition also supports policies that penalize corporate agribusiness polluters that degrade soil quality and strip the soil of its capacity to store carbon, and that release toxic chemicals and drugs, including synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics, into the air and water.

Break Up Corporate Agribusiness Monopolies/Level the Playing Field 

The coalition supports enforcement and expansion of antitrust laws and other policies to prevent industry consolidation that allows large-scale corporations to manipulate markets and use high-paid lobbyists to influence Congress on everything from food safety regulations to international trade agreements in ways that benefit a few big corporations at the expense of consumers and independent farmers, and that leaves family farmers and ranchers with fewer choices, thinner profit margins, and less independence. Examples of policies the coalition supports:

  • a moratorium on new factory farms
  • reinstatement of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) to provide basic protections for farmers
  • reform of the agricultural subsidy system so that more money goes to small and medium-sized farmers
  • enforcement of the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws so that the “Product of USA” label can be applied only to meat from livestock both raised and processed in the U.S.
  • patent law reforms to prevent predatory lawsuits by big corporations intent on monopolizing the seed market
  • a national right-to-repair law that give farmers the right to repair their own equipment and retain full rights over the machinery they buy

Support Transition to Organic Agroecological/Regenerative Practices

The coalition supports policies and programs that fund technical assistance, equipment purchases, infrastructure installation and site remediation for farmers/ranchers who want to transition to regenerative production practices. Examples of such policies include:

  • expansion of programs that help farmers make conservation improvements on their farms, including the Conservation Stewardship, Agricultural Conservation Easement and Regional Conservation programs
  • expansion of the Conservation Reserve Program to help farmers transition to organic farming practices
  • funding to help factory farm contract growers regain their independence and transition to climate-friendly, soil carbon-enhancing practices, including 100% grazing for herbivores as a goal, and pasture-based animal husbandry for poultry and pigs with animal feed grains produced in a regenerative, climate-friendly manner.

Support Beginning and Diverse Farmers/Ranchers

The coalition supports policies to correct and repair the historic and ongoing racism and violence that has driven Native Americans, then African Americans, from their land and has blocked access to USDA and Farm Credit System resources. The coalition also supports policies to help beginning farmers, especially young people, women and people of color, secure land to farm and achieve and sustain financial success. Some policy/program examples include:

  • transforming the civil rights offices at the USDA, as Justice for Black Farmers has recommended, into agencies that addresses discrimination rather than cover it up 
  • reparations for the dispossession of Native American and African American land
  • no interest loans for beginning farmers and a land trust that buys land from retiring farmers and sets it aside for beginning farmers, with specific benchmarks for Native Americans, African Americans and other socially disadvantaged groups
  • programs to help heirs’ property owners retain access to their land and to USDA programs legal and technical assistance, through funding of the relending program, to help farmers hold onto their land 
  • expanded funding for the Indian Tribal Land Acquisition Loan Program and the Highly Fractionated Indian Land Loan Program, USDA programs that help tribal governments acquire land and preserve it for future generations 
  • incentives for community ownership of farmland 
  • expansion of Disadvantaged and Beginning Farmer State Coordinator program 
  • more funding for the Farmer Opportunity Training and Outreach program helps coordinate USDA training and education for beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers 
  • pathway to citizenship for migrant farmworkers and end exclusions for agricultural workers in labor laws 
  • Reform H-2A agricultural work visas to substantially raise prevailing wages, allow workers to move between employers, increase enforcement and hold employers who mistreat workers accountable

Strengthen and/or enforce USDA National Organic Program standards

The coalition supports enforcement of existing USDA National Organic Program regulations and standards in order to prevent large-scale farm operations from claiming organic without meeting the requirements, putting the smaller organic producers who do adhere to standards at an economic disadvantage in the marketplace. The coalition also supports strengthening existing organic standards rather than allowing large-scale producers to weaken and corrupt them. Examples of policies the coalition supports are:

