Eleven Policy Recommendations for an Even Greener New Deal
Part 2 of EVERYTHING We Know and Do about Agriculture, Death, and Eating is Wrong
(And while we’re at it, how about 3 million new jobs in sustainable farming, fishing, infrastructure, logistics, supplies, and soil in an even Greener New Deal to fix this and make our country more secure?)
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
To combat climate change and be a more secure nation, we need a MORE perfect union. Renewable energy and sustainable agriculture need to be married in our minds when we conceptualize and implement combating climate change.
In Part One of this two part article, I lay out many of the problems with our perceptions of agriculture, the facts of death in agriculture, and the folly of focusing on individual lifestyle fixes for agriculture and climate change, rather than on shifts system-wide. I explains why signifiant sustainable agricultural infrastructure, agripreneurship, food production, and employment must be part of the Green New Deal, the massive mobilization proposed by the Sunrise Movement to halt, and maybe reverse, climate change.
Here, in Part Two, I outline eleven policies that ought to be part of an even Greener New Deal — one that melds renewable energy and significant changes in agriculture. In this Greener New Deal, soil health (which I term the “soil path” similar to the term “soft energy” path used early on in the advocacy for renewables) forms the backbone of food production and healthier communities, but other policies also have significant influence on the success of the meshing of these renewable energy and soil paths.
The following policy recommendations take into account major shifts needed in US agricultural goals and practices, and, growing production demands.
For example, currently, one US farm feeds 165 people annually here and abroad (through exports). The global population is expected to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050, which means the world’s farmers will have to grow about 70 percent more food than what is now produced.
In an article about the future of agriculture, National Geographic also makes strong points for some of the following policy recommendations, with a special emphasis on how to feed this coming additional two billion people. Key in their analysis is containing farming’s environmental footprint at current levels, reducing meat consumption, reducing waste, and using resources more efficiently. A Green New Deal and the soil path to agriculture ought to take these suggestions as starting points as much systemic shift must happen in order to meet these goals.
Eleven Policy Recommendations for an Even Greener New Deal
- Support and promote the “soil path.”
Make soil health the goal of all types of food production across the US. A couple of simple questions serve as a guide: Before any construction, new parking lot, agricultural use, etc. — would this ruin land that has been or could be used for growing? If so, how do we accomplish XYZ and still steward this soil for growing food for our own and subsequent generations?
Recognize soil and farmland as finite resources. Develop policies and practices for their further protections and as necessary resources now and for future generations.
For example, a few years back, while living in Blacksburg, VA, I watched former dairy and cattle farms, places of beautiful chocolate cake soil and mature pastures, get covered up by cheap housing developments. That soil and that grass took generations to build and now it is lost, maybe, forever, to housing, in a region where soils have already become marginal due to mono-farming and timbering.
Communities, cities, towns, counties, citizens, nonprofits, universities, ought to assess local land amenable for growing or raising food, then, consider plans to steward growing on and stewardship of that land. This ought to be part of every community’s planning.
- Revise agricultural extension for this soil and pasture focus. Revise extension to feed communities. Extension was created to distribute scientific practices to farmers. Science is not all one thing: soil science is science; Monsanto seed proprietary practices are also science-based. Thus, focus on the specifics of necessary farm stewardship: soil health, water health, pasture health, which all contribute to community health both structurally and physically by growing more nutrient dense less carbon intense food.
- Universities only pay attention when there is significant federal Research & Development money invested in an issue. I had as much said to me by the heads of R & D at Virginia Tech in 2016 — if there is no request for proposals from the federal government, then XYZ must not be a problem. Highlight and fund soil retention and health and soil reserve as major priorities, especially under the Department of Defense (DOD), as a means of better securing our country’s resources and food supply. University R & D administrators all covet and fantasize about that enormous DOD grant. This is a legitimate defense issue.
- Rethink the goals of the Farm Bill. There is much wrong with the Farm Bill and I touch on some of its other issues on down this list. In the meantime, make soil health, retention, and planning for food production in communities the main priorities for the Farm Bill. Cut out corporate or corporate-backed lobbyists from its creation or recommendation — follow the money trails on any nonprofit advocacy as well.
2. Grow agricultural infrastructure alongside growing producers and ALL the other essential jobs/businesses related to production such as logistics, supplies, support services.
