Since 2011, Family Farm Defenders has distributed a total of $36,000 in grants to nearly 20 beginning farmers. The prize is named in honor of John Kinsman, one of the founders and longtime president of Family Farm Defenders who was a tireless champion of civil rights, social justice, and food sovereignty both in the U.S. and around the world.
To be considered for the prize, nominees must meet the following criteria: engaged in own farm for less than five (5) years; engaged in small scale livestock and/or vegetable and/or fruit production; market products locally; practice sustainable management of natural resources; promote healthy soil; conserve biodiversity; and support food sovereignty principles.
Those nominated will be asked to complete a questionnaire as their application, which will then be reviewed by FFD board members.
Winners will then be publicly recognized as part of an award dinner and public ceremony, tentatively scheduled for Sat. Nov. 11th at 5:30 pm at the Round Barn Lodge in Spring Green – stay tuned for more details!
If you would like to nominate someone for the 2023 John Kinsman Prize, please send their name and contact info to: [email protected]
The deadline for nominations is Fri. Oct. 13th!
FFD is also looking for sponsors of this year’s prize – anyone who contributes over $100 as a prize sponsor receives two complimentary tickets to the award banquet and ceremony, as well as mention in the evening’s program. FFD is a 501 c(3) charitable organization, so any donation is tax deductible.
By: Anthony Pahnke, FFD vice president and an associate professor of international relations at San Francisco State University.
Originally published in the Hill, 8/6/23
Food security is national security.
That has been one justification used by some legislators, from North Dakota to Florida, who have launched a series of initiatives that seek to curtail foreign purchases of farmland. At the federal level, similar legislation would scrutinize prospective land deals by Chinese interests looking to become involved in U.S. agriculture. And most recently, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was passed with a limitation placed on purchases by any actor from China, Russia, North Korea and Iran to 320 acres or that has a value of over $5 million.
But there’s a problem — corporations are let off the hook.
For instance, the number of properties in the United States owned by corporations and financial services firms rose three-fold from 2009 to 2022, as the market value of those properties increased from under $2 billion to over $14 billion during that same time. Meanwhile, land values are soaring, rising by 14 percent from 2021 to 2022 alone. This, as 40 percent of farmland in projected to change hands over the next 20 years as farmers age out of the profession and new farmers struggle to replace them.
According to a 2022 survey of over 10,000 beginning producers conducted by the National Young Farmers Coalition, the principle challenge impeding the next generation of farmers is the high cost of land.
Addressing such dynamics makes the Farmland for Farmers Act, which was recently introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), so critical.
Particularly, this initiative would ban corporations – both foreign and domestic — from acquiring farmland. With respect to promoting food security, in seeking to check corporate power, this legislation would remove one critical, emerging force that is making accessing land next to impossible for our next generation of food producers.
Another concern with respect to food security, besides driving up land prices and making access difficult, is how corporate land purchases tend to favor the development of large-scale monocultural operations. Globally, this has been the trend, with firms around the world not buying land to start diversified operations for local food production, but to focus on planting and then harvesting thousands upon thousands of acres of commodity crops such as corn and soy.
Such investments, according to some investment firms themselves, are wise because they appear inflation-proof and safe with respect to generating returns. After all, people need to eat, and farmland is a finite resource — moreover, one that is disappearing as climate change triggers extreme weather events such as floods, which leads to erosion and removes land from production.
But what may be good for a corporation’s bottom line may not be what’s best for the country’s food system and our nation’s dietary needs.
While corn and soy end up as food, they usually appear in the form of processed foods, such as high fructose corn syrup that is used in soda, candy and fast food. These items end up composing some of the primary sources of nutrition for people who live in food deserts, where in rural and urban areas, access to grocery stores is limited, and many rely on convenient stores and sometimes gas stations for sustenance. Meanwhile, over 75 percent of soy harvested finds its way into animal feed — with approximately half of total U.S. production being exported.
These dynamics contribute to food insecurity, which according to the USDA, is the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways. In 2021, the USDA estimated that over 10 percent of American families were food insecure. More recently, with rising inflation and the end of pandemic benefits, others place that figure closer to 25 percent.