  • Clarification, implementation and enforcement of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule 
  • require USDA organically certified produce to be grown in soil
  • strengthen USDA import inspection, review, and testing protocols to ensure organic label integrity
  • the Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act to implement enhanced procedures to track organic imports and ensure that imported products fully comply with U.S. organic standards. 
  • require independent five-year sunset review by the NOSB to remain on the National List
  • the PRIME ACT, which permits state-inspected meat to be sold within that state, thus eliminating the intrastate marketing barriers placed on livestock farmers by the requirement for USDA inspected livestock slaughter and processing facilities which are few and far between

Support for Local/Regional Infrastructure

The coalition supports policies that allow farmers and ranchers access to local and regional supply chain infrastructure. Examples of such policies are:

  • expansion of the USDA’s Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) for local infrastructure-building projects
  • investments in co-op grocery stores
  • incentives for schools, hospitals, prisons and other institutions to procure locally produced foods Institutional purchasing can be a huge boost to local producers and build local farm economies
  • investments in local food processing facilities, including slaughter and dairy processing
  • support for farmers to process their products on-farm
  • state and local food sovereignty laws that exempt local food producers from state licensing and inspections governing food sales for transactions between the producers and the customers for home consumption or when the food is sold and consumed at community events such as church suppers

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. Learn more here.

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

The Green New Deal Wants Farmers to Restore the Land, Not Keep Wrecking It

By the time California rancher Doniga Markegard picks up the phone around lunchtime, she has already moved the chickens, fed the chickens, fed the pigs, cared for a new litter of 11 piglets, moved the sheep, tended to the horses, milked the cow, and completed a business advising session about the future of her family’s 10,000-acre operation. Overall, a pretty typical Monday.

“We’re good at working with the land and working with the animals, but then all of a sudden you have to add marketing and sales and inventory management,” says Markegard. Based 50 miles south of San Francisco in Half Moon Bay, Markegard and her family produce grass-fed beef and lamb and pastured pork and chicken for customers in the Bay Area. If they operated in a more traditional way, they would specialize in a single product and plug neatly into the industrial agriculture system. Instead, in order to break even, they have to run the equivalent of a consumer-facing small business with a farm attached.

“We’d love to just be out on the land with the livestock, doing what we do, but that’s not practical when you really want to be fully regenerative,” she says.

Regenerative agriculture might sound at first like a subtle variation on organic. But if the term “organic” highlights what’s absent—no chemical fertilizers, no pesticides—”regenerative” goes a step further, advocating for practices like adaptive multi-paddock grazing, in which ruminants like cows and sheep are slowly rotated across a property, so they graze on and fertilize one section of the farm at a time while allowing the rest to naturally regrow and replenish. Methods like this require more hands-on planning involvement from the farmers, but they’ve been found to restore soil health, capture carbon, and help ranches thrive over the long term.

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U.S. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal Frequently Asked Questions

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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:

  • Help build regional lobbying teams throughout the U.S. to build support for legislation that supports farmers and ranchers engaged in or transitioning to regenerative practices.

  • Organize farm visits and training sessions for local and state lawmakers, and attend 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 and local media 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.

  • Help build alliances with other coalition members in their regions, and with organizations in other sectors, including business, environmental, food, and climate, that also support the Green New Deal.

  • 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.

Letter from U.S. Farmers & Ranchers to Congress: We Need a Green New Deal

Are you a farmer or rancher? Or a farmer- or rancher-member organization?

Would you like to see Congress pass better food and farming legislation? Legislation that supports you in your efforts to manage your land using practices that improve soil health, contribute to clean water, and produce healthy food?

Do you want agricultural policies that will help you compete in the marketplace, by ensuring fair prices for your products and a level playing field in the marketplace?

Please sign this letter to Congress.

A Green New Deal Must Prioritize Regenerative Agriculture

We are at a radically new stage in our fight for the planet. The Green New Deal proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youth-led Sunrise Movement, and hundreds of other climate justice leaders and organizations has given us a new holistic framework for tackling both the climate crisis and structural inequality.

This bold vision for the future has, in a matter of months, radically expanded what is politically possible and clarified what is morally required of us as a society. Just a year ago, the progressive movement was struggling to articulate climate solutions that were capable of meeting the severity and scale of the problem, relying instead on piecemeal reforms.

With any luck, those days are decisively behind us. The goal is no longer to slow the bleeding; it’s to heal the wound.