The tremendous myopia of the sustainable agricultural movement has been its focus on growing production without also focusing on growing infrastructure, and, reducing risk for sustainable farmers. In 2014, my husband and I counted up SEVENTY support services and players within an hour of us that allow us to farm, from custom hay operators to heavy equipment rentals to Southern States stores to pasture seed suppliers to Tractor Supply stores to diesel mechanics to FedEx branches to accountants familiar with agricultural laws to insurance agents that can and know how to insure a farm to banks that understand farm cash flow.
Production is only one facet of many of farming. Growing essential infrastructure and adjacent businesses and services must happen alongside growing producers. Otherwise, your region or community will never really produce much as entrypoint producers cannot shoulder the risk of operating a business in a location that does not offer the infrastructure and support services producers of XYZ need to be able to thrive.
For the producers cooperative other producers and I co-founded (SEEDH) to strengthen each other and agriculture in our region, we identified essential contributing businesses needed to grow the agricultural sector to be similarly supported and as robust as the energy sector.
The graph below represents one set of businesses essential to making significant diversified agricultural production a reality in southwest Virginia, southern West Virginia, and I-77 North Carolina. Now, the latter area is not energy sector focused, but, it is part of the same region if seen instead through the lens of agricultural sales, production, and affinities.
In our region, the farmers market model is not a serious model for production due to not having the urban consumer markets locally or being within reasonable distance of large cities for consistent farmers market sales to earn a living wage or pay for the costs of production. Plus, most food most people in the US get does not come from farmers markets. The latter is marginal in both market share and consumer access, at best.
Moreover, it is ABSOLUTELY unreasonable to expect someone who has identified production of food as a career goal, also to be an expert in marketing, sales, consumer education, pricing, branding, etc. as is expected in the farmers market model. Thus, these additional priorities under grow infrastructure also obtain:
- Invest in year round marketplaces and sales for producers in your region, location. From a series of farmers focus groups I did in 2014 in our region, I learned why consumers go to Whole Foods rather than the farmers market: you can buy tomatoes AND buy wine, shoes, meat, dishwashing liquid, and dessert there. Farmers and consumers have little time and sales and access must be easy. Focus on building on current locations and businesses for access. Reduce the risk for current business owners to sell local. Grocery store produce managers run the risk of losing lucrative delivery by big players, especially from California, if they forego those for smaller producers for any or part of the year. Find ways to aggregate to ensure volume. Plan regional production and support regional production and paths to sales. And, create infrastructure to make local ready to eat food available.
- Refocus the ethic from strict definitions of “local” to supporting soil stewarding farms and practices. My business partner’s son and friends do significant high tunnel vegetable production in a coalfield location. The best farmers market along that parallel is an hour and a half away in Blacksburg, VA. Though producers of color and youth and though stewarding soil health, they were deemed “too far” to sell at the most lucrative farmers market in the region, which, by the way, last I saw in 2017, had no producers of color, or producers under 20, selling. Likewise, consumers want and expect certain produce year round. During your immediate local off-season, if you can support a soil stewarding producer 300 or more miles away, then why not do it, to extend both local purchase options for consumers and that farm’s sales?
3. Steward unlikely as well as the “bird in the hand” candidates and unlikely places into a range of productions. Staff infrastructure for local production. But first, don’t overpromise jobs.
Though the Green New Deal promises jobs, NO large industry is in the long-term business of hiring people, this includes the soft energy (renewables) and the soil path.
As an Obama administration report demonstrated, if you make less than $20 an hour, your job will probably be automated away in your lifetime. Thus, focus on creating work that cannot be automated away.
Create paths and practices for new producers in your region and ALL the accompanying jobs of the adjacent needed infrastructure addressed in #2 above.
Plan and staff new sustainable agricultural parks like our cooperative SEEDH envisions for our region with a cooperatively-owned meat processing facility and kill floor, a micro-malter, honey processing, tree sap processing, food waste conversion facility, distillery, brewery, fermentation facility, food processing facility, dehydration facility, storage, cold storage, aggregated services for producers, etc. open for use to regional producers. Invest in feasibility and build this infrastructure concurrently with stewarding more producers. Make these parks and the products coming from them sustainable in sourcing and through earned revenue, rather than long-term grants or subsidies. The latter is key in terms of shifting ag away from large corporate lobbying and advocacy for agricultural incentives and federal kickbacks to well-to-do producers.
As farm employment has plummeted worldwide, make creating farmers/producers for every community a priority — you have your family doctor, your family dentist, your teachers — then also have your family farmers, your local producers, your local beekeeper, your local orchardists, etc.
