Make a Resilient, Localized Food System Part of the Next Stimulus!

By: Anthony Pahnke, vice president of Family Farm Defenders; and Jim Goodman, board member of Family Farm Defenders

Originally published by Common Dreams, 5/23/20

From wasted food to the exploitation of farmworkers, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it painfully clear that this country’s food system must be changed. Politicians must pass further stimulus legislation that includes policy to reform our inflexible, consolidated food system to prepare for future crises.

Consider the many problems in the meat industry. Workers ill with COVID caused temporary processing facility closures, putting our nation’s meat supply in jeopardy. President Trump forced meatpacking plants to re-open by executive order, yet, further disruptions are likely. Roughly half of those plant workers are immigrants, living at or below the poverty line, forced to return to work, and they are still at risk of getting sick.

Because these plants could not shift production to the retail market when restaurants, schools, and hotels closed, the product could not move. These supply chain bottlenecks caused farmer prices to fall, even as processor profits rose.

And cattle ranchers were not the only farmers affected, dairy farmers were told to dump milk, and hog and poultry producers, to euthanize their animals and vegetable growers were forced to plow their crops under. Desperately needed food is wasted while grocery costs rise, allowing retailers cash to in on supply chain breakdowns.

Before the pandemic hit, close to three million farmworkers who labor on some of the larger operations in this country already struggled. Most lived in poverty, earning between $15,000 to $18,000 a year, and around 75% of farmworkers lacked legal status and lived in fear of deportation.

Now, farmworkers face the risk of contracting COVID-19. In California’s Monterey County, around 40% of the people who have contracted the virus are those people who labor in the fields. USDA’s response? Instead of improving working conditions for farmworkers, the USDA wants to pay them less.

USDA has allocated $16 billion in direct payments to farmers, as well as creating the ‘farm to families box’ program – where suppliers, with larger operations having a seeming advantage, sell their produce to the government for distribution at food banks. Both initiatives are band-aids, with direct payments mirroring past trade deal mitigation payments, wherein larger operations and multinational agribusiness firms such as JBS are at the front of the line. This, as farm bankruptcies hit an eight-year high.

To really address the failures of the food system – and to position ourselves to adequately face the next crisis, we must reform our food system, ensure fair farm prices, empower agricultural workers and invest in rural infrastructure.

Farmworkers, in addition to citizenship, must be allowed to organize without fear of reprisal from their employer. Currently, only California guarantees this right because the National Labor Relations Act excludes rural workers from the right to unionize. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act includes citizenship for farmworkers; still, efforts should go further by allowing workers the right to organize.

Farmworkers should also have the chance to become farmers. Since 2008, through the Farm Service Agency’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), over $162 billion has been provided to former farmworkers, including women, veterans, and Native Americans, to promote small-scale agriculture. Doubling, or tripling the resources dedicated to this program, could help create a more localized food system and put more farmers on the land.

All farmers need fair markets and fair prices. The government must, as it has in the past, establish reserves for grains, as well as other products. Counter-cyclical government loans – a part of previous Farm Bills – would allow farmers to sell their produce either on the market, or into the reserves, with their decision based on a floor price that farmers, processors, and retailers would negotiate. Reserves would improve prices for farmers, prevent food shortages, and stabilize consumer prices.

Smaller local processing facilities – for beef, dairy, as well as fruits and vegetables – would strengthen markets and make the supply chain more flexible. This should include more brick and mortar facilities, as well as mobile facilities that can travel from farm to farm, giving farmers multiple options for sales and consumers more options on how they buy.

Rural areas are in desperate need of improved communications and transportation infrastructure. The Post Office provides rural residents with affordable access to the rest of the world, and its viability must be ensured. Similarly, broadband internet access must be made available to everyone. And if farmers are to move their product, significant resources need to be spent on improving roads, dams, bridges and railroads.

