By Eloni Porcher, Communications Manager at HEAL Food Alliance
Food is our most intimate and powerful connection to each other, our cultures, and the earth. How we produce, process, and consume food has a larger impact on our wellbeing than any other human activity.
That’s why, earlier this month, HEAL members joined over 500 farmers and farmer-advocates, partners and allies in DC at the Farmers for Climate Action: Rally for Resilience for a week of advocacy and power building, and to educate lawmakers on our vision for a transformative farm bill!
Why We Went to DC
It is no secret that the farm bill is heavily influenced by Big Ag and Big Food. A handful of giant corporations lobby heavily to ensure that lawmakers prioritize their interests (i.e. profits for their investors and shareholders). We came to DC to ensure that voices from our communities and alliance are also heard and prioritized in one of the most powerful pieces of legislation that determines what food farmers grow, what we eat, and how we access food.
For four days we rallied, marched, and advocated for a 2023 Farm Bill that protects farm and other food system workers, brings justice for Black, Indigenous and farmers of color, and invests in communities instead of corporations.
Read on below to learn more about our policy priorities and our efforts in DC to secure a farm bill that supports thriving futures for us all.
Since its inception, the farm bill has excluded labor rights and policies for the more than 21 million people working in our food and farm systems. This exclusion makes it more difficult to hold corporations accountable for mistreatment of workers, including unsafe labor conditions.
HEAL member Marielena Vega, Visión 2C Resource Council Chair and Board Representative, Idaho Organization of Resource Councils (IORC) called for greater protections for farmworkers in the 2023 Farm Bill at the Rally for Resilience, and spoke about the increased health risks farmworkers face from heat stress.
“We need a farm bill that puts the wellbeing and livelihood of our communities, of our farm workers, as a priority,” said Marielena.
Yanely Martinez, farmworker advocate and community organizer with Californians for Pesticide Reform and Councilwoman for Greenfield City, CA spoke at the Rally for Resilience on the inhumane use of pesticides and its impact on the health of farmworkers, their families and rural communities.
“Farmworkers are affected daily by chemicals created as weapons of war. They were banned for war but are still used in my community and many communities of color,” said Yanely.
We also made demands for workers rights while meeting with the Senate Agriculture Committee where Axel Fuentes, Executive Director of Rural Community Workers Alliance shared the potential impact of bills like Protecting America’s Meatpack Workers Act (PAMWA)* could have for factory workers.
*PAMWA has been officially endorsed by the HEAL Food Alliance as a marker bill for the 2023 Farm Bill. Learn more >>
Racism is deeply ingrained in our food and farm systems— for centuries Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color have been systematically excluded from government programs and benefits. The USDA’s track record of denying and delaying loans and technical assistance costs Black farmers their land and livelihoods.
Nadia and Omowale co-founders of Liberation Farm met with Senator Gillibrand’s (NY) office to urge support of the Justice for Black Farmers Act*, which would create more pathways to farming for Black farmers and address loan discrimination, land loss, and other racial injustices.
*Justice For Black Farmers Act has been officially endorsed by the HEAL Food Alliance as a marker bill for the 2023 Farm Bill. Learn more >>
Dorathy Barker of HEAL member organization Operation Spring Plant called for greater investment in Black women farmers, who are often excluded from funding opportunities and technical assistance programs.
“What is equity and inclusion? What does that look like for Black farmers, Black communities? Money is coming down for this and that but we are always excluded,” said Mama Dorathy.
Over the last 50 years, our food system has become so consolidated, that today, just five food and agricultural corporations control the grocery sector while just two corporations control the majority of our seeds.
While marching to Capitol Hill, and throughout the week, we called for increased investment in our communities and local infrastructure and for Congress to break up corporate consolidation and increase regulation and accountability across the agri-food system.
Representative Ro Khanna (CA-17) spoke at the Rally for Resilience Press Conference about why we need to curb the power corporate monopolies have on our food system.
“The big players don’t care if they’re destroying the land, only about maximizing profits. And that is why a lot of the work we’re doing is to break up monopolistic practices,” said Rep. Khanna.
Along with Senator Booker, Rep. Khanna reintroduced the Farm System Reform Act, which, if passed, would stop the expansion of factory farms.
Families today are struggling with rising costs and reduced access to food, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the reauthorization of the Farm Bill this year, some lawmakers seek to cut access to nutrition assistance programs, which are a lifeline for millions of families across the US.
HEAL members and School of Political Leadership alumni Chinue Fields and Dominique Miller of Urban Tilth met with Representative Jim Costa’s (CA-21) office to urge for the expansion of SNAP and increase funding for food assistance programs.
“For BIPOC communities and farmers, having access is huge. Having nourishing, healthy food options for each person is a basic human right, but a lot of people are lacking that right now,” said Chinue.
On March 14, lawmakers introduced legislation to cut access to SNAP benefits by increasing work requirements. We will continue to build collective power and advocate for expansion of SNAP and other nutrition programs on the federal and local level.
The survival of our planet depends on a transition away from capitalism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy towards non-extractive relationships with ecological systems and each other.
As we convened in DC in support of climate action in the Farm Bill, our members also addressed the unique experiences folks of color and members of frontline communities have of being excluded from environmental solutions.
“BIPOC farmers already have the knowledge but we are not being supported, our knowledge is being stolen, exploited and sold back to us. Our knowledge needs to be validated by land access,” said Julieta Saucedo, owner of Muros de Adobe Farm and Farm Education Coordinator, La Semilla Food Center.
At the rally for resilience, Julieta called for land to be returned to Black, Indigenous and farmers of color, who, as knowledge keepers and practitioners of agroecological practices, are helping to restore our ecosystems.
HEAL’s vision is for a 2023 Farm Bill that transforms our destructive food and farm systems, our health, our planet, and our communities, and prioritizes the well-being of BIPOC and rural communities and human and environmental health.
While a transformative Farm Bill does not ensure the future we seek, it is our belief that by building the power of frontline communities, we can shift where power is held and begin to ensure rights and safety for our communities.
Eloni Porcher is a storyteller and strategic communicator who crafts messages, builds strategies and conducts research to inform communications and development for HEAL and its members. Her previous experience includes research, digital comms and media relations in global health, community development and nonprofit sectors where she specialized in gender health issues impacting BIPOC communities in the US and women across the Global South. Eloni has a B.A. in Communication Studies and minor in International Studies from Northeastern University and is currently based in the Washington, DC – Baltimore region on Piscataway land.