The Farmland for Farmers Act neither establishes a way for farmers to access land, nor directly supports local production. What the bill does, in banning corporations from purchasing farmland, is remove one factor that raises farmland prices and that promotes monoculture. As such, it improves the chances for beginning, small-scale producers to access land and produce food for themselves and their communities. Furthermore, the Act does provide for some flexibility, as some farmers decide to form corporations themselves as a way to mitigate risk among family members and pool resources. These entities are exempt from the proposal, as corporations with only over 25 members are subject to the ban.
Besides land, the Act also prohibits corporate entities from receiving federal assistance, which some large-scale corporations accessed as a result of Trump administration’s trade war with China. Such a stipulation assures that resources go to actual farmers, potentially to support locally focused, sustainable operations, which programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) finance.
In terms of the Farmland for Farmers Act’s path, it could find its way through Congress and become a stand-alone piece of legislation. It is more likely to become part of the Farm Bill, which is currently being drafted.
Corporate farmland investment is not the only driver of food insecurity, but it certainly doesn’t help. Meanwhile, all the attention given to blocking Chinese farmland acquisitions seem more like xenophobic hysterics meant to gin up the public than representing a true concern with promoting agriculture. So, if food security is really a worry, let’s give farmers a chance to produce food for their communities. Let’s ban corporate land investments before they dominate any more of our food and farm system.
By: George Naylor, FFD board member and IA organic farmer (with his wife Patti)
Originally published by Counterpunch, May 5th, 2023
I dream up new utopias every day. After all, life, harmonious with Mother Nature and our fellow human beings, becomes more precarious day by day because of multinational monopolies’ priorities for cheap labor and raw materials. We farmers see industrial agriculture destroy biodiversity right before our eyes and our rural communities lose so much viability. When we travel, we see metropolitan areas sprawl with traffic gridlock and where more and more of our rural citizens join growing populations of workers with low wages or no jobs at all.
Inevitably,we are all inclined to dream of utopias that would be so much better. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that. Each one of us probably has a utopia that changes day by day as we learn more and more about the history of humanity and the deadly trajectory we find ourselves in. Sharing our utopias and the wisdom of Indigenous peoples can open new vistas and will be vital education in itself.
But do we have time to agree on an ultimate solution, and won’t change come one step at a time? Given the potential for imminent chaos and growing authoritarianism, maybe preserving our rights to free speech and association to be defended by all our fellow citizens becomes our first priority. After all, widespread debate must be the immune system of our democratic future. If “might makes right” becomes the norm, how much longer will it take before we can no longer live in fear and resume our quest to make our planet a peaceful and safe home for humanity?
I believe to make a difference and concretely get us on track we need to get everybodyto see the big picture and to think BIG! Only a BIG movement, a global movement, one that gets bigger and bigger, can begin the march to a better future. As a long time family farmer and activist, I’m very familiar with one such global movement, La Via Campesina (LVC). LVC represents virtually millions of peasants, family farmers, farmworkers, indigenous people, and fishers around the globe intending to end the neoliberal straightjacket that commits all our lives and natural resources to the accumulation of wealth and power by multinational corporations. Members of La Via Campesina grasp the big picture and know intimately how the current international neoliberal economic and political system discounts the beauty of all human beings and cultures and the most basic ecological relationships we must rely on.
So I’ll now offer my proposal for our first steps for everybody on the planet to see the big picture and to think big. Si’ se puede! We must demand an international treaty to immediately endthe destruction of pristine land, ecosystems, and homelands of indigenous peoples for any purpose, but especially for conversion to industrial agricultural production. At the same time that members of La Via Campesina suffer from low commodity prices and witness the usurpation of livestock production by corporations, we see on TV the Amazon rainforest being burned and bulldozed to produce more cheap corn and soybeans to feed corporate-owned livestock in inhumane feedlots and confinements (CAFOs). All the citizens of this planet will recognize this has to stop immediately!
We must also end neoliberal free trade and restore universal food sovereignty so countries can democratically design new agroecological farming systems to protect their natural resources, produce healthy culturally appropriate food supplies, restore economic opportunity, and create food security reserves. Progressive movements like La Via Campesina must regain the lead in abolishing free trade enforced by faceless bureaucrats at the WTO, or reactionary movements will co-opt this issue with inauthentic right-wing opportunistic politicians like is happening here in the United States.