The effects of the COV-19 pandemic have shown that large processors cannot meet the challenges of a crisis. A less consolidated food system that is more flexible and supportive of farmers and workers will be better able to meet future challenges. Upcoming stimulus plans must address these problems in our food system now and for the long term. If they do, we might be ready for the next challenge.

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This May Day 2020 Family Farm Defenders Demands Justice Across the Entire Food/Farm System!

For Immediate Release – 4/30/20


John E. Peck, FFD executive director, 608-345-3918, Anthony Pahnke, FFD vice president, 612-916- 9148,

If there has been one hard truth from the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is that we need real change in our food/farm system. Family Farm Defenders this May Day expresses solidarity with all those who grow, harvest, deliver and prepare our food. In this crisis, we need to stand up and demand basic justice for all.

Around the world May 1st is celebrated as International Workers Day – a holiday that grew out of the epic eight hour day struggle and in particular the Haymarket Massacre of those supporting striking workers at the McCormick Reaper Factory in Chicago, IL in 1886. Just like back then, family farmers today must stand with our sisters and brothers who are in the fields, milking parlors and orchards; on the lines in meat packing and vegetable canning plants; running forklifts in warehouses; serving up meals in restaurants; and stocking shelves in grocery stores.

Since its founding, Family Farm Defenders has been proud to join many allies in this historic fight for labor rights. We were on the picket line with striking Staley workers in Decatur, Tyson workers in Jefferson, and Palermo Pizza workers in Milwaukee. We have been firmly behind the rights struggle of immigrant farmworkers from WA to NM from FL to WI. We have supported the union drives at Whole Foods, Starbucks, and Walmart – to name but a few. We linked arms with other workers against the World Trade Organization (WTO) back in 1999 in Seattle, and brought over 50 tractors to Madison during the 2011 “Wisconsin Uprising” to support union collective bargaining rights – something farmers also rely upon to win parity prices from agribusiness through their co-ops.

The ongoing corporate exploitation up and down the food/farm system has only been aggravated by the corona virus. Farm workers are now expected to continue working even without adequate protective equipment. Meatpacking plants have become another epicenter of infection, while workers still receive low wages, few healthcare benefits, and face abusive conditions. A brutal immigration system still forces our immigrant coworkers and neighbors to live in fear that they may be detained and deported at any moment.

One might think that being compelled to work throughout this crisis might bring hazard pay or other emergency benefits – not so! The truth is that we had been deemed “essential” long before the coronavirus shocked many people into realizing that their food actually comes from somewhere – with real people planting seeds, milking cows, harvesting crops, and cooking meals. As the old Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) song goes, “we have fed you all for a thousand years….”

This May Day we call upon all those who eat to join in solidarity with those who set their table. People across the country are participating in general strike actions for justice amidst the pandemic – some are walking out, others are calling in sick, while still others are choosing to not buy anything on Fri. May 1st. Family Farm Defenders strongly supports these actions. Together this May Day we can demand that our politicians bring the corporations that have come to rule our world under control. We can then take our own grassroots actions to bring about a just transition to a more sustainable and equitable system for all. Find out more about actions you can take by visiting:


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Family Farm Defenders provide solidarity in policy

By Tim King, The Land, 4/24/2020

MADISON, Wis. – The Land recently interviewed John Peck, the Executive Director of Wisconsin-based Family Farm Defender. FFD is a domestic and international farm advocacy group currently focusing on blocking the proposed Deans/DFA dairy merger and incorporating food sovereignty and agro-ecological proposals on a just transition for a Green New Deal.

The Land: Family Farm Defenders started in the mid-1990s as an effort to end the mandatory check off on raw milk and to demand labeling for rBGH Milk. Are those struggles still relevant today or have you moved on?

Peck: We were indeed started in the early 1990s by Wisconsin dairy farmers as part of a grassroots rural resistance movement to the mandated USDA dairy check-off program. That program requires all dairy farmers to pay into a corporate controlled commodity marketing programs over which they have little say. It’s a classic case of taxation without representation. We also resisted the aggressive taxpayer subsidized promotion of rBGH which was a huge moneymaker for Monsanto and facilitated rapid expansion of factory farms.