The most obvious bird in the hand is to steward and support the US’s 2M+ migrant farm workers to become farmers! Farming is hard work and you need people who understand the imperatives and realities of this hard work. These folks understand that kind of work. We must create a path for significant amounts of farmworkers to become farmers.
Last but far from least, support the farmers we have. Assist current farmers with land stewardship, legacy planning, and aggressive matching of future farmers to this land. Do not allow farm land to be turned into subdivisions or hobby farms.
Install agricultural and production learning and practicum paths into every public school, community college, and university with an adaptation for production in that school’s current environment, whether urban, mountain, rural, beach, fishing village, suburban lawns. We are training people and partnering, for example where we live, for profitable mountain agriculture, which includes a range of various productions, often by one producer, in order to produce sufficient gross income.
4. Assess what essential infrastructure and services your community needs to break free of food indentureship.
Industrial scale agricultural production (“the agricultural treadmill” outlined by this wonderful set of reports) produces food efficiently, distributes this food quickly, all while also promoting food indentureship — that we become indentured to companies outside our region for feeding us. In this indentureship, our communities then lose people with the knowledge, the infrastructure, and the land to feed us. Thus far, our water and our air are still “local.” Minimally, for resource security, we also ought to have local energy and local food production to sustain us
When planning your community for food security and away from food indenturship, what knowledge suddenly becomes valuable? How and who do you have in the hand (assets) and who and what do you need?
Get very practical and in the weeds about systems change. It is not enough to call for it, get out and do it. We need community level, state level, national level reviews of where and how food ought to be produced, by whom, and to get started on these paths yesterday. These paths need to be long-term in vision, as it can take years to build soil.
5. Create a National Rural Policy/Strategy separate from the Farm Bill.
There is no rural economy separate from the urban economy.
In the US context, and even when North America was dominated by Europe, as cities grew, the rural, locally or elsewhere (such as the US colonies and its massive cotton and tobacco production on farms such as my husband’s and mine), provided the cities’ food and raw materials.
Urban demands, for centuries, have dominated rural (and colonial) production and economic imperatives. Single sector industries dominate the rural due to rural development being tied to natural resources whether coal, a university town (available land), Park City style tourism (available mountains and snow), and so on.
Automation is what has killed a lot of rural employment, not a reduction in urban demand for natural resources. Likewise, what one rural area cannot produce, another rural area can, and thus single sector production rurals also trade with each other (US coal goes to China, Canadian steel comes to the US).
In the United States, each of these places has historically played a different role to the same market driven ends, with the rural providing the raw materials and resources to fund the industry and activities in the urban and suburban.
Regarding the “rural economy” the New York Times recently asks the wrong questions and leaves huge issues such as automation off the table, and asserts some unlikely policies (such as building affordable housing to attract more rural residents to big cities). Yes, economic geography is real, in that rural areas nearly without exception are dependent on sales of natural resources for driving local employment, thereby affording urban more centrally located places the luxury of having knowledge and creative economies. Specific natural resources are dispersed beyond their rural source — to other rural places, urban places and suburban places and people as the users and consumers.
But it is automation that has wreaked havoc on many American workers, and, as most rural regions rely largely upon a natural resource driven economy, which is usually split up by sector (coalfields, Corn Belt, pine plantation, chicken houses, etc.), when that sector automates, there goes not only the job, but the neighborhood, toward extinction.
Massive scientific, state, federal, and private investment is what built these original single sector economies.
In 2017 I wrote a whole dissertation on the Herculean effort of political will and lobbying, investment in scientists, scientific research and university research (which also took political will, lobbying, and state investment), and then state, private (US and British, aka the House of Morgan), and federal financial investment it took to to start the coal industry in the region where I am from. Federal money through the Department of Energy and Department of Defense distributed to universities continues serve as the R & D branch of the energy industry, outsourcing their energy research vis a vis US tax dollars rather than paying for it themselves.
We can ask for and solicit the same kinds of investment for a Greener New Deal that makes truly green ag from soil to table as important as Green energy.
To truly think that anything else other than massive political will, lobbying or advocacy, massive scientific and university spending, and massive capital spending on infrastructure will produce a significant rural economic sector is delusional.
In the US, the Farm Bill, for a range of current and past political will and corporate money, serves as the catch-all for this natural resource push-pull of rural economic development, regardless of the dominating economic sector in a specific rural location (mining, tourism, what have you). Thus, much rural economic development, regardless of local industry, falls under the US Department of Agriculture. This is absurd, but it is fixable.