Everybody must become familiar with the law of economic gravity. In a market economy, economic gravity is as real as the physical law of gravity. The law of economic gravity dictates that over time, the buying power of wages and commodity prices will fall, fall, fall–unless we establish economic democracy to create laws guaranteeing fair prices for farmers and living wages and safe conditions for workers. These living wages and fair prices must be paid by employers and buyers of commodities, livestock, and fruits and vegetables, rather than letting the government pick up the bill which would only bea subsidy to employers and food processors. The guaranteed prices and living wages must be indexed to inflation, or once again workers and farmers will experience the hardships of declining standards of living.
In the U.S., minimum wages haven’t been increased since 2009 and are the lowest in real dollars since 1945! Prices for commodities in the US were supported and indexed to inflation from 1941 to 1952 because of workable policies established during President Roosevelt’s New Deal. Farmers in the US have suffered under “market oriented policy” ever since, which explains the evolution of US agriculture from diversified farms into mono-cropping of corn and soybeans to furnish cheap feed to corporate livestock operations and cheap feedstocks to biofuels production. The system of fair prices, supply management to avoid wasteful over production, and food security reserves was called Parity. Thousands of Indian farmers protesting in recent years likewise demanded a minimum support price—MSP—which should be the demand of all farmers around the world. This also coincides with La Via Campesina’s Geneva Declaration, June 28, 2022: “We call upon governments to build public food stocks procured from peasants and small-scale food producers at a support price that is just, legally guaranteed and viable for the producers.”
Once food sovereignty and the guarantees of parity prices and parity wages are achieved, other reforms, including land reform, rural resettlement, local food systems, and reparations will be possible. We can make agroecology the holistic basis of all our agriculture. The public will enthusiastically support efforts to bring young people and landless farmworkers back to the land, recreating rural communities with opportunities and meaningful work to be the foundation of our societies.
So the demands of our giant movement will be simple and easily understood:
1) An international treaty requiring that every country stop, by whatever means necessary, the destruction of land, natural ecosystems, and indigenous homelands used to profit extractive industries including industrial agriculture.
2) The immediate end to free trade agreements and the tyranny of the WTO enforcing free trade rules designed to abolish nations’ sovereignty, particularly food, labor, and environmental sovereignty.
3) International commodity agreements to stop the relatively few major exporting countries from exporting commodities at disastrously low prices—disastrous for their own farmers, their environment, and, in fact, their own economies. US history shows how this can be achieved in every one of the major exporting countries by comprehensive parity policy which would include parity price supports (not government payments), marketing agreements, supply management, food security reserves, and import controls. Since Big Data, robotic farm machinery, and land speculators are bringing about the elimination of “big farmers” in these countries, these farmers will support our proposals of transformation so they can see a future that will end the treadmill of growing more and more for less and less.
We can count on the giant movement of La Via Campesina to demand an end to free trade which allows corporations to freely exploit our fellow citizens and the planet. We need to support La Via Campesina to create an even more giant movement keeping in mind the big picture and working for new standards of democratic governance. Today’s utopia might just be joining hands around the world in this vital struggle. Is there any other choice?
As we say in La Via Campesina, Globalize the Struggle! Globalize Hope!
Posted inFair Trade, Food Sovereignty|Comments Off on Solutions to Replace the Destructive International Neoliberal Agricultural System
Why not give lawmakers a space to hash out their differences, not as a one-shot game, but something they can come back to every now and again?
By: Anthony Pahnke, FFD Vice President
Originally Published by Common Dreams 5/19/2023
It seems that the anticipated humanitarian crisis of thousands of migrants streaming across the border, which many predicted with the end of the Title 42 program, has been avoided.
Still, something like 12 million undocumented people currently live in the United States, and we are probably just one migrant caravan away from having scores of families forced to live in squalor in border cities and perhaps being subject to violence at the hands of border agents.
Making matters worse, no recently proposed legislation concerning immigration has much chance of becoming law.