While corporate agribusiness control and patented industrialized technologies remain a problem for many farmers and a core focus of our group, by the late 1990s Family Farm Defenders had expanded its mission and membership to include those who support sustainable agriculture, farm/food worker rights, animal welfare, consumer safety, fair trade and food sovereignty.

This shift was in large part due to the influence of La Via Campesina (LVC), which crafted its food sovereignty principles in 1994 in response to the passage of NAFTA and the growing threat of neo-liberal globalization. FFD had adopted those principles by 1999.

The Land: How was it that those early efforts defended family farms? Why did you call yourself that?

Peck: Many of the family farmers who founded FFD were survivors of the 1980s farm crisis. They had been involved in the AAM Tractorcade to (Washington) DC, had attended the first Farm Aid concerts, and they saw that the cultural identity and economic viability of rural America was being destroyed by the imposition of an industrialized factory farm agribusiness model in which family farmers lost their autonomy and were reduced to being modern day peasants. Increasing monopoly control of commodity markets at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange meant that family farmers could no longer get a parity price, and they were under the thumb of processor contracts, bank loans, patent rules, and so many other constraints on their decision-making. Many of them were also looking for better alternatives that they found in new trends such as organic certification, rotational grazing, and direct marketing.

I think the founders of FFD liked the term “family farm” since that provided a contrast with the “get big or get out” policy being promoted by then USDA Secretary Earl Butz. That approach meant a vertically integrated factory farm under nominal “farmer” management; but was entirely dependent upon outside capital investors, oppressed farmworker labor, rampant animal abuse, and integration into global corporate commodity markets.

The Land: FFD talks about food sovereignty. What the heck is food sovereignty? What has it got to do with defending family farmers?

Peck: Food sovereignty is a concept coined by LVC in 1994 and which FFD has adopted. It emerged from struggles in the global south as an alternative to the dominant “food security” concept being pushed by Henry Kissinger and other proponents of the larger neoliberal capitalist agenda. According to food security, lack of food is not a political problem but a technical challenge that will be solved by privatizing common property, global market integration, patented biotechnologies, and the like.

In contrast, food sovereignty sees the perpetuation of hunger as a political issue. Economic inequality caused by privatization, commodification, and globalization are the root causes of the problem.

LVC is the largest family farmer, hunting/fishing/herding/gathering, and indigenous community umbrella organization in the world, and FFD is proud to be an active member. In the U.S. farm context we often explain food sovereignty as being democratic local control over agriculture. However, for native tribes in the U.S. we do not have to really explain the concept of sovereignty since they have been struggling for that for more than 500 years.

The Land: Who was John Kinsman and why do you have a prize in his name?

Peck: John Kinsman was one of the founding members of FFD and an amazing pioneer of both the organic movement and the global food sovereignty struggle. John was among the first to raise the alarm about the insidious dangers of genetically modified organisms and his foresight continued in his opposition to global free trade, the military industrial complex, factory farming, carbon trading, land grabbing – name the issue, and John was probably involved in one manner or another. He passed away in 2014 on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and to honor his legacy we launched the John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize.

The Land: Every politician in rural America used to make empty claims about supporting family farms. They don’t so much anymore. I think that’s because there’s not many of us left. Is the relatively small number that are left really worth supporting or defending or whatever you want to call it? Why?

Peck: Well, we have more prisoners than farmers in the U.S. now – and you don’t hear many politicians advocating for prisoners either. So, yes, the steady decline of family farmers has certainly reduced their power to influence public policy. In Wisconsin alone we’ve lost half of our dairy farms over the last decade. So, 7,000 family dairy farmers, or 20,000 inmates, don’t have much sway on their own in a state of 5.8 million. But that is where solidarity comes in. Family farmers are not alone in this struggle, and FFD has many allies among consumer advocates, environmental activists, labor unions, and indigenous communities.

