This holiday season, let’s make our politics honor food’s sacred nature

By Jim Goodman and Anthony Pahnke (NFFC president and FFD vice president)

Published in the Chicago Tribune, Dec 25, 2023

Food is sacred.

Regardless of one’s religious views, there is something special about people coming together at this time of year to share a meal with loved ones. We take the time and labor to enjoy some distinctive plates, whether it’s tamales and pozole, maybe roast turkey or perhaps baba ghanoush. Good food is hard to put a price on, especially when it’s reflective of our traditions and connections to the land.

But powerful actors often use food not for peace, but as a weapon of war.

Whether it’s Russia’s strategic disruption of Ukrainian grain shipments and covering farmland with landmines or Israel’s cutting of civilian access to food and water in Gaza and turning of farmland into settlements — depriving access to food is done for political objectives.

The U.S. is by no means above the fray in such matters.

Our government’s Food for Peace program, which became part of the Farm Bill beginning in 1954, drives indigenous farmers in developing countries out of business as they cannot compete with our cheap, overproduced commodity crops that flood their markets.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can promote policies to ensure that everyone has access to culturally appropriate food and the necessary means to grow it for themselves and their communities.

Global movements, such as La Via Campesina, demand as much in calling for food sovereignty. Central to food sovereignty is the idea that food neither should be used as a weapon nor a commodity. Moreover, the best way to respect our distinct food traditions is to democratize our food system by empowering people to grow their own food, push back against corporate power and support historically marginalized people of color.

There is no better way for us to begin to make such changes than by getting involved in our ongoing Farm Bill discussions. We have almost a year to do so, as congressional dysfunction has led lawmakers to delay passing new legislation until September.

In terms of details, first, we should push our lawmakers to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) accessibility. They can do this by including bipartisan bills within the Farm Bill that would dedicate more resources for people to purchase locally sourced produce at farmers markets and support local governments with the means to teach consumers how to prepare food on their own by scaling up programs such as SNAP-Ed.

There’s also the need to make sure that as our population changes, we support our next, diverse generation of small farmers.

The Fair Credit for Farmers Act would do just that, making important reforms at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Specifically, the bill addresses the history of racist discrimination that farmers of color have experienced by mandating that USDA officials provide specific reasons when loans are denied and empowering farmers to sue the government in the event of wrongdoing.

To ensure that people who grow our food can earn a living, Vermont U.S. Sen. Peter Welch’s Fairness for Small-Scale Farmers and Ranches Act would begin to make a powerful change.

This legislation would halt mergers of large-scale agribusiness firms while requiring a review of recent large-scale acquisitions. Increasing concentrated markets, according to Mary Hendrickson of the University of Missouri at Columbia, subjects farmers to whatever processors will pay for their produce and consumers to inflated prices at the grocery store. While giving farmers a fighting chance by making markets more competitive, Welch’s bill also dedicates $100 million more to the Local Agriculture Market Program, which helps producers promote their products at farmers markets and that revitalizes local food chains.

The unifying, life-giving properties of food are put on display this time of year as we build and celebrate community. Ongoing military conflicts betray this principle by using food as a weapon. We can do better, and the Farm Bill gives us one chance to do so. This next year, let’s work on policies that truly let us honor the food that makes us who we are.

Jim Goodman is a retired dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wisconsin, and board president of the National Family Farm Coalition. Anthony Pahnke is an associate professor of international relations at San Francisco State University and vice president of the Family Farm Defenders, an advocacy group for farmers and consumers.

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Congratulations to the Winners of the 2023 John Kinsman Food Sovereignty Prize Winners!

Hannah Frank & Justin Thomas – Rue de Bungaloo Farm (WI)

Nia Nyamweya – Beauty Blooms Farm (MD)

Honorable Mention – Bad River Food Sovereignty Initiative (WI)

For those who were not able to join us in person on Sat. Nov. 11th in Spring Green for the award ceremony, the whole event was also recorded and can be watched on YouTube – including the inspiring keynote address “Food, Land, and Justice: Lessons from the Driftless Area to the World” – by Curt Meine, Senior Fellow, Aldo Leopold Foundation and the Center for Humans and Nature:

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2023 John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Award Ceremony & Family Farm Defenders Annual Meeting – Sat. Nov. 11th 5:00 – 8:00 pm & Sun. Nov. 12th 9:00 am – 12:00 Noon Round Barn Lodge in Spring Green, WI – Save the Date & Spread the Word!

In memory of legendary organic pioneer and food sovereignty advocate, John Kinsman, Family Farm Defenders is proud to celebrate beginning farmers each year with a prize in his honor!

Sat. Nov. 11th Round Barn Lodge in Spring Green, WI (E4830 US-14) 5:00 pm Reception and Socializing; 5:30 pm Welcome and Local Harvest Dinner (catered by Lisa Buttenow & the Branding Iron in Lime Ridge)

6:00 pm Keynote Address: “Food, Land, and Justice: Lessons from the Driftless Area to the World” – with Curt Meine, Senior Fellow, Aldo Leopold Foundation and the Center for Humans and Nature

Followed at 6:45 pm by the John Kinsman Prize Award Ceremony!

Congratulations to this year’s prize winners:

Hannah Frank and Justin Thomas – Rue de Bungaloo Farm (Athens, WI)

Nia Nyamweya – Beauty Blooms Farm (Montgomery County, MD)

Honorable Mention – Bad River Food Sovereignty Initiative (Odanah, WI)

Suggested donation for the award dinner – $35 per person (children are free!)

To RSVP and purchase advance tickets send a check to: FFD, P.O. Box 1772, Madison, WI 53701 or make an online donation through this website. Family Farm Defenders also welcomes sponsors of the John Kinsman Prize! Sponsors will be thanked in the evening program and prize sponsors of $100+ will also receive two free complimentary tickets to the event. More info? #608-260-0900 or email: [email protected]

For those who can’t join us in person, it is possible to participate virtually – via Zoom and GoToMeeting. Here are the details:

John Kinsman Food Sovereignty Prize Event – Sat. 11/11 from 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm CST

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 891 3616 9225

One tap mobile

+13126266799,,89136169225# US (Chicago)
+13092053325,,89136169225# US


FFD Annual Meeting – Sun. 11/12 from 9 am – Noon CST

Please join from your computer, tablet or smartphone.

You can also dial in using your phone.

Access Code: 646-585-045

United States:+1 (646) 749-3122

Thanks for your support of food sovereignty and please spread the word!

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Know a Beginning Farmer Who Believes in Food Sovereignty? FFD is Seeking Nominations for the 2023 John Kinsman Prize!

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.

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Ban corporations from farmland purchases, promote food security

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.

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