WASHINGTON — A press conference focusing on climate action and social justice in farming, and their intersection, was held Wednesday, March 8, at the Lutheran Church of Reformation, just a few blocks from the United States Capitol.
It followed the “Farmers for Climate Action: Rally for Resilience” and march the day before, and preceded a day of farmers and farm groups lobbying Congress to include progressive climate policy, opportunities for farmers of color, and to put “communities before corporations” in the 2023 Farm Bill.
“Centuries of exploitation of people and land — especially by a handful of large food and agriculture corporations — have led to catastrophic consequences, including a devastating climate crisis that is here now,” said Maleeka Manurasada, national organizer at HEAL Food Alliance, an umbrella organization for many of the groups participating in the mobilization.
“While the climate crisis threatens the health, safety and livelihoods of all of us, Black, Indigenous and farmers of color’s livelihoods are some of the most at risk. We need to center climate solutions that directly support Black, Indigenous, and farmers of color in the next Farm Bill. We need climate justice.”
The first of four panelists to speak at the press conference was Johanna Chao Kreilick, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“At the Union of Concerned Scientists, we’re in the business of putting science in service of the world’s most pressing problems, including every dimension of the food system and food justice, which of course includes a racial justice dimension at its heart,” she said.
Kreilick said she envisioned a game-changing farm and food bill that will tackle climate change and racial justice head on and together. “We know that we’re in a moment of reckoning for farmers and farmworkers.”
“…I’m here because scientists and farmers are in this fight together … We’re already facing intensifying droughts, storms, wildfires, floods putting farms, farmers and farmers at risk every day. These folks are the very engine of our food system.”
While weather extremes wreak havoc for agriculture across the nation and globe, farmers in California, a state that grows 45% of the nation’s produce, have been particularly hit, Kreilick said.
“In 2021 alone, California’s farming sector lost $1.7 billion and 14,000 jobs in one year … because of the climate impacts that we’re already facing.”
On the bright side, she said, research at the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that farmers and farmworkers hold a critical role in confronting the climate crisis.
“Science-based sustainable farming practices like cover crops, improved grazing and agroforestry can help farmers build spongy soils and adapt to a changing climate and store more carbon.”
U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said many farmers in his district already have a difficult time making ends meet when the cost of producing food is often higher than what the market will bear.
“And you have added to that the challenges of climate change, the challenge with the extreme heat and extreme weather patterns causing droughts, hurting the soil, hurting the ability for farmers to do their work,” Khanna said. “I believe that farmers can be part of the solution, as do many of you. That when they have practices of resilience, they can actually help conserve the soil and be carbon capturing.”
Farmers who provide these environmental services should be paid for them, he said.
The problem, Khanna said, is monopolistic concentration of power in the food system.
“The people that are running a lot of these farms don’t live in the communities where these farms are,” he said. “They don’t care about the pollution. They don’t care if they’re destroying the land for maximizing profits. They’re not thinking about what it is going to take to plant crops that are going to reduce carbon.”
In July 2021, Khanna and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., reintroduced the Farm System Reform Act. The legislation strengthens the Packers & Stockyards Act to crack down on monopolistic practices, places a moratorium on large factory farms and restores mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements, among other provisions designed to level the playing field for independent family farmers.
“It’s to break up these monopolistic practices,” Khanna said. “It’s to make sure that they’re being held liable, not family farmers, for pollution.”
And it’s to make sure that farmers who are stewards of the land and part of climate solution are compensated for their efforts, he said.
“You being here and mobilizing will help us with these reform efforts, will help us take on the big monopolies, and it will help us empower farmers to be part of the solution for climate.”
The press conference, march, rally and lobby day were organized by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition with help from Farm Aid, HEAL Food Alliance, Kiss the Ground, Food Animal Concerns Trust and Family Farm Defenders in partnership with an alliance of food and farm organizations from across the country.