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Why the Food and Regeneration Movement Should Support a Green New Deal

“The Green New Deal we are proposing will be similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan… Half measures will not work… The time for slow and incremental efforts has long past [sic].” – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, then-candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, Huffington Post, June 26, 2018

“Just transitioning 10 percent of agricultural production to best-practice regenerative systems will sequester enough CO2 to reverse climate change and restore the global climate. Regenerative Agriculture can change agriculture from being a major contributor to climate change to becoming a major solution.” – Andre Leu, international director, Regeneration International, “Reversing Climate Change with Regenerative Agriculture,” October 9, 2018

Photo credit: Pixabay

The ‘Great Climate Awakening’ of 2018

The final months of 2018 will likely be remembered as the decisive moment when the global grassroots awakened to the life-or-death threat posed by global warming. With violent weather and climate disasters becoming the norm, and international scientists finally shedding their customary caution to report that we must drastically slash (by at least 45 percent) global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, hundreds of millions of ordinary people across the world seemed to simultaneously wake up.

Young climate activists under the banner of the Sunrise Movement in the U.S. and the Extinction Rebellion in the UK and other countries, sat in at politicians’ offices. They blocked streets and roadways. They demanded immediate and bold action.

The Green New Deal is born

In the U.S., an insurgent slate of newly elected members of Congress, inspired by the Sunrise Movement and led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have generated headlines and popular support by calling for a Green New Deal (GND), a 21st Century upgrade of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal carried out during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Given the severity of the climate crisis, and the deterioration of the U.S. and global status quo (economic, political, health and environment), it’s no exaggeration to state that the GND is perhaps the most significant blueprint for system change in 100 years.

The GND’s call for a mass conversion to renewable energy and zero emissions of greenhouse gases in the U.S. by 2030, is in line with what most scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.

But what’s new, and long overdue in this  evolving manifesto is that the GND also calls for the greening, “just transition” and elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from our multi-trillion-dollar food and farming system as well. That call is long overdue, especially given that our degenerative food system generates 44-57 percent  of all global greenhouse gases.

The GND draft statement calls for “eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries, including by investing in local-scale agriculture in communities across the country.” It also calls for funding “massive investment in the drawdown of greenhouse gases.”

Beyond offering comprehensive energy and agricultural solutions for our climate emergency, what is truly game-changing and revolutionary about the GND is that it calls for system-wide economic regeneration as well: full employment, $15/hr. minimum wage, universal health care, free public education, and economic justice for all—policies extremely popular with the overwhelming majority of the body politic, including students, working class communities and low-income groups.

By bringing together the concerns of youth, food, farmer, environmental and climate activists, with the bread-and-butter concerns of workers and frontline communities, the GND offers nothing less than a contemporary roadmap for survival and regeneration.

As Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association, pointed out in a recent email urging groups to sign on to the GND, it is economic injustice, the lack of money in the pockets of workers and consumers, the 80 percent of ordinary people who live from paycheck to paycheck, that has, in large part, held back the greening of America:

Who wouldn’t drive a Tesla, put up solar panels, or buy an energy efficient home in a walkable neighborhood with great public transportation? Everyone wants these things. We all want to enjoy good health, breathe clean air and drink pure water. There aren’t many families who would have to be convinced to eat locally grown organic health food if it were available and they could afford it. The problem is we’ve got student debt. Our mortgages are under water. We’ve got medical bills and childcare to pay for. And many of us have been too poor to go to college, buy a house or start a family. Our country’s struggling family farmers have the same problem. Sure, they’d love to go organic and pay their workers fairly. They want to do what’s best for their families, their communities and their environment. They just have to figure out how to avoid foreclosure and bankruptcy first.

Support grows quickly for the GND, but so do attacks

With unprecedented speed, Ocasio-Cortez, insurgent Democrats and the Sunrise Movement have stimulated massive media coverage and generated significant public support for the GND, putting radical change on the national agenda. 84 members of Congress, and 11 U.S. Senators, leading 2020 presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, hundreds of local officials, and over 600 activist organizations have already endorsed the GND.

In late-2018, polls indicated that 81 percent of Americans support full employment, economic justice and renewable energy, as outlined in the GND.