John Kinsman used to joke about how he did not want to be the last family farmer on display in the Smithsonian Museum. And now we do have many new farmers who are not only hoping to survive this current crisis, but serve as an inspiring role model for others. These new farmers often do not reflect the older white male stereotype. They are more likely to be women, people of color, recent refugees or immigrants who are operating smaller more diversified operations. These farms may also not be in a rural area, but on the edge or even within larger cities. How we define “family” is also changing. The majority of U.S. households are not two parents with two kids anymore and that is also true for folks producing our food.

The Land: Somebody said that you’re from a Minnesota farm family. Is that true and if so, what the heck are you doing in Wisconsin?

Peck: Yes, I grew up on a 260-acre family farm in central Minnesota, in Stearns County, surrounded by dozens of family dairy farms. I was one of only a handful of students from my school that did not join the military. I went off to college instead. Thanks to tuition reciprocity I ended up at UW-Madison in the College of Agriculture for my graduate school work. I got a PhD in Land Resources from the Gaylord Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies. For two decades now I’ve been the part-time staff person for FFD, while also teaching economics and environmental studies part-time at Madison College. For the last three years my partner and I have been owners of a one and a half acre farm, called Yellow Dog Flowers and Produce, near Edgerton, Wis.

The Land: You have members in Minnesota and Iowa, right? Where else?

Peck: Over half of FFD’s 2,500 members are in the Midwest, but we have members in all fifty states, as well as in Canada, Mexico, Australia, Europe, and other parts of the world.

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To Fight the Pandemic, Potable Water Access, Fair Farm Prices, and Healthcare Protections & Public Support for Essential Farm/Food Workers Are A MUST!!

For Immediate Release

April, 17, 2020


Family Farm Defenders: John E. Peck 608- 345-3918 or Amy Mall: 224-764-1230

On April 17, Via Campesina’s International Day of Peasant Struggle, the US Food Sovereignty Alliance Midwest Region Declares:

To Fight the Pandemic, Potable Water Access, Fair Farm Prices, and Healthcare Protections & Public Support for Essential Farm/Food Workers Are A MUST!!

On April 17th grassroots activists around the globe celebrate the International Day of Peasant Struggle, originally launched by La Via Campesina, the world’s largest umbrella organization for family farmers, food service/farm workers, fishers, hunters, gatherers, herders, foresters, and indigenous peoples.

This April 17th Midwest members of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) call upon all people to express their solidarity with those who are now providing essential sustenance to our communities in this time of global crisis, and to elevate our solidarity demands for a just transition to food sovereignty.

Access to clean water is a human right and even more crucial now with COVID-19 as we are told to shelter in place and practice good hygiene. Yet, this vital public good is being denied many people across the U.S. including thousands of families in Detroit, MI who are now struggling to survive WITHOUT running water! A nationwide pandemic is not the time to be imposing austerity measures that deny lower income people their basic survival needs. Many people are calling for a nationwide moratorium on utility shutoffs, and you can take action to support grassroots community activists demanding the same of Detroit Mayor, Mike Duggan. Their simple demand, turn the taps back on NOW! Detroit Mayor’s office: #313-224-3400 For more info, visit:

The COVID-19 pandemic has also sent shock waves through the nation’s food supply and is poised to trigger a fresh wave of pandemic outbreaks and farm bankruptcies as prices collapse and markets disappear. Dairy farmers are especially suffering – Wisconsin lost over 800 dairy farmers – one in ten – just last year! Farmers are being forced to DUMP MILK even as consumers find shortages of dairy products at the store. Some food banks are stepping up to purchase this milk on their own as they struggle to meet skyrocketing demand, but this is not a task that should be left to charity organizations alone. What farmers really need are fair prices, anti-trust action against the food giants, and supply management. Please contact your elected officials to demand that dairy farmers get an immediate emergency floor price for their milk ($20/100#), and that the USDA purchase surplus milk to redistribute through low income food assistance programs to those who are facing hunger. Congressional switchboard #202-224-3121 For more info, visit:

