Eat•Drink•Vote: Your Guide to Federal Food & Farm Issues in 2020 and Beyond

Illinois Stewardship Alliance hosted a series of Facebook Live events entitled Eat Drink Vote, bringing together farmers and organizations from across the state to discuss each of the nine key issues from the Alliance’s Illinois Food and Farm Candidate Questionnaire

During the series, viewers will hear stories from farmers about how issues like food security, land access, climate change, and racial equity affect their lives, livelihoods, and the well-being of their community and surrounding ecosystem, as well as positive policy solutions to address these issues.

Check out the full series and past event recordings below: 

  • Sept. 1: Increasing Food Security and Strengthening the Local Food Economy
  • Sept. 8: The Next Generation of Farmers: Land Access and Barriers to Entry
  • Sept. 15: Racial Equity in the Food System: Land Dispossession and Stolen Labor
  • Sept. 22: City Foodscapes: Federal Support and Planning for Urban Agriculture
  • Sept. 29: Creating a Level Playing Field: Consolidation, Farm Income, and Debt
  • Oct. 6: Reducing Agricultural Runoff for Water Quality
  • Oct 13: Farming as a Climate Change Solution
  • Oct. 20: Access to Affordable Quality Healthcare
  • Oct. 27: A Resilient Food System Post Covid-19

Tune into the series on Facebook Live

Increasing Food Security & The Local Food Economy

Traci Barkley, Sola Gratia Farm, Urbana
Jeff Hake, Funk’s Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains, McLean
Jody Osmund, Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm, Ottawa
Wes King, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, D.C.

Background: Illinois ranks sixth in value of agricultural production, yet Illinois Department of Agriculture estimated in 2011 that over 90% of the food purchased in Illinois came from out of state. As sources like the St. Louis Federal Reserve Harvesting Opportunity and others conclude, local and regional food systems can have a positive economic impact. Support for local farm businesses increases the share of money recirculating in the local economy and helps local farm families access a greater share of the consumer expenditures on food. 

For more of the food we eat to be sourced locally, we would need more farmers raising diversified crops and livestock, and we need to reinvest in scale-appropriate infrastructure (such as regional mills, food hubs, livestock, and poultry processing) to process and transport farm products. 

Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and school meal programs help ensure that vulnerable Americans have access to food. The Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), formerly FINI, provides extra funding for SNAP clients to buy fresh produce from local farmers. The Farm to School Grant Program connects children with fresh foods from local farms. 

These programs strengthen the local food system by putting money in the pockets of local farmers while alleviating hunger with nutritious health-promoting foods. These programs are also particularly important for communities of color who suffer disproportionate levels of food insecurity. However, many families and individuals in need are faced with considerable barriers to access due to restrictive eligibility requirements and insufficient funding. Farmers also face barriers in being able to accept online SNAP/EBT payments.

Beginning Farmers: Land Access & Other Barriers to Entry

Kaitie Adams, Savanna Institute, Southern Illinois
Demarkius Medley, Greenlords Inc., Galesburg
Frank Rademacher, Rademacher Farms, Gifford
Nathan Aaberg, Director, Conservation and Working Lands at Liberty Prairie Foundation, Grayslake 
Cassidy Dellorto-Blackwell, Farmer Training Program Manager at The Land Connection

Background: The average age of Illinois farmers is 58 and has been increasing over time, while the number of beginning farmers is a fraction of what’s needed to replace retiring farmers. Young and first-time farmers face significant barriers to entry, including access to land, credit, and capital. A majority of this new generation come from non-farm backgrounds, operate smaller, more diversified farms, and are more interested in conservation practices to support soil and water health. However, farmland consolidation makes it challenging for new farmers to compete with established operations to secure land. A compounding factor is how development pressures have been decreasing the amount of available farmland while increasing its price. The farm bill’s ACEP-ALE program has been an effective tool to permanently protect farmland and create affordability, but much more can be done to address this challenge.

Racial Equity in the Food System: Land Dispossession and Stolen

Erika Allen, Co-Founder & CEO, Urban Growers Collective, Chicago
Marlie Wilson, Good Food Purchasing Project Manager, Chicago Food Policy Council, Chicago
Jose Oliva, Campaigns Director, HEAL Alliance, Chicago

Background: In 1920, Black Americans made up 14% of U.S. farmers with 892 black farmers in Illinois. Due to the exploitation of heirs’ property by white developers and speculators and racial discrimination in lending practices by the USDA (see Pigford v. Glickman), today Black Americans make up less than 2% of farmers nationwide with only 59 black farmers in Illinois. Agriculture in the U.S. has a long and cruel history of colonization, slavery, land dispossession, and labor exploitation. Although people of color make up 38% of the population, only 7% of farmers are people of color. People of color not only face barriers to access land, credit, and capital by systemic racism and discrimination but are actively dispossessed of land and wealth in our current system. Furthermore, farmworkers, in particular those in guest worker programs, are subject to poor wages, human rights abuses, and lack adequate access to health insurance or workers’ compensation. Some proposals from advocates include reparations; reforms to the USDA administration; moratoriums on government foreclosures of Black land; debt forgiveness programs; reforms to labor laws and many others.

