Rescue Plan Signals Hope for Just Ag Policy

Agriculture leaders in Congress have taken a meaningful step toward redressing generations of systemic discrimination that have stripped Black farmers of land, capital, and markets. Thanks to their commitment to an equitable food system, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Biden last week, sets aside $5 billion to address legacies of racial discrimination in U.S. agriculture.

Dayo Marsh, Network Coordinator at Soul Fire Farm, and a farming immersion program participant harvest green onions for the Soul Fire Solidarity Share CSA

Photo credit: Soul Fire Farm; used with permission

Agriculture Committee leaders, including Chairs Stabenow and Scott, and Senators Warnock, Booker, and Luján, championed a vitally needed relief package for farmers of color in the Rescue Plan. This milestone shows that these leaders are prepared to take concrete actions that address longstanding injustices. The package includes including $4 billion in debt relief for farmers who have suffered racial discrimination and $1 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a racial equity commission that will address longstanding discrimination in USDA lending, technical support, and access to programs. This success is the culmination of years of organizing by producers of color and organizations that represent them; in the final push, Rural Coalition pulled together more than 180 groups, including NRDC, to urge Congress to provide much-needed relief to farmers of color.

The Rescue Plan also extends SNAP improvements and allocates another $4 billion in relief for agriculture, including support for restaurants and small- and mid-sized farms and supply chain resilience—critical investments as climate change and other disasters increasingly threaten food security.

And this is just the beginning. We see every reason to be hopeful and ambitious as we envision what else these leaders will accomplish in the coming months. As Congress tackles recovery, climate, and other critical issues facing society, they’ll have more opportunities to advance an equitable, healthy, and sustainable food system.

Infrastructure & Jobs

The COVID crisis highlighted the vulnerabilities of a highly consolidated food system. If one major link in the food chain breaks down, the impacts ripple through communities across the U.S. Recovery investments must prioritize food security and resilience by helping America regionalize its food systems. Funding for on-farm conservation projects and local food processing and distribution will create good jobs and ensure that the wealth generated through food production stays in communities.

Climate

To meet climate goals, we must transition agriculture from climate problem to climate solution. Producers of color have led innovations in climate-friendly farming and cultivation of healthy soil, and their leadership should be recognized and compensated. We need to scale up programs that provide comprehensive support to farmers during the transition to climate-friendly organic and regenerative farming—from land access to research and technical assistance to market development. We also need focused investments in food waste reduction and composting, which are essential to reducing food-related greenhouse gas emissions and a sustainable food cycle.

Food Security & Nutrition

Our public investments should also ensure that everyone has the food they need to thrive. COVID relief packages have temporarily expanded SNAP, WIC, and school food programs, and these improvements should be made permanent and further enhanced. Universal school meals and increased SNAP and WIC benefits would reduce food insecurity and support families in a post-COVID economy. We should also ensure that these programs are integrated into healthy community food systems by expanding opportunities for organic and regional food producers—especially producers of color—to participate in SNAP online and supply school food programs.

Agriculture for the Future

For too long, agriculture has been sidelined in critical environmental, health, and justice agendas. We’re excited and grateful to see agricultural leaders stepping up and prioritizing the needs of communities of color and the future of our food system.

About the Authors

Allison Johnson

Sustainable Food Policy Advocate

Amy Brown

Director, Food & Agriculture Program
Blog Post

Leaders in the Senate and House Agriculture Committees sent a clear message last week: they are committed to righting racist policies that have denied farmers of color their lands and a farming livelihood, and to ensuring as well that small, diversified farms have the tools they need to survive, now and into the future.

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