We express our solidarity with the Little Village Environmental Organization LVEJO and other residents of Chicago, who were victims of an unnecessary demolition of a power plant with state approval on Sun. April 12th which blanketed their community with toxic dust. We encourage allies to sign this petition:…

We also express our solidarity with efforts in Chicago, IL and elsewhere to decarcerate those held behind bars in the interest of public health. The Cook County Jail has become the national prison epicenter for the Coranavirus outbreak, and that is not surprising, given that prisons are disease incubators and militate against social distancing. Non-violent offenders and others being held for lack of cash bail should be immediately released to reduce the spread of this pandemic. For more info:…/statement-on-the-solidarity-cara…/

Migrant farm workers, meat packing and food service workers have been deemed ESSENTIAL in this crisis, but the vast majority of these mostly immigrant workers will be receiving NO stimulus checks from the COVID-19 outbreak. Yet, being on the frontline – harvesting vegetables, processing livestock, restocking shelves – they are among the most at risk of getting sick during this pandemic. The latest Midwest epicenter of Coranavirus cases is a now shuttered Smithfield pork processor in Sioux Falls, SD and outbreaks are anticipated in plants from North Carolina to Missouri to Colorado, as well as on farms with migrant workers across the Midwest, both H2A and undocumented. All those employed in the food/farm system should receive the same protective equipment and government assistance – regardless of citizenship status – and this includes being eligible for paid sick leave, SNAP, COVID-19 testing and health coverage, and workers compensation. Solidarity support for ongoing and anticipated Coronavirus outbreaks among these workers will be desperately needed, and can come through member USFSA organizations. To support these efforts, contact: or call or text 502-415-1080.

The COVID-19 crisis has clearly shown the inherent weaknesses and fundamental injustices of our corporatized, globalized, industrialized food/farm system. But it has also revealed the path we need to take towards a more equitable and sustainable economic and social system. To make this happen, we will need to re-discover and re-invigorate the mutual aid ties and solidarity relationships that are already found and can be further fostered within our diverse communities.

As we embark on this journey together to build a better new world, the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance would also like to encourage everyone to reflect upon and share your own empowering stories of food sovereignty in action. To mark April 17th, the USFSA has just released the latest installment in its video series, featuring Jesús Vásquez and Dalma Cartagena Colón of La Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecología de Puerto Rico. You can watch it here:

We may be staying at home, but we are not silent! #StayHomeButNotSilent

Globalize the struggle, globalize hope!

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Call for funds to directly invest in communities to build out critical infrastructure between local and regional food producers and families in need of healthy food


Communication Contact:

Jennifer Fahy (Farm Aid),, (617) 320-9587,

Debbie DePoala (WhyHunger),, (212) 629-8850

Heidi Anne Rogers (NAMA),, (615) 900-6504

Siena Chrisman (NFFC),, phone: (917) 821-9631

Jordan Treakle (NFFC), (202) 543-5675

Alison Cohen (WhyHunger), (718) 510-4989

Alicia Harvie (Farm Aid),, (484) 716-9502

Navina Khanna (HEAL),, (510) 393-4905

Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA), National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), Farm Aid, WhyHunger, HEAL Food Alliance, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) commended Congress for quick passage of an initial COVID-19 pandemic relief bill and called on legislators to take an additional step to not only address the current crisis but invest in a future that minimizes food insecurity and ensures the continuity of the essential services that farmers, fishermen, ranchers, and related food businesses provide. The organizations–made up of family farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food workers across rural, urban, and indigenous communities advocating for sustainable agriculture and fisheries, and food security–pointed to many recent innovations in regional farm, ranching, and fishing infrastructure that enable producers to provide healthy food to their local communities, especially those experiencing food insecurity, in the midst of this crisis and into the future by using their existing infrastructure to deliver local and minimally processed food to a growing number of individuals facing food insecurity.

