Supporting Farmers that Steward the Land
The Farm Bill, legislation in twelve titles, covers all the ways we farm, and utilize farm products. It also addresses rural communities, conservation, energy, and nutrition programs. Critical research, education and extension programs that farmers rely on are also supported by Farm Bill Programs and Titles.
As a farmer-led, education non-profit, Marbleseed actively engages with several of the titles in the Farm Bill. As we head into the season of marker bills (legislation that will likely become part of the comprehensive Farm Bill), we want to be prepared to tell our story of human scale, organic production that feeds our communities.
In identifying our main priorities for the Farm Bill, we looked at current Farm Bill funding that continues Marbleseed programs and supports farmers in the upper Midwest. But we also want to use the platform to propose solutions to ongoing challenges that the Marbleseed community has identified and that act as barriers to getting more organic farmers on the land.
The four priorities of the Marbleseed Farm Bill platform do not represent ALL the issues that we care about. Instead, they are focused on our strategic plan as well as current programming that is making a difference for organic farmers in the upper Midwest. These priorities also create deeper partnerships with allied organizations and advocacy coalitions where Marbleseed is a member, adding our voices to the solutions needed to make organic farming at human scale accessible and viable as an enterprise, while improving the health of people, planet and communities.
marbleseed Four main priorities
1. Support Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers, Including Access to Land and Capital.
2. Fund Organic as a Climate Solution.
3. Increase Local Food Procurement and Localized Food Systems.
4. Strengthen Continuous Improvement and Research Programs in Support of Organic Farming and Farmers.
e very Five years we have the opportunity to inFluenCe the Food system, From the Farm Field to our store shelves, sChool C aFeterias, and home tables.Photo credit: Busy Bee Compost, Cascade, Wis. (cover) Enchanted Meadows, La Crescent, Minn. (below)
USDA programs should be accountable for accessibility to historically underserved producers and take steps via both policy and agency practices to improve access and services.
Programs like Farm to School/Institutions and Local Food Purchase Assistance should continue with a focus on socially disadvantaged producers including small and medium farms. This approach is also consistent to increasing access to local food and local food systems. These programs create expanded market opportunities for farmers and are economic drivers for rural communities.
Banking, grants, and investment solutions that provide capital and credit for beginning, BIPOC, and underserved farmers should be included in the Farm Bill. These solutions could include reliance on current systems and infrastructure through Farm Credit or Community Development Financial Institutions, and private investor pools of patient capital. Additionally, there have been successful famer grant programs administered by farmer-facing non-profits that are able to also provide wraparound education and technical assistance to farmers receiving grants. These organizations have high trust with underserved farmer communities and can prepare these farmers to engage with more conservative lending institutions.
We are already witnessing the impact of climate pressures in the western United States on agricultural operations. As those businesses look to move to the Midwest, we will continue to see rising prices and land scarcity here. It may be necessary to explore tax models that facilitate and benefit land transfer to the next generation of farmers to keep human scale, organic farms on the landscape.
Funding must be maintained for the Beginning Farmer, Rancher Development Grant Program and other Farming Opportunity, Training and Outreach (FOTO) programs that develop the next generation of farmers. These grants support beginning farmers as leaders.
Farmers are often on the frontline of climate change. Weather events, wildfires, droughts and floods immediately impact the crops and animals that feed us all. Organic farmers mitigate some of these impacts through systemic regenerative and resilience practices that build healthy soils and increase climate adaptability of both seeds and animal breeds.
Organic allocation in programs that resource farmers like conservation programs and Crop Insurance will be necessary to ensure that we are incentivizing agricultural systems with climate benefits rather than paying to deal with the impacts of industrial farms and bad actors. The payment limit for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Organic Initiative (OI) is significantly lower than the payment limit for the general EQIP program pool. This payment limit inequity has been a disincentive for organic farmers to participate in the EQIP OI. The Farm Bill should include a provision to require the same payment limit, whether a farmer participates in the general EQIP pool, or the EQIP Organic Initiative.
