In late September, a group of ranchers and farmers presented a letter in support of the Green New Deal to Congress. It was signed by more than 50 organizations and 500 individual farms — including four Iowa organizations and 13 individual farmers.
Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, Blue Planet Science Group, Inc., Women, Food and Agriculture Network and Planetary CARE joined a handful of farms across the state in supporting the deal, creating a bipartisan national coalition meant to ensure farmers and ranchers — not just corporate agribusiness lobbyists — have a voice in future agriculture-related policy reforms.
“We support the GND’s call to … work collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible,” the letter said, “including — by supporting family farming; by investing in sustainable farming and land-use practices … ”
Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal gained support from presidential candidate Cory Booker after a Sept. 18 press conference on Capitol Hill. Sen. Booker is one of six representatives on the coalition’s Congressional Advisory Committee meant to help farmers and ranchers navigate policy initiatives.
The Organic Consumers Association, a sustainable farming nonprofit, organized “Farmers and Ranchers for a Green New Deal” with the Sunrise Movement. Katherine Paul, the association’s U.S. director, said the coalition’s successful press launch led Booker to reach out to the group.
“We’re working with Sen. Booker and five members of the House as our Congressional Advisory Committee who are very committed to helping us help [farmers and ranchers] on the federal policy level by organizing briefings and hearings on the Hill,” Paul said.
“I really believe that farmers are the solution to the problem, and if we empower farmers, we can find a way out,” Booker said at a recent campaign event in Decorah. “Because I don’t care what your global warming views are. It’s not enough to simply stop the production of carbon, we have to start pulling more out of society.”
Growing the coalition is the most urgent next step for the group, Paul said. Its September launch also attracted organizations like the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association, and the Pennsylvanian Farmers Union to sign on.
“As we continue to grow, we’ll continue to be representative of a very diverse coalition of farmers and ranchers, which has always been the goal,” Paul said.
Beyond that, the coalition is beginning to create a speakers’ bureau, identifying farmers and ranchers willing to speak at conferences and on behalf of the coalition and do outreach in their own communities.
The letter presented to Congress includes supporting family farming by investing in sustainable farming and land-use practices that increase soil health.
But some environmental agriculture activists in the state said the letter and coalition may not be the best way to move forward encompassing all Iowa agriculturalists in climate mitigation tactics.
Matt Russell, executive director of Iowa Interfaith Power and Light, a faith-based climate group, said he signed the letter as a farmer when it came across his inbox last spring, but doesn’t endorse the full letter and hasn’t signed on behalf of the group.
“When we signed onto the letter back in March or April, we were very much on board with opportunities for farmers in the Green New Deal, but are not formally part of this campaign,” he said.
Specifically, Russell said he doesn’t align with the letter’s push to transition away from industrial agriculture toward family farm-based organic and regenerative farming. He said he understands large-scale farming is a reality for some in the state.
The National Farmers Union voted not to endorse the GND in March, because “the resolution appeals to an urban voter base and does not recognize the essential contribution of rural America.”
Sherri Dugger serves as a co-chair for the coalition and is also executive director of the Iowa-based Women, Food and Agriculture Network. WFAN surveyed their members recently, Dugger said, and everyone who responded to the survey said they’d support the ideologies in the GND.
“Based on that, we were in support of it from a board perspective, and staff perspective,” Dugger said. “Our actual membership, they care about food systems, they care about our environment, they care about just and ecological agriculture, so all of those hints towards those types of conversations are in the green new deal.”
Dugger said moving forward in support of the Green New Deal is more important than specific language associated with the coalition.
“We can get hung up on language all we want but that really deflects from the urgency and need that we have to fix these problems and making sure we’re working toward a good solution,” she said.
Paul said she understands the Green New Deal may be politically charged, but urges farmers and ranchers to look at the goals of the resolution instead.
“The challenge is, we built this calling it a coalition for the Green New Deal, that’s politically charged for some people who aren’t maybe fans of some of the sponsors,” Paul said. “If you get them to read the resolution, is this not what you want?”
By Isabella Murray
Photo by Julie Fleming