Noreen Springstead, Executive Director of WhyHunger: “As the COVID-19 crisis reshapes life in America, it is essential that we protect everyone’s most basic human right to nutritious food. This crisis has exposed major weaknesses in the current consolidated supply chain, and the need to support community-scale production and distribution. In addition, it demonstrates the stark inequities that leave tens of millions in persistent hunger and poverty, and small-scale producers on the sidelines. Even before the pandemic, 37 million people were struggling to get food on the table for their families, while 4 out of 5 U.S. workers were living paycheck to paycheck. Millions of low-income people face chronic illness and health disparities making them even more susceptible to COVID-19. Lack of access has never been about a yield gap, it is a problem of distribution: Now is the time to more directly connect food producers who are losing income as local markets close to food access organizations who are in need of fresh nutritious food for current patrons and the growing numbers of those who may be facing food insecurity in the near future.”

While the current administration has provided more than $23 billion to food producers for the loss of export markets since 2018, the majority of small and medium-scale farmers, fishers, and ranchers have seen little of this relief. Many family farmers, ranchers, and fishermen have already been struggling through six years of farm prices below average costs of production. For producers reliant on local markets, the closure this week of thousands of school districts, restaurants, and farmers markets across the country has been another blow. NAMA, NFFC, Farm Aid, WhyHunger, HEAL Food Alliance, and IATP are proposing the following set of policies to support these and similar initiatives to ensure food access in communities around the country and economic security for workers across the food chain, now and in the coming uncertain economic times:


  • Ensure all farmers, ranchers, and fisherpeople are included in any broader stimulus or farm relief package, with specific prioritization of small and mid-sized operations, limited resource producers, and farms operated by farmers of color and tribal nations who are currently not well served by existing crop insurance, revenue programs, and Market Facilitation Program payments. 
  • The President and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture should declare a national disaster to unlock existing federal emergency and disaster funding and services for the farm sector.
  • Direct USDA to utilize the authorities of the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act related to income stabilization to make emergency disaster payments to family-scale farmers/ranchers/fishermen and independent agriculture and seafood businesses (that can demonstrate revenue losses attributable to coronavirus emergency measures) to donate and distribute fresh and minimally processed foods, at market rates, directly to individuals, families, food hubs, and schools
  • Provide unemployment benefits to farm, food and fish workers through small- and medium-scale businesses that can demonstrate inability to pay their workers because of coronavirus emergency measures.
  • Adapt all USDA credit, financing, funding and other program implementation requirements to meet the evolving demands of farmers, ranchers, and fishermen through measures such as extending deadlines, waiving cost-share requirements, ensuring effective outreach to producers, or other actions.


  • Local FSA and NRCS offices should aggressively use every tool available to keep farm families in their homes and on the land under current regulations.
  • Increase funding for direct and guaranteed loan programs and implement zero-interest operating loans for all existing family-scale farmers, fishermen, and ranchers, while ensuring that borrower rights for FSA direct loans are extended to all guaranteed borrowers.
  • Declare a two year national moratorium on farm foreclosures and require agriculture mediation for all future farm foreclosure proceedings after that point.
  • Forgive all federal direct and guaranteed loan debt and suspend debt payments (both principal and interest) for two years for all producers.
  • Direct USDA to utilize the authorities of the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act to shift $50 million in funding to ag mediation programs, as it did with trade assistance, including funding to prepare farmer borrowers for mediation.


  • Exempt farmers’ markets from definitions of “public places” and categorize them as essential services in order to continue feeding local communities.
  • Expand funding for the Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks and allow program funds to cover direct sales from participating family-scale farms and boats.
  • Increase funding for USDA Local Agriculture Marketing Program to strengthen local food system resilience.
  • Provide additional funding of at least $100 million for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) to ensure tribes can adequately respond to food insecurity among their citizens.
  • Establish an Emergency Tribal Food Assistance Fund and enhance FDPIR for food, administration, and infrastructure, along with providing administrative flexibility.
  • Direct USDA to consider ways to allow dual participation in SNAP and FDPIR simultaneously for all those eligible.
  • Support small and very small meat and poultry processors by waiving all USDA inspector overtime costs for this fiscal year for plants with a USDA Grant of Inspection with less than 50 employees.