Yet despite initial strong support for the GND among activists and the general public, establishment politicians (both Democrats and Republicans) and the corporate media have launched a massive counter-attack, denouncing the GND (and Ocasio-Cortez and her allies) as “utopian,” “radical,” “impractical” and even “dangerous.”

The unfortunate truth is that Congress and the mass media are infected and dominated by powerful climate emergency deniers and establishment politicians taking money from fossil fuel companies, climate-destructive industrial agribusiness and Wall Street. Yet with global scientists sounding the alarm that the onset of runaway global warming (with atmospheric CO2 levels of 450 ppm or higher) is not 80 years away or even 50 years away, but more like a dozen years away unless we drastically change course, it can hardly be called “utopian” to organize around a bold emissions-reduction, drawdown and economic development plan that can avert catastrophe, and improve the lives of everyday people at the same time.

Painting Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement as “radical” is not likely to derail the growing insurgency. Because a radical emergency more serious than anything humans have ever faced in our 200,000-year evolution demands a radical solution. As Cortez said in an interview on “60 Minutes” on January 6 (watched by 11 million people), she admits to being a “radical”—not unlike previous “radicals” in American history, including Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who likewise confronted severe crises demanding radical solutions.

Is it possible to achieve zero emissions in the U.S. by 2030?

On the same “60 Minutes” show, Ocasio-Cortez was pressed on the practicality of zero fossil fuel emissions by 2030. The host tried to trip her up by asking if zero emissions meant that all of us would be driving electric cars within a decade. She responded by saying that there are technological breakthroughs on the horizon that we can’t even imagine yet.

Although it’s undoubtedly true that there are technical breakthroughs in renewable energy and electric cars on the horizon, I wasn’t fully satisfied with Ocasio-Cortez’s answer (even though I admit she’s my favorite political leader of all time). Here’s how I would have answered that question:

“Millions of Americans are going to be driving electric cars in 2030. But you’re right, a lot of us will still be driving our old gasoline-powered vehicles. If you read the details of our proposed Green New Deal carefully, you’ll see that we’re not just talking about rapid reductions in fossil fuel emissions, the CO2 and other greenhouse gases we put up into the sky by burning fossil fuels. We’re also talking about drawing down these same greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, utilizing climate-friendly farming practices that qualitatively increase plant photosynthesis, soil fertility and natural carbon sequestration. These regenerative practices include farming organically, holistic grazing, improving soil health, and restoring our forests, grasslands and wetlands. In other words, we can and must reach zero net emissions in 2030 by drawing down as much atmospheric carbon as we’re still putting up.

“The Green New Deal aims to change not only our climate-destructive energy, manufacturing and transportation systems, but also our degenerative food and farming systems. The Green New Deal is designed to raise the living standards for all Americans, including low-income workers in both rural and urban communities, so that all of us can choose and afford healthier and more climate-friendly lifestyles. In the next decade we must facilitate a just transition away from climate-destabilizing factory farms and fossil fuel-intensive agriculture, at the same time as we switch, as rapidly possible, to 100-percent renewable energy. With renewable energy and regenerative food, farming and land use working in synergy, there is no doubt that we can reach zero net emissions by 2030, significant negative net emissions by 2050, and literally, along with the rest of the world, reverse global warming and avert climate catastrophe.”

We know what to do. The best practices and practitioners in alternative energy, infrastructure rebuilding and regenerative food and farming are already visible in or near our local communities. We simply need to mobilize politically to scale up these practices utilizing the power of a GND. But we’re running out of time unless we can quickly build a massive united front, elect new GND supporters to Congress and the White House in 2020, and pass federal legislation for a GND starting in 2021, as Ocasio-Cortez puts it, “similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan.”

The time to join the GND revolution is now. For more information on the Sunrise Movement’s upcoming activities, click here.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and a member of theRegeneration International steering committee.

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams

How Regenerative Agriculture Could Be Key to the Green New Deal

With the 2018 mid-term election and the prospect of 2020, people are finally beginning electing more climate realists over fossil fuel apologists. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and her band of newly elected progressive congresswomen, and Bernie Sanders, the most popular politician and likely presidential candidate, have proposed a Green New Deal. This plan would put the government’s economic resources behind a definitive move to renewable energy and an end to fossil fuel dominance. With the recent IPCC report predicting that the earth will reach critical thresholds as early as 2030, there’s not a moment to waste.