It’s the design of the Farm Bill that we should focus on. Its form, not its content.
For instance, the 2021 US Citizenship Act, which Biden championed early in his term and that would have created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people, ran aground quickly last term due to GOP opposition. Now, Republicans have their own version of revamping our immigration system with the Secure the Border Act. This bill, which calls for hiring more border agents, as well as championing some Trump-era initiatives like building a physical border wall, has no path out of the Democrat-controlled Senate.
So, is there any hope of getting beyond our seemingly never-ending policy quagmire that is immigration reform?
The Farm Bill is where our leaders should turn.
The point is not to add some provision about immigration to this omnibus piece of legislation that governs most facets of our agricultural system.
Instead, it’s the design of the Farm Bill that we should focus on. Its form, not its content.
By form, what’s key is that the Farm Bill comes up for debate every five years. The expiration date is even written into the law.
The legislation’s design poses quite the task, as the Farm Bill sets the terms for most of the critical elements of the U.S. food system, from commodity prices and conservation policy to international trade and farm credit.
But that’s the bill’s genius—with such serious issues to debate, it makes sense to revisit them every now and again. And here’s the best part—if one party misses something, then they can try again next time.
That much was behind the bill’s creation. Before becoming law in 1933, for most of the 1920s, politicians fought over how to address the economic crisis ravaging farmers. While farmers did well during World War I, they struggled once the conflict was over. In response, some legislators wanted protectionist policies, others believed promoting exports was the answer. They couldn’t find middle ground and our nation’s food producers suffered for years.
So, what happened? When FDR became president, farmer groups and politicians created an omnibus bill that contained sections dealing with the issues that were the subject of debate years before and that required periodic renewal. The bill itself has come to include new sections from time to time, such as rural development and food assistance in the 1970s.
Agriculture aside, doesn’t such a way of addressing complicated policy matters, such as migration, make sense?
Think about it—who could have foretold when early in Biden’s term, when he sent Vice President Kamala Harris to Central America to search out ways to keep people from fleeing poverty, that Cubans and Venezuelans would eventually join the exodus of people? Or that Russia would invade Ukraine, sending millions seeking safe haven abroad?
Furthermore, historically, we see that migrants come to the U.S. in waves. Such moments are related to all kinds of unexpected events, including wars, famines, and natural disasters.
Comprehensive immigration reform has evaded our lawmakers for decades. So, it would make sense to take some of the pressure off of them and at least create a framework that they can work with.
There is no crystal ball that we can peer into and see where in the works some disaster will take place. The best we can do as a country is to craft a bill that provides parameters within which our legislators can debate every five years or so. Furthermore, all the major issues currently raging now could be found—border security, temporary protected status for people who are temporarily displaced, visas for students and workers, and so on.
A majority of Americans agree that something has to be done about immigration. Our parties also agree—this much is seen in how regularly their policy proposals come up in the news.
So, why not give them a space to hash out their differences, not as a one-shot game, but something they can come back to every now and again?
Let’s also not forget the migrants in this discussion. Now we are talking about Title 42 and Venezuelans, but in a year or two, it will be some other policy and another group of people. What is certain is that for quite some time, people will want to come to the US to work and live.
Comprehensive immigration reform has evaded our lawmakers for decades. So, it would make sense to take some of the pressure off of them and at least create a framework that they can work with. Both parties could also take credit for promoting it. And who knows, maybe they will compromise once in a while. They do so already with Farm Bill. Maybe the same could happen with immigration.
Forcing GMO corn on Mexico is part of destructive, pro-corporate U.S. policy
By: Jim Goodman, retired organic dairy farmer, board member of Family Farm Defenders, and board president of National Family Farm Coalition.
Published by the Wisconsin Examiner, 3/13/2023
As farmers in Wisconsin and across the Corn Belt make planting decisions, the question always on their minds is, will income cover their expenses? The price farmers all over the world are paid is determined by the global marketplace. With Mexico being one of the biggest buyers of U.S. corn, Mexico’s planned ban on imports of Genetically Modified (GM) corn (over 90% of the US corn crop is GM) has farmers worried. Their worry should be whether planting GM corn and planting so many acres of GM corn is a sound decision.