  • Institutionalize strategic public national food reserves for future crises.
  • Pass systemic fair pricing legislation, coupled with supply management, for food producers to strengthen rural economic resilience.
  • Support fair agricultural contracts, farmer/grower/rancher rights, and competitive markets by reissuing and finalizing the USDA Farmer Fair Practice Rules.
  • Increase transparency in the food system and allow eaters to support American farmers, ranchers, and fishermen by reinstating and expanding Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).
  • Prohibit crisis profiteering and corporate consolidation by enacting an immediate moratorium on acquisitions and mergers in the food and agriculture sector and enforce antitrust laws.

Shannon Eldredge, NAMA board president, said, “We need a disaster relief package that addresses the work local and regional food producers are doing during this crisis both to stay afloat and to secure food access for those in need. We ask Congress to include funding for fishermen that are donating seafood in HR 6201 that was just passed to mitigate the loss of product that would have otherwise occurred if we were restricted to selling to institutions like schools and universities or direct market channels. Local and regional seafood producers and seafood donation should have been considered by Congress in HR 6201, so we’re asking Congress not to forget about us and what we can offer in this time of crisis. We are poised to take these losses and turn them into gains for those facing food insecurity.”

Jim Goodman, Wisconsin dairy farmer and NFFC board president, said, “In this uncertain time, Congress can provide some certainty to food producers, the families they feed, and rural communities across the country for the days to come. To recover from a five-year farm crisis and cope with the coming market loss from the coronavirus, farmers need fair prices and farm and food workers need living wages, sick leave, and fair immigration policies. To shore up our communities for the future, we must invest in small producers and short supply chains.”

Jared Auerbach, Chief Executive Officer of Red’s Best, said, “We don’t have to rebuild the food system to look exactly like it did before it fell apart this week. We have a unique opportunity to recreate the world the way it should be, not necessarily the way it was. We have the people in place to create a sustainable, health conscious, food secure world for all of our people, but the system will need immediate liquidity to get rolling again.” Red’s Best represents the kind of food businesses and producers who are ready and willing to begin a course of action that would feed communities at no cost to consumers, but this plan will require assistance from the government. 

Alicia Harvie, Farm Aid’s Advocacy and Farmer Services Director, stated, “Family farmers and ranchers provide essential services we all need to navigate this disaster caused by COVID19. We call on Congress to provide immediate and bold action that ensures farmers and ranchers can feed their communities. Many family farmers, ranchers, and fishermen have already been struggling through six years of farm prices below their cost of production. Now, more than ever, we cannot afford to lose them from the land. Strengthening our farmers and ranchers is an investment in the essential infrastructure we need now, and an investment in the resiliency we need to face future challenges.”


Fore even more specific policy proposals continue reading below:


Through no fault of their own, farmers, ranchers, fishermen and all food producers are facing a crisis unlike any they have ever seen, encountering new threats to their production and markets sparked by COVID-19 while they endure a multi-year slump in prices for their goods, volatile trade disputes, frequent natural disasters, and climate disruption. What’s clear is that no farmer should lose their farm and no fisherman should lose their boat because of the crisis sparked by COVID-19, and farm, fish and food workers should likewise not lose their livelihoods.

In stark contrast to the Administration’s approach to a “trade bailout” through the Market Facilitation Program, Congress and the federal government need to act decisively to ensure that all farmers, ranchers, and fishermen are included in any broader stimulus package related to COVID-19, particularly small and midsized operations, limited resource producers, farms operated by farmers of color, and tribal nations who have often fallen through the cracks of federal farm policy. This will require a multi-faceted approach that invests in the innovative potential of food producers, ensures fair livelihoods for all who have a hand in bringing food to American families, offers meaningful debt relief and appropriate credit to meet the demands of the moment, and ensures a more resilient food system for producers, workers and consumers alike.