Marbleseed supports the current Organic Transition Initiative’s increased conservation funding as a way to to assist farmers in mitigating climate impact while also encouraging a transition to organic management of farms. There must be continued support and direct funding for farmers who are farming organically.
Climate benefitting practices utilized by organic producers and those transitioning should be allowed within Crop Insurance programs and be considered “good farming practices”. Crop insurance should actively promote conservation by eliminating barriers to organic farming practices like cover crops and pollinator habitat and instead link premium subsidies to stewardship practices that protect our land, water and human and animal health. The current structure of this farm safety net rewards monocrop, chemical and industrial farming. Human scale, organic farms with diverse production and revenue are often seen as ‘riskier’, despite the fact that they are more resilient in the face of climaterelated disasters and disruptions.
3. inCrease loCal Food proCurement and loCalized Food systems
Considering that every dollar spent on local food generates up to an additional $2.16 in economic activity, the purchasing power of school districts alone has the potential to generate over $1 billion in local economic activity. (USDA Farm to School Census 2015). Marbleseed supports local food processing, procurement efforts and funding that prioritizes small to medium sized, organic operations that provide healthy food and jobs in local communities.
We need continued support for the Local Food Promotion and Regional Food Systems Programs as well as the Value Added Producer Grant for farmers, in addition to other efforts as identified, to build the local food infrastructure needed to support a non-consolidated, resilient food system. This includes explicit funding for Organic Processing Infrastructure Loans and Grants, such as Organic Meat, Poultry, and Dairy Processing Facilities and Flash Freezing Plants for Organic Fruits and Vegetables. These efforts enable local eating year-round in the Midwest’s shorter growing season. There must be continued vigilance around anti-trust and anti-consolidation efforts, including around meat processing and increased inspectors in rural areas. Creating economic opportunities in rural communities where most of the food is produced and processed will create thriving rural communities and a less vulnerable food system. Farmers will again capture more of the food dollars while giving consumers better access to healthy food and choice.
For example, the bipartisan, bicameral Strengthening Local Processing Act (SLPA) lays out a national strategy for sustained investment in our small and very small meat processing plants. The SLPA increases states’ ability to opt-in to cooperative interstate shipment, provides guidance on how to ensure food safety across small and very small plants, and invests in developing the highly skilled workforce necessary for local processing plants to thrive.
Reauthorization of federal nutrition programs should provide funding and pathways for the purchase of local, organic food. Tax dollars should not be working against the health of people, communities and the planet. Healthy food should be accessible across these programs and available in schools, child and adult care, farmers markets, and through other supplemental nutrition programs.
The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program is the only program that funds farmer led research on sustainable farming. This program allows farmers to formulate research questions and share what they learn with their peers. These funds are administered regionally and can respond to the most relevant needs geographically.
Organic farmers value continuous improvement and transparency. The organic label was the result of a farmer-led movement. Trust in certified organic by consumers is critical to farm viability. The USDA must act quickly on recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board and ensure consistent national and international enforcement of the organic standards as the Organic Food Production Act intended. These include those standards seen most critical by consumers and environmental advocates and include grazing, access to the outdoors, building healthy soils, and the lack of pesticides, herbicides and genetic technologies. Add-on labels are an indication that the USDA is not doing enough to maintain market confidence in organic certification alone.
In 2023 we saw unprecedented investment in Organic with the multi-faceted Organic Transition Initiative. This Farm Bill should make these investments permanent across USDA. This will provide ongoing funding for farmers directly and promote the transition to organic systems.
Most available research and funding goes to large, mono-crop or singular production systems. Human scale organic farms tend to be diverse and include integration of livestock in cropping and vegetable operations. These complex systems necessitate advanced research. Findings on the stacked ecosystem benefits, along with the reduced risk of reliance on multiple income streams does not exist in current research.
Organic Cost Share requires these diverse farms to pay for certification in each production type. We need to increase cost share payments to reflect true operations and continuous improvement, including added scopes, on organic farms.