Young and BIPOC farmers need land access NOW.
Across the country, land prices are soaring, putting land access out of reach for many young farmers. As a result, many young and BIPOC farmers are leaving agriculture. That is why we launched our One Million Acres for the Future campaign and brought over 100 farmer leaders from across the country to D.C. earlier this month for the largest young farmer fly-in in history! We led 159 meetings with Members of Congress and their staff, including staff of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, and held a meeting with high-ranking USDA officials, including Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Zach Ducheneaux. Young and BIPOC farmer leaders were at the table calling for land access, climate action, farmer well-being support, USDA access and accountability, and a 2023 Farm Bill that serves them, their businesses, and their communities.
Our voices were heard!
On March 7th, we hosted a press conference in the Capitol Building to raise awareness about Young Farmers’ 2023 Farm Bill priorities. The press conference opened with Land Campaign Director Holly Rippon-Butler contextualizing our visit to D.C. “The average age of farmers is nearly 60 years old, and young and BIPOC farmers across the country name access to affordable land as their top challenge. This is the result of years of inequitable policymaking and community disinvestment that has kept young farmers and farmers of color from across the country from accessing land, power, and wealth.” Policy Campaigns Co-Director Vanessa García Polanco shared examples of policy solutions young and BIPOC farmers need to continue their work in agriculture, and three of our Land Advocacy fellows shared their personal stories.
Black farmers like Land Advocacy Fellow Mariel Gardner from Kentucky have been deeply impacted by inequitable policy and racial violence. After generations of land ownership in her family, today her family no longer owns land. “Racial violence was allowed to terrorize and intimidate my people,” Mariel shared. “Additionally, policy created by the Kentucky General Assembly and Congress have encouraged our expulsion, causing Black farmers in the United States to lose roughly $326 billion worth of acreage in the 20th century.”
“The reason why this farm bill is so important, and why access to land is so important, is because when you have land you have power. When you have land, you can control the narrative. Without land, we can’t feed each other,” said Brielle Wright, Land Advocacy Fellow from North Carolina. The 2023 Farm Bill is a critical opportunity to invest in the farmers who grow food for our communities. This is why we are calling on Congress to make a historic investment in the 2023 Farm Bill to facilitate equitable access to one million acres of land for the next generation of farmers.
Land is deeply intertwined with all aspects of farmers’ success, and it does not just impact farmers—land access is critical to the health and well-being of our environment, economy, and marginalized communities. As Land Advocacy Fellow Sarah Bell shared during the press conference, “Being from the South, being Chinese, farming is how I preserve my culture, how I preserve food and foodways, a lifestyle. So without land access and a future for young farmers, where does that culture go?”
To have a future with young farmers, we must transform federal farm policy. “We ask every member of Congress to think, to put forward, a young farmer lens, a racial equity lens, on every proposal put forward in the 2023 Farm Bill,” said Policy Campaigns Co-Director Vanessa García Polanco.
Farmers for Climate Action: A Rally for Resilience
While we were in D.C., many of our partner organizations–including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the HEAL Food Alliance, Rural Advancement Foundation International, Farm Aid, and PASA–organized the Rally for Resilience from March 6-8. A few hundred farmers and advocates from across the country converged on Capitol Hill to demand a farm bill that empowers farmers to address climate change, by providing resources, assistance, and incentives that will allow them to lead the way in implementing proven climate solutions.
Farmers and ranchers across the U.S. are dealing with the impacts of climate change on their operations–from increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and more severe storms, to increased pest pressure and uncertainty in water supply. It is clear that the impacts of the climate crisis on U.S. agriculture are increasingly severe and demand immediate policy intervention. We must take action now before it is too late.
Farmer Advocacy Training at Culture House
The night before our meetings with policy makers, Young Farmers staff and fellows gathered into regional cohorts at Culture House to prepare for their meetings, including reviewing our Young Farmer Agenda, farm bill policy priorities, and answering questions about effective lobbying. We also had the pleasure of hearing a phenomenal conversation between Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation at USDA, Gloria Montaño Greene, and Young Farmers’ Policy Campaigns Co-Director, Vanessa García Polanco.
“The reality is that policies impact you day-to-day. I’ve dedicated my life to being able to figure out policies and how to engage people to participate. A lot of the conversation I’ve had in the advocacy space is people say ‘I’m not political, I don’t do policy, like it’s not really me.’ And my response is ‘Really? Do you drive a car? Do you walk on the sidewalk, or street?… What do you drink? What do you eat?’ All of it has policy implications…” Gloria shared as she reflected on her career.
She continued by encouraging us to lean into our collective power: “When you go into a room and you might be the ‘only’ or, you might be given a different expectation or title… remember, ‘I have knowledge, I have a reason to be here. Sometimes we’re pushing boundaries that the people around us don’t know where to support. Power is not gonna be given. Power is not given because [the] perception of power is that somebody is losing power versus you adjusting and distributing power which might actually just strengthen the entire system.”