Time is of the essence.

We call on the President, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and the Secretary of Commerce to declare a national disaster in both the agriculture and seafood sectors to unlock existing federal emergency and disaster funding and services, and enable Congress to appropriate further relief funds for the farm and seafood sector.1 In addition, federal agencies must aggressively use every tool available to keep families in their homes, on the land, and on the water.

Congress must do the following in any stimulus package enacted to address the COVID-19 crisis:


● Establish an emergency payment program for farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food producers who can demonstrate revenue losses due to COVID-19 emergency measures, including producers who are sourcing local and regional markets and sourcing directly to individuals, schools, local institutions, and food hubs.

● Forgive all federal direct and guaranteed loan debt and suspend debt payments (both principal and interest) for two years for all producers.

● Suspend vessel loan payments (both principal and interest) to private lenders for two years.

● Increase funding for direct and guaranteed loans, maintaining existing loan limits.

● Waive the eligibility restriction for new FSA loans based on past debt write-down or other loss to the agency.

● Waive the prohibition on refinancing of other debt with FSA direct loans.

● Implement zero-interest for all FSA direct loans and utilize the Interest Assist program to buy-down guaranteed loan interest to zero percent.

● Require that all borrower rights provided for FSA direct borrowers be extended to all guaranteed loan borrowers.

● Adapt all USDA and DOC credit, funding and program implementation requirements to meet the evolving needs of food producers through measures such as extending deadlines, waiving cost-share requirements, ensuring effective outreach, or other actions.

● Provide unemployment benefits to farm, food and fish workers through businesses that can demonstrate inability to pay their workers and contractors because of COVID-19 emergency measures.

● Provide emergency funding for businesses that can demonstrate revenue losses to offer paid sick days to farm, fish and food workers who provide essential services during the COVID-19 crisis.

● Establish an immediate moratorium on work permit restrictions for guest workers and migrant workers who have been laid off or terminated.

● Provide access to free COVID-19 testing and medical care to all farm, fish and food workers, regardless of immigration status and size of workplace, including workers on H-2A or migrant worker visas, and eliminate penalties for all workers who become ill for inability to complete a contract due to the illness.


● Quadruple the budget, loosen barriers to application, and abandon all eligibility and access restrictions to SNAP and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs.

● Establish an immediate moratorium on the Public Charge Rule which would disqualify immigrants who receive public assistance from obtaining permanent residency status or U.S. citizenship.

● Exempt farmers’ and seafood markets and local food hubs from definitions of “public places” and categorize them as essential services, eligible for emergency assistance funding for operations and food safety training and materials, to continue feeding local communities.

● Double funding for the Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks and allow program funds to cover direct sales from participating family-scale farms and boats.

● Increase funding for USDA Local Agriculture Marketing Program (LAMP) by $200,000,000 and temporarily waive cost-share requirements to strengthen local food system resilience.

● Bolster food security for tribal nations by: 1) Providing additional funding of at least $100 million for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) and enhancing FDPIR for food, administration, and infrastructure, along with providing administrative flexibility; 2) Establishing an Emergency Tribal Food Assistance Fund; and 3) Directing USDA to consider ways to allow dual participation in SNAP and FDPIR simultaneously.


● Strengthen rural economic resilience and prevent food shortages by establishing supply management programs, a parity pricing system, and strategic food reserves that ensure producers and workers receive a living wage and consumers have access to high-quality and stable agricultural goods and seafood.

● Prohibit crisis profiteering and corporate consolidation by enacting an immediate moratorium on mergers and acquisitions in the seafood and food & agriculture sectors and enforce antitrust laws.

● Support fair agricultural contracts, producers’ rights, and competitive markets by reissuing and finalizing the USDA Farmer Fair Practice Rules.

● Increase transparency in the food system and allow eaters to support American farmers, ranchers, and fishermen by reinstating and expanding mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat, dairy, and seafood.

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