Corporate money has always corrupted the political process in order to create laws and trade agreements that protect corporate profits at the expense of not just American citizens, but citizens of the world.
There’s no better example than GM crops. Developed over the decades by seed and chemical companies Monsanto, Calgene, Dow, DuPont, Bayer and others, GM corn, soy, cotton and canola were touted as the solution to world hunger, the key to increased farm profitability, lower pesticide use and a better environment. Sounded good, but none of it was true; the real truth (and that wasn’t mentioned) was that these commodity crops were designed to produce vast corporate profit as they helped usher in a wave of corporate consolidation, loss of small farms, declining rural economies and a foisting of untested GM food on unknowing consumers.
While these GM crops dominate the fields of North America, the seed and chemical companies see the world as their target for even more profit. Their grants to university researchers, and lobbying pressure on and campaign contributions to state and federal legislators, have made GM the so-called face of “progressive” and profitable farming.
Crop yields did go up with increased application of fertilizer and pesticides, while farm crop prices went down. Farmers got bigger to survive, planted more acres and saw the GM bandwagon as the only way: Produce more cheap grain for a growing world market. A market that would feed the growing confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that, hand in hand with the GM mono-cultures, were driving small farmers, not just in America but around the world, off their land.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) pushed GM corn into the Mexican market, underselling Mexican farmers. Because they lost their way of life, many moved to low wage factory work in the maquiladoras or across the border into the U.S., looking for work in the fields, CAFOs and processing plants of the North.
Not only were the livelihoods of Mexican farmers ruined by the dumping of GM grain, but the areas of origin of corn were put at risk of pollen contamination from the GM imports. Growing corn is a part of Mexico’s culture. Domesticated 8,700 years ago, corn is sacred and a staple of the everyday diet. Mexicans didn’t want our GM corn, but in an economy pushed towards depression by NAFTA, people were forced to rely on what was available and affordable.
NAFTA of the 1990s wasn’t the end of it. Today under a new (free but not fair) trade agreement, the USMCA, the U.S. aims to force Mexico to not only accept GM corn, but also to overturn the country’s ban on the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate), a probable carcinogen. Mexico wants neither. Mexicans want to grow their own non-GM corn and to import only non-GM corn to meet domestic demand. Glyphosate also threatens biodiversity, not just of Mexico’s ancient native corn varieties, but of pollinators — the bees, butterflies and birds that winter in Mexico. So why would they want that?
Yet under the USMCA, the Biden administration, through its U.S. Trade Representative, has said it will take all steps to enforce U.S. rights. The rights of the U.S. and the rights of Mexico will, in all likelihood, come down to the trade tribunals and the bullying of the U.S. government and its unending support of U.S. corporations and agricultural trade groups. The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) notes that allowing the ban to move forward (or in simple language, allowing Mexico to protect its farmers, its environment and its culture) would be catastrophic to America’s corn producers. But their real concern lies not with a potential drop in U.S. farm income, but rather a reduction of corporate profit.
America’s corn producers can grow the non-GM corn Mexico would like to buy, and they would be paid a premium to do so. But the power of the seed and pesticide corporations, the multi-national grain companies and industry trade groups like NGCA make growing and marketing of non-GM corn difficult. Growers of non-GM corn must bear the entire burden of preventing any contamination, and U.S. farmers in general are trapped in a system of GM mono-cultures and CAFOs that are immensely profitable for agri-business while the growers produce commodities at prices so low their very survival depends on taxpayer-funded subsidy payments.
What right do we have to force our excess production on the people of Mexico who don’t want it? What right does our government, our research institutions or a group of multinational corporations have to tell anyone what they must eat, what chemicals they must use and that their culture and environment are of little concern? Short answer: Mexico has every right under USMCA to reject GM corn from the U.S.
Yet, as has been the case for over 30 years, the answer from the U.S. government is “Sorry, but corporate profits outweigh anyone’s right to choose.” The U.S. government will do whatever it takes to keep corporate profits flowing.
Posted inFood Sovereignty|Comments Off on Corporate profits outweigh health, culture and livelihood