Build regenerative agriculture systems

Shift resources and policy to support local, cooperative, and regenerative farming systems that are restorative to our land, our climate, and our communities. 

While most climate change policy and advocacy focuses explicitly on the fossil fuel industry, industrial agriculture practices contribute as much as 30% of global greenhouse emissions. From flying produce thousands of miles to foreign markets, to manufacturing synthetic inputs like chemical fertilizers, to slashing and burning forests to clear farmland, to releasing methane from industrial cattle ranching, industrial agriculture has been devastating to our climate, our water, our soil, and our health.  When you include other aspects of the food system, such as packaging and waste, that number jumps to 57%

Furthermore, the collapse of agriculture systems— whether due to drought, disease, or natural disaster— stands as one of the greatest global vulnerabilities in the face of climate change. 

Over the last century, the number of US farms has dramatically shrunk, while the average acreage has increased. In fact, the top 10% of farms received 77% of the subsidies. Industrial agriculture has pushed the sector towards mono-crop strategies, high use of chemical fertilizers, excessive run-off, and exploited labor of farmworkers. Many of these farmers are beginning to retire with no succession plan. This trend of consolidation of wealth and land–currently, 98% of farmland in the US is owned by white people— paired with the automation of more aspects of the trade, means that in addition to being harmful to the land, farming has become more and more exclusive. 

While the current dominant farming model is extractive of land and labor, there is an immense opportunity to reorganize and reinvest in good farming jobs that are regenerative to the land, sea, air, and our communities. 

There is a growing interest in farming work, both urban and rural, from younger generations. For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers under the age of 35 is increasing. In some states, the number of beginning farmers age 25-34 grew by 20% or more between 2012-2017. They are more likely than past generations to have farms under 50 acres, limit the use of chemicals, grow with organic methods, diversify crops, and engage with community supported agriculture (CSA) and farmers markets. 

New economy strategies can greatly expand economic opportunities, access to resources, and structures of support for communities— particularly Black, undocumented, and Indigenous— that have been most exploited or precarious in the current food system. 

The US Food Sovereignty Alliance puts forth the following principles for regenerative food systems:

  • Focuses on food for the people
  • Values food providers
  • Localizes food systems
  • Makes decisions locally
  • Builds knowledge and skill
  • Works with nature

Invest in emerging small-scale, worker-owned food production, processing, and service cooperatives.

  • Expand access to equitable crop insurance, accounting, technical assistance, legal support, equipment sharing, non-GMO seed.
  • Ensure fair prices, wages, and markets for all farming and food cooperatives. 
  • Establish procurement plans for anchor institutions, including schools, hospitals, and senior centers from local food and farming cooperatives.

For example:

  • Evergreen Cooperatives Initiative – Green City Growers is a cooperative farming enterprise in Cleveland that is locally-focused, non-GMO, and pesticide-free. The business is part of a larger ecosystem of the Evergreen Cooperatives, which also include a laundry cooperative and solar energy business. The Evergreen Coops have procurement contracts with local anchor institutions and have recently established the Fund for Employee Ownership to support the conversion of small businesses, usually with retiring owners, to worker-owned cooperatives.

  • Put city-owned vacant land into productive use through the low-cost transfer to community-managed urban farms.

For example:

  • Building on its long tradition of urban farming, the City of Philadelphia established a Land Bank to consolidate access to 10,000 city-owned vacant lots. Now neighbors of vacant lots can submit an “Expression of Interest” to acquire ownership or access to vacant lots for as low as $1 to be put into productive use. Many of these lots were already being used as community gardens but risked being sold or removed with no warning. The Land Bank provides an opportunity to have guaranteed access to existing community farms as well as a platform for starting new ones. The project continues to be an experiment and work out bureaucratic challenges, but serves as a model for other policies to accelerate urban farming. 
  • More from Hidden City: Urban Farmers Look to Land Bank for Help with Holding on to Property

Prioritize communities at the frontline of land and food injustice, both urban and rural

  • Expand and subsidize access to land, grants, insurance, training, and technical assistance for farmers from communities that have been displaced from land and impacted by economic injustice.

For example:

  • Federation of Southern Cooperatives. In 1920, Black people owned and farmed 15 million acres across the South. As of 2007, there were fewer than 25,000 Black family farms on less than 3 million acres. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives was established to retain Black land and livelihoods through a diversity of strategies. “The Federation’s membership includes 10,000 Black farm families, who own over half a million acres of land and work through 35 agricultural cooperatives to purchase supplies, provide technical assistance and market their crops together; 12,000 small savers, in 15 community development credit unions that have over $20 million in assets and have made over $60 million in loans since their inception. [They] also work with handicraft producers, fishermen, consumers, people who need affordable housing and other rural residents interested in developing self-help cooperative solutions to their problems.” More from Grassroots Economic Organizing
  • California Farmer Equity Act is a comprehensive bill that focuses on undoing historic discrimination against farmers of color and supporting the rapidly diversifying farmer population in the state. The bill also specifically includes support for urban farmers of color and takes measures to support climate resilient farming.

  • Establish protections and pathways for farmworkers
    • Transform guest worker visa programs to raise wages, hold landowners responsible for mistreatment of workers, and allow workers to move between employers. Ultimately provide a pathway to citizenship for migrant farmworkers and end all guest worker programs in the next five years.

For example:

  • The H-2A visa program has been regularly compared to indentured servitude. WA SB 5438, which passed unanimously 96-0 in the Washington House of Representatives, established a dedicated office for oversight of safety, housing, labor conditions, and health of workers in the H-2A program.

  • Establish a clear pathway to worker and land ownership for farmworkers.

For example:

  • Community to Community Development in Whatcom County, WA. C2C worked with farmworkers on a four-year campaign, culminating in 2017, to establish their collective bargaining rights through the union Familias Unidos por la Justicia. Then in the summer of 2019, based on their vision of workers fully owning their own land and labor, their worker-owned cooperative blueberry farm, Tierra y Libertad, had its first harvest season.

Incentivize farming methods that prioritize agroecology, biodiversity, zero-waste and composting, carbon sequestration, organic methods, and minimal ecological footprints

  • Pass “Healthy Soil” Legislation – focused on natural, small scale sequestration – as a form of climate mitigation
  • Invest public resources in regenerative land and ocean farmer training programs for new farmers

For example:

  • GreenWave is an organization built on a restorative ocean farming model that produces high yields of seaweed and shellfish, rebuilds marine ecosystems, absorbs carbon, requires no external inputs, and creates storm surge protection. Their ocean farmer in training program is a two-year program that focuses on skill-building, knowledge, equity of access, and is free of charge. They have a goal of 500 ocean farms in 10 regions in the next five years.

  • Minimize barriers and establish subsidies for existing farms that convert to agroecological methods