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Linking Arms: Farmers, Consumers and Climate Activists Launch National Coalition for a Green New Deal

“Today, tens of thousands of young people with the Sunrise Movement are linking arms with the tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers in this historic coalition to demand a Green New Deal that reinvests in our family farms and empowers them to be the heroes we need them to be to stop the climate crisis.” - Garrett Blad, Sunrise Movement, September 18, 2019

Last week, Organic Consumers Association (OCA), joined Regeneration International (an organization we helped co-found and continue to support) and the Sunrise Movement to officially launch the national coalition of U.S. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal. 

Five members of Congress joined us in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to call for a Green New Deal for farmers and ranchers.

Earlier in the day, we delivered a letter to every member of Congress, signed by more than 500 individual farms, and 50 organizations representing more than 10,000 farmers and ranchers, asking Congress to support the Green New Deal Resolution.

Representatives of the Women, Food & Agriculture Network, Indiana Farmers Union and American Sustainable Business Council joined in the press conference, which was covered by multiple media outlets, including Politico, The Hill, Civil Eats and FERN AgInsider.

Why is a consumer and environmental advocacy group like OCA so invested in this new coalition of farmers and ranchers?

Because we’re facing a food crisis. A soil crisis. A water crisis. And a climate crisis. And there’s just no way we solve these interconnected issues without addressing food and farming policy. 

And no way we do it without “linking arms” and working together.

Consumer demand is critical, but not enough

In recent years, consumers have united to tell Big Food that we’re sick of pesticide-contaminated, nutrient-deficient junk food. Consumer power has forced Big Brands to rethink how they produce food. 

Consumers are no longer blindly loyal to brands they perceive as being bad for their health, bad for the environment and bad for the animals unfortunate enough to be part of the factory farm food chain.

As far back as 2015, according to this article in Ad Age, brands that admitted to depending on GMOs and chemicals were seeking ideas to "re-establish our identity in the natural foods movement.”

Just this week, Big Food’s biggest lobbying group, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), announced it will change its name to the Consumer Brands Association. The GMA says the name change represents a shift in strategy to “represent the broader consumer packaged goods industry.”

But make no mistake, the GMA’s rebranding was forced by consumers, who targeted the trade group for being complicit in killing the consumer-led GMO labeling movement. Consumer outrage drove many big-name GMA members to run for the hills, in hope of saving their brand image. And once they did, the GMA never regained its former lobbying glory.

The flip side of the anti-Big Food consumer movement has been the growing demand for organic and regeneratively produced food.

Farmers and ranchers need more support

Consumer demand is critical, but it can go only so far in forcing wholesale change in how food is produced in the U.S. We also need a massive overhaul of food and farming policy to help independent farmers and ranchers compete in the marketplace.

As Ohio farmer and writer, Gene Logdson, wrote in his article, “The Myth of the Self-Made Yeoman:”

No figure is more endearing and enduring in agriculture than the lonely plowman out there on the horizon who raises himself by his own bootstraps to financial success. Only problem is, there is no occupation more dependent on the cooperation of society and nature to achieve success than farming.

The “cooperation of society” must include not only consumer demand, but also policy support. Yet it’s tough to get policy support for organic and regenerative farmers and ranchers—when Big Ag spends more on lobbying for policies to prop up its degenerative GMO monoculture and factory farm practices than do lobbyists for the defense sector, as reported by Truthout.

Agribusiness lobbying efforts result in billions of dollars worth of subsidies, which go primarily to the largest and wealthiest farmers—whose practices are polluting our waterways, producing junk food and destroying soil health. In fact, the largest 15 percent of farm businesses receive 85 percent of the $25 billion spent annually on farm subsidies.

As Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said at the press launch of the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal:

“We’re paying too much to the wrong people to grow the wrong food in the wrong places.”

Empowering farmers to work for us all

How do independent organic regenerative farmers and ranchers compete with Big Ag’s deep pockets for policies that help them—and by extension, help all of us? Policies that empower them to transition to practices that keep our water clean? Policies that give more of us better access to healthier food? And policies that restore climate stability?

We hope it’s by forming a grassroots lobbying coalition that works together with—not just in parallel with—the food and natural health movements, the social and economic justice movements, environmentalists and climate activists to pressure Congress to pass a Green New Deal for farmers and ranchers.

Last week was just the start. Now, the work begins. The coalition will work to grow larger and more powerful. Its members will conduct farmer-to-farmer outreach. They’ll fan out into their communities to connect with consumers, environmentalists, church groups and climate activists—anyone who cares about the future of our food and our environment.

Ultimately, the coalition will use the grassroots power it builds to work with Congress, especially the coalition’s Congressional Advisory Committee, to rapidly scale up food and farming policy change, for the benefit of all of us. Find out how you can support the coalition. And please sign our Green Consumers for a Green New Deal petition.  

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). To keep up with OCA news and alerts, sign up for our newsletter