It’s time to invest in communities and break up corporate power in the Farm Bill!

By: Celize Christy, Organizer, HEAL Food Alliance

Corporate agribusinesses, through consolidation, have amassed massive power over food production lines, controlling each step from “farm to fork.”  Before I joined the HEAL Food Alliance as an Organizer, I supported beginning farmers and livestock producers in the Midwestern “corn belt,” a region dominated by commodity farming and the base for many large corporate agribusinesses. 

I learned firsthand the challenges farmers face while striving to build successful farm businesses due to corporate consolidation. Small-scale livestock farmers and ranchers watched their wealth dwindle as the rise of concentrated animal feed operations, or CAFOs, replaced their operations and hollowed rural communities. 

Celize Christy, HEAL’s National Organizer

I learned how vegetable farmers’ opportunities to compete in the marketplace were reduced by seed company mergers, like Bayer-Monsanto, which took over a third of the seed industry.

But this corporate takeover of our food production systems is ultimately by design. Modern agricultural policies like the farm bill support the industrialization and corporate consolidation of our farm and food systems. 

According to Policy Director Sean Carroll of the Land Stewardship Project (LSP), “factory farms are the dominant corporate power” in many parts of the Midwest region where most farming businesses are owned by a single family or group. LSP is a Minnesota-based grassroots organization that is committed to breaking down power and consolidation in the food farming system. Phasing out factory farming is a key focus of the organization’s work, which helps community members build power against powerful regional players so they have a fair chance at building viable farming and ranching operations. 

Sean Carroll and Organizer Matthew Sheets spoke with HEAL about why breaking up corporate consolidation and factory farming is necessary for small independent farmers, as part of our Platform for Real Food Toolkit series. 

“Factory farms are the dominant corporate power in this region. Most of the businesses in town are now owned by the one family or group that owns those barns. People feel the impact this has on their community…Factory farming drives out small and midsize farmers,” said Sean and Matthew.  

“When you put up a big operation that’s got 100,000 cows, that means you’re driving out a hundred small farms with 100 cows off of their land. The effect trickles down to processing too. Those who can get a hundred cows at a time get a much better price at the butcher or processor than someone who can send a few cows at a time.” 

Factory farms drive out small meatpacking operations who are unable to compete in an unfair market, which impacts workers too.  Large corporations are able to undercut their prices with high speed lines and low wage labor made up of mostly immigrants and refugees, all while remaining largely unchecked by federal regulations. 

My experiences in the Midwest taught me that small, independent, community-owned farms, cooperatives, and food operations are the foundation of creating resilient regional food systems. 

By cracking down on harmful corporate practices, reversing consolidation and prioritizing small, independent food operations and farms, we can also increase protections for workers and build sustainable food systems. 

The 2023 Farm Bill must ensure the resiliency of our food systems by investing in the infrastructure of local and regional food systems. This includes  farm system reform policies that crack down on monopolistic practices of corporations, creating a fairer market that allows independent farmers and local food systems to thrive. And equitable investments in BIPOC-owned businesses, cooperatives and community owned operations. 

While the 2023 Farm Bill is up for renewal Congress must take steps to safeguard farmers, ranchers, consumers and meatpacking workers from deceptive, monopolistic practices in the livestock, meat and poultry industries. 

This week, HEAL is urging Congress to prioritize the health and well-being of our communities over corporate profits by  enforcing the Packers and Stockers Act and passing the Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act in the upcoming Farm Bill. Join us by calling your Congress members in support of a Farm Bill for thriving futures for us all! 

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 communities, not corporations HEAL policy priority for the 2023 Farm Bill.

At HEAL, Celize connects members to campaigns, programs and the alliance’s greater network. Celize comes to HEAL’s campaign and policy work by coordinating farmer-led education programming, advocating for BIPOC farmers in Iowa, and coalition building and organizing with sustainable agriculture organizations. Celize earned her B.S. in Animal Science and Global Resource Systems with a minor in Spanish from Iowa State University and a M.S. in Rural Sociology and International Agricultural Development from the Pennsylvania State University. Celize roots herself in the stories, voices and experiences of both urban and rural farmers from her time in the Midwest. Celize currently lives in Dallas, Texas on occupied Jumanos, Kiikaapoi, Tawakoni and Wichita Land Land and enjoys exploring local businesses, drinking ginger tea, and playing with her miniature pinscher pup, Luz.