We need a National Rural Strategy (many other countries have these) separate from the Farm Bill.
It must focus on the myriad of interlinked issues of single sector economic domination and natural resource extraction imposed upon the rural. It must redesign the “reason for being” of the US rural away from providing natural resource production or reserves for elsewhere, and allow for planning for local quality of life, such as:
- redesigning education to allow local residents to stay (population decline is the number one largest problem in the rural US)
- redesigning and restarting of food production to provide for food security and health
- investment of public money only in industry for work that cannot be automated away
- planning for the day when public money stops (as it may, and will, some day)
- significant investment in population and economic sector modeling for work that cannot be automated away. What work makes sense in area XYZ as population declines?
- designing and boosting of regional infrastructure for local quality of life
In previous work, I formulated a mock National Rural Strategy. Skip to page 193. Feel free to poach from it.
6. Set the current highest animal welfare standards both in the field and in slaughter as the minimum standards and focus on how animals ought to be used in agriculture to rebuild and to build soil.
Manure+carbon creates soil for growing vegetables and plants. Rather than massive animal confinement operations for a gratuitous amount of meat production, producers ought to manage far fewer animals more strategically to build soil such as through management supported by Holistic Management. This will do two things. Meat of any sort will become more expensive as handling is increased, but producers will maintain a similar return (or even increased net) as they switch from making money on volume and thin margins to earning based on demand.
See this video below for what a switch in commodity to soil focused production can do. Granted, Will Harris had the equity to get the loans needed to invest in on site infrastructure, and, access to an urban market in Atlanta, but it is only one version of what is possible in variation across the country.
For fast food, really, if prepared similarly (fried, fried, fried) and if cheaper than meat, meat alternatives like cultured meat seem to be one answer if the end taste is nearly the same, but the story with them is not so straightforward.
Cultured meat is patentable and proprietary in a way that livestock currently is not, making cultured meat production only achievable by large corporations — there will not be “cottage” or “artisanal” cultured meat producers. One of the larger remaining questions for producing cultured meat is that these cell cultures must be fed something in order to grow and doubts remain as to whether a laboratory produced meat will be as environmentally sound and cost effective as well-managed livestock.
By the same token, our planet was not meant to have billions of confinement cows, billions of chicken house chickens, or a trillion pigs raised on platforms and in cages…nor that many people to feed those, too, either. Livestock ought to be reserved for multi-purpose productions that steward animals humanely while building soil.
7. Diverse production across the US ought to be a major focus of national security as we move into the age of climate change.
Again, each US community needs farmers/producers, significant food production infrastructure, investment, and a marriage between soft diversified energy production and a soil path agriculture implemented plan to ensure food access into the future.
Providing for a common defense is part of our Constitution and our National Security Strategy (each administration proposes one), and, our current agricultural system, even under the best of circumstances, handicaps our common defense as we move into our radically altered climate future.
8. Eliminate food waste by channeling it into repurposed production of feedstock for livestock and into compost.
Investment must made in every community to create facilities that convert institutional pre-served food waste from grocery stores, colleges, universities, restaurants, and schools into systems for conversion to livestock feed or into compost.
Food coming into your location is importing fertility into your local system. For example, China currently sources milk from California, and what it is buying at the end of the day, is California’s soil fertility. Thus, by capturing this food waste, you are increasing the fertility and feedstock in your own region. Livestock producers across the country are currently reliant upon grain imports to feed their stock. This conversion makes a local protein boosting source possible without over-reliance on sourced in grains.
Federal USDA, National Science Foundation, and Defense research and development grants ought to focus on efficient systems for individual consumers and apartment dwellers to also be able to contribute to compost creation and aggregation.
9. ALL food packaging in every situation must be biodegradable.
A vast majority of the waste choking animals to death in the ocean hails from food packaging, plastic drink bottles, and plastic bags. Though plastic is an amazing substance in terms of its flexibility and use on the farm in everything from electric fencing to feed buckets, plastic is now entering our bodies and those of animals, contributing to a range of potential maladies.
We must reduce our dependence on plastic as a food transport and packaging medium.
10. Prepare to Have Fewer Pets. In the US, we need to drastically reduce the number of stray and unwanted pets in order to reduce agricultural resources (soy and livestock) for pet food.
Pets have a large environmental impact, especially in their meat and soy consumption. If we commit to less meat ands soy production in the future, that will also mean feeding fewer pets.