Meetings with Policy Makers
Standing in the morning sun on the steps of the Capitol, David Wilkerson-Lindsey, a Land Advocacy Fellow from Chicago, told others, “I’m here to fight for land access.” He continued to tell others that morning, “We need more agricultural land for Black, Indigenous, people of color–they need to get on the land and farm it in ecologically restorative ways so that we can actually have a future.”
On Wednesday, March 8, after months of preparation, our team of organizers and farmer leaders began walking Capitol Hill and meeting with Members of Congress, tallying 159 Legislative Meetings before the day ended!
For several teams, the day started with constituent breakfasts at 8am, where they met with their Members over coffee (and doughnuts, if they were lucky enough). Meetings throughout the day ranged from casual constituent breakfasts, to brief conversations with staffers, to one-on-one meetings with Members, to large roundtable discussions with staff of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and high-ranking USDA officials, including FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux and staff from Natural Resources Conservation Service, Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement, Agricultural Marketing Service, and other agencies.
Young Farmers’ Colorado Organizer Evanne Caviness, who led Hill meetings with Fellows from the West and Midwest, said that “teaming up with our Illinois Land Fellows during D.C. fly-in was inspirational. Within a day, I saw pre-meeting anticipation and nerves quickly disappear as these four farmers showed just how powerful of advocates and leaders they are. We left D.C. empowered by the strength of Illinois’s farming future.”
Prior to our full day of Hill meetings, Young Farmers’ Field Team spent months working alongside Fellows to strategize how we will create change though the 2023 Farm Bill. Regional cohorts have developed their unique stories by writing op-eds to media outlets across the country, created a shared understanding of our theory of change, and practiced effective lobbying tactics in order to develop the relationships we’ll need to make sure our policy priorities are heard on the Hill.
After a morning meeting with Senator Ben Ray Luján, New Mexico Water Fellow LeVar Eady of BluRok Farm reflected, “The empowering aspect was that I felt I belonged in the room with the Senator because of my knowledge, the work I have put in over the years towards assisting BIPOC/women farmers, and the preparation that was done to advocate for the farm bill.” Farmers are leaders and change-makers. Wednesday was a day we saw this guiding principle in action as farmers collectively carved out space to advocate for a brighter future during each of their meetings.
After meeting midday with his Representative, Henry Cuellar, Land Advocacy Fellow Manuel Juarez of Palo Blanco Farm and Ranch in Laredo, Texas said, “It was really cool to have someone actually hear us out and be responsive to wanting to help us; after all we are the farmers who are going to be growing food for generations to come.”
As our meetings came to an end that day, Land Advocacy Fellow Ashantae Green of Green Legacy Farm in Jacksonville, Florida said that what she “found the most interesting is being able to talk to our Representatives and share our stories and really nail down how specific investment and priorities for equitable land access in the farm bill will help me as a farmer.”
Sebastian Woodward of Duluth, Minnesota added that he “felt very honored to be able to attend fly-in!” He said, “It was great to put to action the skills we learned in the fellowship, as well as network and meet all kinds of farmers from around the country. It was an inspiring and special experience. Everyone had different and unique perspectives but we were all there focusing on the same topics that affect farmers all over the country.”
We ended Wednesday with an evening of collective joy and celebration back at Culture House.
Equity and Accessibility
On the evening of March 7th, we prepared farmers to tell their stories, make policy asks, and advocate for land for the next generation of farmers so that they could feel empowered when talking with Members of Congress. We also know that the right clothing has the power to make us live into our confidence, so having access to clothes that make us feel comfortable (and badass) is crucial. That’s why this year, we created the Farmer Closet. In addition to staff-donated “professional” clothes, we offered $10,000 worth of new clothes thanks to the generous support of Carhartt!
Language should also never be a barrier to participating in movement building, so we offered translation for our Spanish-first Fellows. We also streamed some of our programming so that farmers who couldn’t participate in person could still be a part of it.
We know that even with the best preparation, advocating on behalf of our communities can be draining and stressful! That’s why we offered quiet spaces and even hired a massage therapist to give free treatments to Fellows throughout the day.
Call to Action
Now that we’ve continued to strengthen our relationships on the Hill, several Congressional offices are championing our land access and conservation priorities. We look forward to working with those offices, members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, and all Members of Congress to pass a 2023 Farm Bill that includes Young Farmers priorities. This is a crucial moment to ensure that policies that support the next generation of young and BIPOC farmers are included as the bill is finalized!
Our One Million Acres for the Future campaign and this D.C. fly-in would not have been possible without support from Chipotle and a broad network of funders and supporters. If you want to join us at our next event, please contact Young Farmers’ Corporate Engagement Manager, Sam Brown firstname.lastname@example.org.