It’s time to center climate justice and real climate solutions in the Farm Bill!

By: Ashley Fent, Campaigns Researcher and Navina Khanna, Executive Director

Real solutions to the climate crisis already exist – on fields and farms, in communities, grassroots organizations, and in agricultural collectives.

Currently, the Farm Bill props up industrial agricultural practices and corporations that wreak havoc on our ecosystems while polluting our air, water and food, including their false climate solutions that perpetuate extraction and exploitation.

The US food and agricultural system has an outsized impact on greenhouse gas emissions, with high levels of methane from factory farms as a major contributor. Meanwhile, farmers and workers are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, with massive hurricanes, flooding, drought, wildfires, and other weather events affecting their lives and livelihoods.

Ecological farming holds perhaps our greatest promise for climate resilience, supporting biodiversity, healthy soils, water retention, carbon sequestration, and more.

For the farm bill to truly address climate change, it must center climate justice. 

Photo by Rion Moon & Jam Rose

Climate justice is the transition from extractive systems to regenerative ones. It’s about  recognizing how our survival is interconnected to our environment and the planet. It’s about addressing the inequality of the climate crisis by centering communities on the frontlines – folks of color, low income and those in the Global South – who are most impacted by climate change.

At HEAL we believe the farm bill can and should support restorative agricultural practices that nourish ecological communities and restore biodiversity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why we are advocating for a farm bill that centers those with real climate solutions.

Black, Indigenous, and other producers of color have long practiced ecological agricultural techniques even as they have been forced to confront land seizure, industrial agriculture, and the contamination of their land and water. Many of these practices are rooted in cultural traditions that hold deep respect for the land, water, seeds, and life that sustain us.

For hundreds of years the Diné have practiced “alluvial farming” — planting crops in the sediment deposits of floodplains. Roberto Nutlouis of Nihikeya, a HEAL member organization based in the Black Mesa region of the Navajo Nation, shared why his community is building regenerative systems based on Indigenous Diné knowledge.

Nihikeya volunteers planting squash plants in fields to rehabilitate floodplains.

“In our creation narrative, our people have experienced social and ecological calamity at least four times. And this is one of them. Yet our people persevered. And part of the solution was looking back within and remembering. Not every generation is given that opportunity and that burden,” said Roberto. 

Diné land stewards and farmers are restoring traditional agricultural practices to tackle drought and land degradation brought by climate change and colonization.

Similarly, Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust (NEFOC) are also using regenerative practices to heal the human and environmental trauma caused by extractive and property-based models of land use. NEFOC, a HEAL member organization, is a network of over 600 aspiring and practicing BIPOC land stewards engaging in mutual support and knowledge sharing.

In addition to better ecological practices, we also need deeper changes in how we think about and relate to the land and each other, according to Larisa “Lala” Jacobson, Climate Justice & Policy Co-Director at NEFOC.

NEFOC gathering in 2019 at Soul Fire Farm

“If there’s mutual interdependence and we focus on the connective tissue between life and between beings, which is in essence the Land, then we can be climate resilient. If there are delusions of supremacies, like white supremacy, then that breaks down, and we are all more vulnerable to climate change — especially the people and other beings who are pushed to the margins,” said Lala.

We must also remember that the fights against capitalism, racism, and colonization are interconnected and global. Like BIPOC producers in the US, food producers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are also facing severe threats to their agricultural traditions and livelihoods due to climate change. By centering climate justice in the farm bill, we can support food producers both here in the US and across the Global South impacted by the climate crisis.

In order to meet climate goals, HEAL is fighting for a farm bill that:

  • uplifts the climate solutions small-scale producers and land stewards are already practicing
  • recognizes and supports traditional and Indigenous environmental knowledge
  • includes provisions that make it possible for BIPOC producers to access land and credit — like Senator Booker’s Justice for Black Farmers Act.
Photo by Rion Moon & Jam Rose

As we continue our fight for climate justice in the farm bill, it is important to recognize that there are solutions. And we don’t have to wait for politicians, companies, or billionaires to dream them up. Join our Alliance this week in the fight for more just food systems. Call your Congress members and urge them to center climate justice in the upcoming farm bill! 

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.

Learn more about the survival of our ecosystems HEAL policy priority for the 2023 Farm Bill.

Ashley Fent is an ACLS Leading Edge Fellow, conducting background research to inform and raise public awareness about ongoing campaigns and policy directions. Before coming to HEAL, she taught courses on environmental justice issues at Vassar College and worked as a researcher at Community Alliance for Global Justice, a small nonprofit in Seattle. She holds a PhD in Geography from UCLA, an MA in Anthropology from Columbia University, and a BA in Geography from the University of Washington. Ashley lives in Tacoma, Washington, on the occupied land of Coast Salish peoples. She enjoys dancing, painting, and being outdoors in the summer.

Navina Khanna is a co-founder and the Executive Director of HEAL. For over 20 years, she has worked toward social and ecological justice through food and farming systems, and her leadership is widely respected for uniting changemakers across sectors and communities. Navina holds an MS in International Agricultural Development and has formal training in somatics, as a yoga teacher, and in permaculture design. She has previously served on the leadership teams of Urban Tilth, the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, Oakland’s Food Policy Council and as a member of Oakland’s Equitable Climate Action Plan Committee and the Young Climate Leaders Network. She currently serves on the board of Friends of the Earth Action and as a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Food and Nutrition Security Task Force. A first-generation South Asian American living in Oakland on occupied Ohlone land, Navina’s worldview is shaped by migration and grounded in movement. She most easily finds joy immersed in soil, music, and community.