HEAL Farm bill priorities

Our Vision for the 2023 Farm Bill

The HEAL Food Alliance is calling on the 118th Congress to craft Farm Bill legislation that supports thriving futures for all people and our planet. The documents below provide policy recommendations (endorsed by over 150 diverse organizations) from HEAL that we strongly feel Congress should be address at the federal level in the 2023 Farm Bill.
2023 Full HEAL Food Alliance Farm Bill Priorities
1-Pager: Securing Dignity & Fairness for Food Chain Workers & their Families
1 Pager: Providing Opportunities for All Producers
1 Pager: Investing In Communities, Not Corporations
1 Pager: Nourishing People
1 Pager: Ensuring the Survival of Ecosystems & Our Planet

Read: HEAL's Farm Bill Blogs

We must center BIPOC farmers & producers in the farm bill!

For many Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in the US, land and water stewardship play a central role in our culture, way of life, economic livelihoods, and the sustainability of our communities.  However, due to white settler colonialism, the opportunity to farm has been unjustly stripped from the majority of BIPOC communities in the US through many avenues, including government policies and programs. 

It’s time to secure rights for food and farm workers in the Farm Bill!

I became enamored with the restaurant industry when I first came to the US. I was 13 years old and my parents were fleeing a bloody civil war that claimed the lives of several members of our family. Despite being a teacher in Guatemala, here in the US my mother could only find work in a restaurant. It was only after I began working in the industry myself that I soon realized the glamor and fast-paced energy I glimpsed through the windows of my mother’s workplace was just a mirage. It was in fact the reflection of abusive managers, racism and a sexist environment unlike anything I had ever experienced.
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Watch: Farm Bill Workshop with the San Diego Food Systems Alliance

What is the farm bill?

The farm bill is some of the most powerful federal legislation shaping the United States’ food and farm system. It impacts all of us living here, as well as communities around the world.

In a nutshell, the Farm Bill is a collection of food and agriculture laws, programs, and funding that congress passes every 5 to 7 years. It determines what food farmers grow, what consumers eat, and how we access food. Because of the central role food plays in our economy and our daily lives, the farm bill impacts our health, our jobs, our environment, and for many, even where we live.

A lot of people assume that our food and farm system operates in an open market, where farmers grow what consumers want to eat, and consumers pay for that food. In reality, the farm bill is what really pays for large portions of what we eat and how that food is grown, harvested, processed, and transported. The farm bill is funded by the federal government - aka us taxpayers. Its our bill. (The most recent farm bill cost about $428 billion).

Why is the farm bill important?

Many of the programs we pay for in the farm bill help the public. For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), helps working families get the food they need. However, big portions of farm bill money go to a handful of large farming corporations, known as “agribusiness” or “industrial agriculture.”

When the government helps pay for something, it is called a “subsidy” or “subsidizing.” While subsidies can be helpful to working people and their families, subsidies to corporations can be harmful to those same families. For decades, the majority of the large farming corporations that the government subsidizes have damaged the soil, water, and air that we depend on to live. They drive small farmers out of business, worsen our health, and keep food prices high. They also provide dangerous working conditions and pay very low wages to working people. As a result, many people in our society, especially Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), rural communities, and working families suffer first and worst from damage inflicted by these few, greedy corporations.

Historically, other programs in the farm bill have also benefited large-scale white farmers, while harming Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color. Because of the reach of the farm bill, this has had severe consequences, including many Black and Indigenous farmers losing their land.

Subsidizing agribusiness has also caused these big corporations to become bigger and bigger. The big corporations use their political and economic power to manipulate and control our food system. Today, very few powerful corporations control our food system. Fortunately, many people are working hard to ensure the farm bill benefits Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, working people, and our communities — not just a few big corporations.


There are many ways to make the farm bill work for us:
◉  Require food and farm jobs to be safer and fairer for working people;
◉  Provide more opportunities for Black, Indigenous, and farmers of color;
◉  Invest in communities, not corporations;
◉  Ensure everyone has access to good quality food they can afford; and
◉ Produce food in a way that is good for the environment.
For a beautiful visual explainer of the Farm Bill, check out La Semilla’s free zine on the Farm Bill, offered in both English and Spanish.

How can you help?

The next farm bill will pass in 2023 or 2024, but discussions about what it should include have already begun. Traditionally the farm bill has been shaped by powerful players, primarily big farming corporations. A farm bill shaped by big corporations leads to a farm bill that benefits big corporations. For this next farm bill—HEAL, along with our partners—wants to lift up the needs and voices of our communities. To do so, we need to grow a movement of everyday people–including farmers, food and farm workers, teachers, healthcare workers, and consumers—to share our opinions and stories. If you are interested in demanding a farm bill that puts people over corporations, we invite you to join us. No experience necessary!
◉  Follow us on social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter
◉  If you are in touch with an organization that is involved in Farm Bill advocacy, email that organization to get involved!
◉  If you'd like to get involved, email HEAL’s National Organizer Maleeka Manurasada at Maleeka (at) healfoodalliance.org

Why does the farm bill exist?

Congress passed the first Farm Bill in 1933 under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl in response to numerous crises, including:
◉  Widespread hunger,
◉  Very low prices for crops,
◉  Lack of infrastructure in rural parts of the country; and
◉  Dangerous destruction of the soil.
The first farm bill started many large programs to try to address these problems, several of which still exist in some way today. Due to the massive amount of funding, these programs have dramatically shaped our food and farm system in the last century.

In 1933, these programs included environmental restoration, hunger relief, research, and huge economic programs. These economic programs included credit and subsidy initiatives to help farmers afford to farm.