A few years back, I estimated we in the US feed our 90 million dogs the equivalent of 67.5 millions cows at 3/4 pounds meat per day, or, the equivalent of 73 chickens each; US cats, 95.6 million, eating a 1/4 pound of food a day, comes to about 17 million cows, or, 19 chickens — thus, we kill many animals to feed one companion animal.
This researcher has done the hard work of estimating the carbon footprint of feeding our pets — not to mention the additional millions of wildlife animals, especially songbirds, killed each year by cats let or kept outdoors.
Spay and neuter programs are like vaccines for the environment and for the future. Fund them to be free or nearly so just like human vaccine programs.
11. Make taxpayer funded, federal money receiving public universities focus first on serving the public interest by educating their attendees to solve community and public problems like accomplishing #s 1–10 above, or collectively addressing climate change, policy, or infrastructure, or even local problems in their host communities such as urban food production, food deserts, unemployment due to automation, or brownfield rehabilitation. Fund them for this research directly and block them from receiving corporate research grants, or endowments with strings attached.
Just as Public Citizen focuses on getting big money out of politics, a similar movement and set of federal policies needs to happen with getting big money out of land grant and public research universities.
Mission drift has occurred across the board with public research universities — there has been an explosion in corporate-sponsored centers and research and administration, all the while expanding the role of adjuncts and part-timers to teach. The end result diminishes the education for attendees and causes universities to compete for corporate funding, rather than focus on turning out the best problem solvers possible for the greater public good.
What may seem a huge windfall grant to a university to do research for a corporation usually results in a mega-savings for the corporation, as they do not have to source all of the infrastructure, the graduate students, the sites, the talent, the adjacent facilities and equipment to conduct their own R & D. Likewise, public universities ignore their local communities and more global problems in favor of chasing corporate endowments and Department of Defense money.
We don’t expect or allow corporate funding of our public elementary and high schools…why are they allowed in higher ed?
The best scientific minds at our taxpayer funded public universities ought to be singularly focused on science and technology for the public good and basic science for expanding scientific knowledge.
Let corporations fund their own R & D and get them off the taxpayer subsidy at public universities.
Likewise, federal research agendas must focus on funding science and technology that serves the public interest or at least supports basic science for expanding scientific knowledge.
Get Started, Don’t Wait. Do Renewable Energy + Sustainable Ag Now as Both Have Approaches to Teach and Will Get Stronger Together
In addition to the rigors of farming, big picture work and rethinking and implementing systems is my forte.
As energy is delivered to most of us by large systems, and those systems are put into place and regulated through state and federal policies, large scale projects for renewable energy capture the policy imagination as well as the capital return on investment interest of universities and corporations as manufactured energy for modern life is ubiquitous — it magically appears at the outlet and at the pump as the foundation of all that we do, have, are, go, eat — we have to get it from somewhere, some way, and its delivery cash flows. We pay significantly for it every week, every month to someone.
By contrast, rather than viewing agriculture as a whole system in need of major shifts comparable to those in energy, sustainable agriculture practitioners and advocates largely have focused on producing producers for very local and often marginal markets, on a farmers market rather than supermarket sales model. Where it has succeeded is in sparking the practical and applied interest of ethical people interested in sustainable eating and production and doing this across the United States, in every state, from urban to rural.
For reasons of national security and for curbing climate catastrophe, sustainable agriculture must also focus on the systems shift and large scale policy I outline in this two-part article.
Likewise, renewable energy and its momentum would benefit in highlighting and supporting local, dispersed energy production through cooperatives — and proving the efficacy of dispersed production.
The more dispersed our energy and food production becomes like our dispersed soil fertility, water supply, and like the air we depend on, the better our country and our communities will be able to contend with any of the major shifts that could befall us in the next century from climate + political crumbling.
Don’t wait for the feds or someone to come save us/you — because as I like to say locally, neither the Cavalry nor Calvary is riding over the horizon to get us out of this mess. In the meantime, till a Green New Deal marries and passes with this Greener New Deal for Ag, and both have mass mobilization behind them, we must do this ourselves.
Start with where you are in your local community. Start with who will start — don’t wait for perfect allies and affinity.
And remember, you got a pal in me, in many of us, in this. Reach out, and we have 100 ideas for getting you and your community started despite the odds. If the folks I work with and I are doing this in coal country (as pictured directly above) in the United States, you can do this where you are; and we can achieve this more perfect union of renewable energy + sustainable ag for a Greener New Deal together.