City Foodscapes: Federal Support and Planning for Urban Agriculture

Viviana Gentry Fernandez-Pellon, Programs Director at Advocates for Urban Agriculture
Stephanie Dunn of Star Farm
Alex Poltorak of The Urban Canopy

Background: In addition to access to land and capital, urban farmers face many unique barriers including permits and licensing, secure land tenure, and soil remediation. Historically, urban farms have relied on programs not specifically targeted for urban farming like the Community Food Projects (CFP) or the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). Along with not being designed specifically for urban farming, these programs have faced cuts. Funding for CFP was reduced by about 45% in the 2018 farm bill. Most existing local urban programs provide assistance that is geared more towards gardeners and hobbyists, rather than commercial, career farmers. There was an effort to address the issues of urban agriculture in the 2018 Farm Bill by authorizing $10 million in annual appropriations through FY2023 in grant funding for research, education, and extension, as well as the creation of the “Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Forms of Production” which has yet to be fully implemented.

Creating a Level Playing Field: Consolidation, Farm Income, and Debt

Reducing Agricultural Runoff for Water Quality

Greg Gunthrorp, Gunthorp Farms, LaGrange, IN
Austin Frerick, deputy director of the Thurman Arnold Project at Yale University, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Background: The farm and food sectors are experiencing unprecedented corporate consolidation leading to unfair market conditions for family farmers that drive down wages for workers and hurt rural communities. Consolidation throughout the industry, including the agrochemical sector, means that farmers pay more for inputs like seed and fertilizers. The projected median farm income for 2020 is negative $1,449. Farm household income for most farmers comes from off-farm jobs and government subsidies. With low incomes and high operational costs, farmers are amassing debt, and loan delinquencies are rising. Some proposals include placing a moratorium on large agribusiness, instituting supply management programs, updating the Packers and Stockyard Act, and more.

Reducing Agricultural Runoff & Water Quality

Danielle Olson, Kinwood Farm in Prophetstown
Miriam Hoffman, young farmer and FFA national leader
Dick Lyons, farmer in Harvel
Duane Hovorka with Izaak Walton League of America

Background: A major problem affecting our water is nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from fertilizer and animal waste that flow into nearby waters or leach into groundwater causing adverse effects on water quality and health. Sustainable farming practices such as cover cropping, no-till, and conservation buffers have proven benefits in reducing nutrient runoff. These practices improve soil health by keeping more nutrients in the farm system, reducing erosion, and improving water storage ability. With low commodity prices in the past 6 years and high operational costs, farmers are strapped for cash and often cannot afford the extra up-front cost of soil health practices despite its long-term benefits. Programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) help fund investment in these soil health practices but the demand for assistance is often greater than available funding.

Steve Buxton, Farmer, Two Mile Creek Organics in Sullivan, Co-chair of Alliance’s Soil Health Caucus
Mallory Krieger, Farmer, Director of Terra Elossa
Tara Ritter, Senior Program Associate for Climate and Rural Communities, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Kris Reynolds, Farmer and Midwest Director at the American Farmland Trust

Background: Farmers are at the forefront of the climate crisis. They face increasing threats to their livelihood from drought, severe weather events, and higher than normal temperatures. Sustainable agriculture’s focus on soil health plays a significant role in the climate change solution through carbon capture. Storing carbon in the soil is the cheapest and easiest method of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while also improving yields because of improved soil quality. Agricultural research that focuses on improving farm and community resilience to climate change is crucial to informing technical innovation and climate-ready production systems. Although soil health and sustainable farming practices build greater resilience and farm viability, farmers transitioning to such practices face steep barriers and often need technical and financial assistance

A Resilient Food System Post Covid-19

Dr. Jifunza Wright Carter, Co-founder of Black Oaks Center for Renewable Sustainable Living and Health Food Hub, Pembroke
Karen Lehman, Director of Fresh Taste, Chicago
Aasia Castaneda, Community Partnerships Manager, Chicago Food Policy Action Council, Chicago
Jennifer Paulson, Executive Director, Food Works, Carbondale

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our health while underscoring some of the deepest cracks in our food system. It has highlighted longstanding issues in the food system including the systemic inequalities of food access for low-income households and communities of color. It has caused some food and supply shortages in grocery stores where long supply chains struggled early on to stock shelves amidst the increased demand. At the same time, farmers are forced to dump milk and euthanize their farm animals while families struggle to access food because the inflexibility of a centralized food system and a lack of regional food infrastructure prevents fulfilling local demand or selling directly to consumers. Across slaughterhouses and farm fields, food chain workers are deemed essential but insufficient PPE, low-wages, lack of access to health care, and no paid sick leave put them at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19.