Strengthening Farms and the Local Food System
My family has been selling organic fruits and vegetables for the past 24 years, long enough to know both how productive a small farm can be, and how tough it is to make a good return in agriculture. On our place - an old tobacco farm, just outside of Abingdon - we work to balance good land stewardship with efficient production of high quality produce that people will buy. Because that ‘buying thing’ can be tricky for farmers, along the way we’ve helped launch farmers markets, a regional food aggregation hub, and a number of efforts to make good food more affordable for people of limited means. I’ve done similar work as a consultant in places as diverse as rural Arkansas, West Virginia and the South Bronx.
My policy priorities for farming include:
- Keeping farm land in farming whenever and wherever possible
- Increased public investment in infrastructure that enables small to mid-size farmers to add value to their products and reach good markets, including farmers markets, food hubs, meat processing, and other community capital
- Reform of agricultural subsidies to level the playing field between big ag and family farms
- Scale-appropriate regulations in agriculture to reduce unnecessary burdens for small and mid-size farms
- Developing incentives that expand use of locally produced food and farm products in universities, hospitals and other so-called anchor institutions
- Accelerating entrepreneurship in food and farming and linking aspiring young farmers to retiring farmers through ‘land-link’ programs
- Increased support for sustainable farming research and extension through Cooperative Extension and their community partners
Sustaining our Land and Environment
Rural places, like much of the 9th District, are deeply tied to the land. Whether we farm, fish or hunt, hike the AT in Damascus or bike Sugar Hill Trail above St Paul, gather ginseng or morels, or cut downed trees for firewood, we experience the environment as part of our lives and livelihoods. It’s out our back door and under our fingernails. This is true not only for outdoor enthusiasts, but for many coal miners and loggers as well. So how is that so many rural people have come to hate the EPA or to mistrust environmental regulations?
Well, that’s a complicated issue. Part of the answer is no doubt money: The Koch Brothers and others on the extreme right have spent millions of dollars convincing us that we can’t have ecological protections and a strong economy; that every effort to control carbon emissions or keep our air and water clean is a “war” on coal, on farmers, on our way of life; that we have to choose between jobs or the environment.
I don’t buy that. As someone who has helped tobacco farmers shift to organic produce, and seen loggers exercise outstanding forest stewardship as they harvested timber, I know that it can be done. But it will take a new approach, where rural people and businesses become part of the solution to our ecological challenges, enabled by policies that include:
- Support for the RECLAIM Act, to restore degraded mine land while creating economic opportunities in the coalfields
- Sustained investment in ecologically sound businesses and farms that create jobs while restoring or sustaining the land
- Developing new technologies, strong markets and fostering investment in businesses focused on energy efficiency, solar and renewable energy, water conservation and green building products
- Strong air and water pollution regulations that protect public health, waterways and the land
- Support for local land use decisions that protect farms and private land from pipelines, fracking and other takings
- Designing scale-appropriate regulations that protect the environment while enabling family farmers and small to mid-size businesses to thrive
- Fighting climate change by undertaking all of the above, while investing in economic transition for coal communities