Photo credit: Unsplash

I began covering the grass roots movement against fracking in 2009— five years before the Paris Climate Agreement cited methane release from drilling activities as a major contributor to climate change. Just one year after the Agreement, in 2016, climate was a forgotten step-child, near absent from the debates, primaries, and election. And yet two years later, Americans are now forced to face up to the reality that we may only have twelve more years to mitigate.

What was once predicted as a century away, and next slated to occur fifty years from now  will now occur within the lifetimes of many Baby Boomers, while cutting short the lives of most succeeding generations. The time is past for accepting excuses, denials, and delays. Putting the Green New Deal into play is a top priority for human survival.

But fuel extraction activities are not the only major source of methane’s harm to the atmosphere and climate. And while it’s essential to cease destabilizing the atmosphere and living systems, the next step is repairing the damage and restoring earth to eco-functionality.

Fortunately, new land management practices, refined over the last thirty years, under the rubric, “regenerative agriculture,” are showing tremendous promise in restoring the earth’s disrupted ecologies and climate by:

  1. Reducing (or even eliminating) the second largest contributor to methane release into the atmosphere—industrial food agriculture. This is a major way to slow and prevent climate change
  2. Pulling released carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil and holding it there. This is a major way to reverse climate change
  3. Restoring damaged land so that going forward, it will no longer release carbon, evaporate water, flood, burn, or contaminate plants grown on it. This is a major way to prevent both climate change and other future disruptions.

Regen Ag has another benefit. Since 70% of Americans support universal health care, adding a New Food Deal wing to the Green New Deal would make healthy foods more affordable— and directly promote health and reduce health care costs. For the last three decades, the best health care advice has never deviated: Eat more nutrient rich, less pesticide contaminated food. It’s great to exhort people to eat better, but why not make that economically feasible—a food and health justice issue. Middle and lower income people who can’t afford healthy vegetables, uncontaminated dairy, and non-CAFO meat are stuck eating unhealthy foods produced from government subsidized commodity food crops, like corn and soy.

Economically and environmentally unsustainable, the for-profit conventional food and ag industries are not a good bet for future food security. If over the last forty years, this model was so very successful at “feeding the world,” as the PR claims state, why should tax payer dollars still be required to subsidize this form of agriculture?

As part of a New Food Deal, we could erase these inequities by shifting land use, investment, and subsidy patterns away from corporate giants and towards regenerative agriculture’s local networks of farmers and food growers. Building food security across the country region-by-region will better address future climate disruption than expecting unresponsive monopolies with cheap food and expensive advertising to do it. Rural economic development has the added benefit of putting a safety net under rural populations maligned and rendered invisible by neoliberal policies and politicians.

Over the last few decades, organic food farmers and land managers have pioneered an agricultural and business plan for growing healthier, more nutrient-dense foods while restoring damaged lands to a natural carbon-storing ecology. Putting a price on carbon may provide a temporary economic incentive to reduce fuel use, but it’s far from a comprehensive long-term solution. It turns out that the earth itself is the best and most climate-saving carbon bank. Holding carbon is what soil naturally does— and the interest the greater public can draw from this bank is: healthy food for all. According to Regeneration International, “Just transitioning 10 percent of agricultural production to best practice regenerative systems will sequester enough CO2 to reverse climate change and restore the global climate.”

Regen Ag is currently being adopted on a local level, farmer to farmer, all over the world, but there are economic and educational barriers to the transition from soil-depleting, methane releasing, and pesticide-ridden agriculture.

Let’s complement the Green New Deal with a New Food Deal that builds out a new regenerative food economy, putting people to work recovering land, growing food, building food sourcing supply chains, operating local Mom and Pop grocery stories, and setting up early adopters to learn and teach growing, management, nutrition, food prep, recycling, and more in regions all over the country— and the world.

For too long the energy and agricultural industries have successfully evaded regulation while dumping their externalities on the public commons. We must reverse that. Both the Green New Deal and the New Food Deal can reorient the basics— and put Americans, our democracy, and the earth on the path to health.