March 15, 2023
With the 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization underway, action is necessary to ensure that the biggest piece of food and agriculture legislation in the United States advances farmer-led climate solutions, centers racial justice, and prioritizes communities over corporations. With these central tenets at the core, over 500 farmers and farmer-advocates from 40 US states and 2 territories gathered in Washington, DC last week for the Farmers for Climate: Rally for Resilience.
The three-day schedule of events kicked off with an opening and reception that offered participants and press an opportunity to learn about the Rally and its goals. A’lice (Allie) Hall, President of the American Indian Society of Washington DC, opened the event with a land acknowledgment recognizing the Nacotchtank and Piscataway peoples, the original inhabitants of the unceded land on which the rally took place.
Tope Fajingbesi of Dodo Farms in Montgomery County, Maryland, founder of The Virginia Free Farm and Program Director for the Urban Agriculture Collective, Amyrose Foll, Sophia Buggs, owner and operator of Lady Buggs Farm in Youngstown, Ohio, co-founder of Operation Sprint Plant, Mr. Phillip J. Barker and co-directors of Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance, Chanda Robinson Banks and Alexis Yamashita, joined to share their experiences as farmers and farmer-advocates. These speakers, predominantly from the mid-Atlantic region, highlighted the connections between climate change and racial justice, shared how climate change impacts farmers, and addressed how traditional and Indigenous farming practices provide farming solutions.
“Let me remind you all of the words of a relative. When the last tree is cut, and the last stream poisoned; only then will you realize that you can’t eat money,” expressed Amyrose Foll. “If we fail to make decisions now with those yet unborn in mind, we have absolutely no business even making decisions in this moment for ourselves”
Attendees then stayed for a reception that included a climate solutions and climate challenges post-it note activity and time to make signs for the rally and march on the following day.
Farmers and farmer advocates coalesced at Freedom Plaza for a rally led by speakers who shared powerful testimonies of sustainable land stewardship, the impact of climate change on agriculture, especially for farm laborers, and the importance of harnessing our energy to create the world we would like to inhabit. Ray Jeffers, owner and operator of B.R. Jeffers Farm, a century farm in Roxboro, NC, served as the rally’s Master of Ceremonies. Jeffers is also the Farmers of Color Network Director at RAFI-USA, an NSAC member, and was recently elected to the state House of Representatives in North Carolina.
Speakers at the rally included Chili Yazzie of the Navajo Nation, fourth-generation Texas farmer David Senter, farmworker organizer Marielena Vega with the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, fourth-generation Minnesota farmer Angela Dawson, Texas farmer Julieta Saucedo, seventh-generation farmer Yadi Wang of Arizona, Yanely Martinez, a Monterey County Community Organizer with Californians for Pesticide Reform, 21-year old farmer Claudia Lenz from Wisconsin and Helga Garcia-Garza, executive director of Agri-cultura Network and La Cosecha CSA in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Norysell Massanet of La Botica de la Tierra Farm in Puerto Rico also joined to speak and highlight how the Farm Bill not only impacts states, but US territories as well.
“The waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea are getting warmer fueling the intensity of climate events, and rain and drought periods are becoming intensified and unpredictable- becoming the new normal,” shared Massanet. “We need more than ever public policies that consider the well-being of the land and its people.”
Shirlette Ammons, Lil Idli, and John Mellencamp, Farm Aid co-founder and board member, also joined the rally for musical performances that energized the crowd for the march to come. Legendary musician and farmer-advocate Willie Nelson also shared a performance through a video message next to a fully electric tractor provided by Solectrac and one of the original tractors that appeared in the 1979 tractorade to Washington.
“No, you can’t keep us from coming – you say it!” declared Shirlette Ammons during her performance. “No, you can’t keep us from coming!” shouted back the crowd.
Following Nelson’s video message, rally attendees took to the streets for a 1.6-mile march from Freedom Plaza to Capitol Hill. As the crowd marched with the Capitol building in sight, they made sure their voices were heard with chants that filled the streets with visions of change.
“Hey Hey, Ho Ho! Industrial Ag has got to go!
Protect the earth, protect the field, regenerative farming for a better yield!”
On Wednesday, Lobby Day kicked off with a press conference, giving farmers and advocates an opportunity to speak directly to the press and to offer inspiring remarks before a full day of more than 100 meetings with Congressional offices.
The press conference began with remarks from Johanna Chao Kreilick, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an NSAC member, who emphasized the importance of utilizing science and listening to voices on the ground to best represent the work that needs to be done to advance a sustainable food system. Each of the featured speakers shared their unique experiences in the farm system, including the struggles of pesticide and farm safety for farmworkers shared by Marielena Vega and the discrimination faced by black farmers in the United States shared by Dorathy Barker.
Congressman Ro Khanna, (D-CA 17) made a special appearance, commending the efforts of farmers and farm organizations on their strong advocacy efforts during the Rally for Resilience, and the need to tackle monopolistic businesses that restrain farmers and farm advocates fighting for a better farm landscape.
“I believe that farmers can be part of the solution to climate change. And we can pay farmers to be stewards of the land. But the problem is the monopolistic concentration of power,” Representative Khanna told the press.
Axel Fuentes, Executive Director of the Rural Community Workers Alliance based in Missouri, joined the lobby day to advocate on behalf of workers in Caged Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). While in DC, Fuentes met with the Senate Agriculture Committee and the office of Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY).
“I would like to see politicians do more in favor of the people, the workers, instead of doing things to protect corporations. The existing laws are allowing the system to take advantage of vulnerable people,” shared Fuentes.
Owner and operator of Lady Buggs Farm in Youngstown, Ohio, Sophia Buggs, joined a delegation from Ohio to meet with the offices of Senators J.D. Vance (R-OH) and Bill Johnson (R-OH).
“I think our meetings went very well,” expressed Buggs. “Both of the offices were very informed on the Farm Bill and how its pieces worked. Our delegation was able to make our individual and collective asks, so hopefully, we will see a bill that supports farmers soon.”
Farmers for Climate: Rally for Resilience closed with a huddle outside of the lobby day home base where participants shared their key takeaways from the three days of action. They reminisced on the relationships they built, the empowering stories shared, and the lessons learned.
Participants left with renewed energy from the collective power of the sustainable food and agriculture movement, eager to get their hands in the soil and organize for a 2023 Farm Bill that explicitly empowers farmers to address climate change, centers racial justice through increased support for BIPOC farmers and farming practices, and prioritizes the health of communities over the wealth of corporations.
NSAC is grateful to the 23 food, agriculture, and climate justice organizations that we collaborated with over many months to bring farmer perspectives and three days of action to the nation’s Capitol. We are also grateful to the 32 host delegations that helped turn out so many farmers and advocates, resulting in over 500 people present to rally and march for change. The Rally for Resilience was made possible by the generous support of individual donors as well as event sponsors including: 11th Hour Foundation, Ben and Jerry’s, Regenerative Agriculture Foundation, Carhartt, Mercy for Animals, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders, Patagonia, Solectrac, Earthjustice, Climate Reality Project, Patagonia Workwear, Farm Aid, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
Categories: Carousel, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Farm Bill
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