They also included programs where the government would directly buy crops to help take the risk out of farming and to stabilize the market. The crops the government purchased were generally crops that could be stored and distributed when convenient, such as corn and wheat. These crops are called “commodity crops.”

The farm bill and race

While many of these programs of the first farm bill helped provide relief to struggling farmers and people in general, it was also created within racist systems and laws, which made racial inequality worse. For example, the farm bill gave credit and funding to white farmers and excluded Black, Indigenous and farmers of color. This allowed more and more white farmers to buy land, and more and more Black, Indigenous, and farmers of color to lose land.

Multiple lawsuits have proven that the farm bill discriminated against Black and Indigenous farmers:

In the Pigford vs. Glickman case, the federal government recognized that it had discriminated against Black farmers in credit programs, disaster relief, and other ways. In total, more than $2 billion in claim settlements were awarded to Black farmers.

In the Keepseagle vs. Vilsack case, the federal government recognized that it had discriminated against Indigenous farmers in credit programs.

And even today, racist practices from the farm bill still cause a disadvantage for BIPOC farmers.

From the beginning, the United States farming system has been rooted in chattel slavery and colonization, including the harming, killing, and stealing from Black and Indigenous people for the benefit of white farmers. This has led to very few farms being owned by Black, Indigenous, and farmers of color. And that number continues to shrink.

For example, In 1920, the United States had about 1 million Black farmers; in 2017 there were just 45,000. In contrast, in 2017, 95% of all farm producers were white. To learn more how federal farming policies have caused racial harm, check out HEAL’s explainer.

What does the Farm Bill look like?

The Farm Bill is a massive document. For context, the 2018 farm bill is 530 pages long, and is organized into 12 sections called “titles.”

The 2018 farm bill titles are: Commodities, Conservation, Trade, Nutrition, Credit, Rural Development, Research, Extension, and Related Matters, Forestry, Energy, Horticulture, Crop Insurance, and Miscellaneous. From the titles alone, it is clear that the farm bill reaches far beyond farming and touches many lives.

Title 1: Commodities

Payments, subsidies, and income support for non-perishable commodity crops; disaster assistance.

Title 2: Conservation (added in 1985) 

Programs to encourage and incentivize resource conservation efforts, including easements.

Title 3: Trade

Food export and import policies; international food aid.

Title 4: Nutrition

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other nutrition programs to provide food access for low-income families.

Title 5: Credit

Federal loan programs, including direct and guaranteed loans; provisions for debt relief.

Title 6: Rural Development

Rural business and community development; rural housing; rural infrastructure.

Title 7: Research, Extension, and Related Matters

Farm and food-related research, education, and extensions programs.

Title 8: Forestry

Forest-specific conservation programs.

Title 9: Energy (added in 2002) 

Biofuel and biogas transition support; renewable energy; energy-related research.

Title 10: Horticulture

Research and infrastructure for perishable specialty crops; organic certification programs; local food programs and farmers’ markets.

Title 11: Crop Insurance

Subsidies for farmers and private crop insurance companies to protect against losses in yield, revenue, or farm operations overall.

Title 12: Miscellaneous

Programs for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers; meatpacking.

What is the process to
shape the next farm bill?

The process to shape the farm bill is complicated, which makes it hard for everyday people to participate.

Nevertheless, it is important that those whose lives are affected by the farm bill have the opportunity to shape it. For this reason, HEAL is dedicated to bridging the gap between those who are affected by the farm bill, and those who make the decisions.

If you are interested in getting involved, we are happy to break it down and make it easy for you!   
There are five major stages to passing a new farm bill:
  • Input: Anyone who wants to shape the farm bill (Organizers, farmers, advocates, activists, corporations, lobbyists, and others) tries to make their priorities known to members of congress. Generally, they prioritize members of congress that sit on agriculture committees of the House of Representatives and Senate. Some of the ways that people try to make their priorities known are through lobbying meetings, letters, petitions, press conferences, events, social media, media coverage, and hearings.
  • Writing: The agriculture committees in the House and the Senate separately draft versions of the farm bill. After they are drafted, the House of Representatives debates and agrees upon the language for the House version of the farm bill, and the Senate debates and agrees upon language for the Senate version.
  • Passing: Once the House and Senate bills have been passed, the leaders of the House and Senate come together to combine the bills into one bill. Once they develop a combined bill, the House and Senate vote on it. If both the House and Senate vote to approve the bill, the bill is sent to the White House for the President’s signature.
  • Funding: While some of the farm bill’s programs are determined to be mandatory and are guaranteed to be funded, other programs are not automatically funded. These programs must be funded every year by congress through the House and Senate committees in charge of the budget. This is another opportunity for the public to shape the farm bill and push for funding to specific programs.
  • Implementing: The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the government agency responsible for implementing the programs of the farm bill. Because the language outlining the programs in the farm bill is quite broad, the USDA is responsible for determining the details and rules of the programs. This is another opportunity for members of the public to shape pieces of the farm bill. 


Check out these amazing resources from our members and partners! Also, if you have any questions or want to get involved, email maleeka@healfoodalliance.org. 
La Semilla (2021): Food, Land, and Us: Farm Bill Zine (free online version)
La Semilla (2021): Food, Land, and Us: Farm Bill Zine (free online version)
NSAC 2018 Farm Bill Drilldown Blog Posts (2018):
  • Real Food Media (2019): The Farm Bill: Daniel Imhoff | Ep. 30
  • Climate One (2022): Digging Deep into the Next Farm Bill, featuring Chuck Conner (National Council of Farmer Cooperatives), Scott Faber (EWG), Jonathan Coppess (University of Illinois) and John W. Boyd, Jr. (National Black Farmers Association)