Resilient Local and Regional Food Systems

The Problem

The current monopoly-controlled global industrial agriculture system extracts the wealth out of the pockets of the farmer and rural communities, pushing farmers off the land, locking workers into poverty, and leaving a wasteland of boarded-up businesses and empty main streets. The globalization of industrial agriculture by a handful of monopoly corporations coupled with systemic discrimination has had a far greater negative impact on Black farmers and other historically underserved farmers and ranchers.

This does not have to be the story of rural America. Research published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis demonstrated that if wealth is to be restored in rural America, an investment in local and regional food systems should be the priority. Additional research has shown rural communities’ GDP increases through employment and sales generated by local food systems.

Local and regional food systems exist today. Examples include farmers selling direct to consumers at farmers markets, food hubs aggregating and distributing locally produced food and food products, and community supported agriculture networks ushering food items from farm to table. Unfortunately, many regulatory and economic barriers stand in the way of rural America fully realizing the wealth creation of a developed local and regional food system.

Our Work

Family Farm Action Alliance knows rural America can be a vibrant hub of economic opportunity for all people through an inclusive economy.  We envision an economy free of discrimination, worker abuse, wage suppression and monopoly corporate power and driven by a resilient local and regional food system. Rural America’s revitalization can only happen if federal and state governments adopt the agriculture and food policies that support independent family farmers, workers, local and regional businesses, and local and regional food systems. Our government must take steps to promote a local and regional food system over a food system controlled by global monopolies.

Taking Action at the State Level

As more consumers become concerned about where their food comes from and how it is produced and processed they are looking for locally produced foods. Taking advantage of this emerging demand, restaurants and retailers are pushing labeled products and menu items that are “farm to table.” Unfortunately, many times these claims are only greenwashing by industrial monopolies. This greenwashing denies independent farmers access to these markets. 

Family Farm Action Alliance is uncovering these label scams and calling out the abusers, working with state attorneys general to take action, and developing policies to provide greater protection for the farmers and the consumers.

States have granted most Departments of Agriculture two key areas of authority. They regulate agriculture and food businesses and they promote the state’s agriculture. With this authority they are key influencers on food and agriculture policy within their state. As both a regulator and promoter, it is critical to educate them on the negative impact the monopoly control of food and agriculture has on their state. As important is the need to educate and encourage them to be proactive on building a local and regional food system that is resilient, equitable, and sustainable. We focus on two policy areas within targeted states: cottage industry laws and local and regional food processing authority. The policy goal is to expand and further develop local and regional processing to support local foods.

Operating in a near state of poverty, Black-owned farms were often handed down to the next generation without passing through planned succession, leaving many Black farmers as squatters on their family farm without a clean deed of ownership. This issue was addressed in the most recent Farm Bill by providing a program to help black farmers gain recognized legal ownership of their farms, but more must be done. A few states have also addressed this issue to help remove the cloud over black farmers’ deeds, but this effort has fallen short in many key states. This issue is a priority for Family Farm Action Alliance and we are taking action on behalf of these farmers.

There is a growing trend among foreign countries and entities to invest in United States farmland. Between 2004 and 2014, foreign ownership of U.S. farmland doubled to over 27 million acres. Land acquired by foreign entities from 2000 to 2014 has a current value of $391.5 billion. Motivated by issues other than production value of the farmland, foreign investors artificially drive up the price of land, pushing it out of the reach of independent farmers, especially those wanting to start their own farms. While many states have reporting requirements or limitations on foreign ownership of farmland, most are too weak or are not enforced. Family Farm Action Alliance is working to raise awareness and sounding the alarm within targeted states on this issue which is denying independent family farmers access to the farmland they need to support a local and regional food system.

State and Federal Policy Development

We develop robust policy reforms that dismantle the hyper-consolidated food and agriculture system and cultivate opportunities through a resilient local and regional food system that will provide all workers, farmers, ranchers, local and regional businesses, and their communities with real economic prosperity.

  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) should be directed to ensure fair prices and access to land, credits, and markets for independent farmers, ranchers, and fishers – particularly Black, Indigenous, and immigrant producers of color, and to continue its focus on regional food systems and new and beginning producers.
  • Improve working conditions, pay, and protections for all food chain workers and ensure workers’ right to organize. Strengthen Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and enforcement practices, as well as Agricultural Worker Protection Standards. 
  • End the exploitation of incarcerated people for food production. 
  • Address injustices for farmers of color and create opportunities for the next generation of diverse farmers.
  • Secure the rights of Black farmers to own their farms through the adoption of heirship protection laws at the state level.
  • Promote the sovereignty of Native Tribes and their people ending the barriers they face in restoring their prosperity. 
  • Increase support for the Healthy Foods Financing Initiative to assist with the eradication of food deserts and areas where healthy foods are scarce.
  • Develop and support programs that secure funding for both physical infrastructure and peer-to-peer relationship building that will support long term resilient local and regional food systems.
  • Restore federal Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for pork and beef.
  • Secure the right of individuals and farmers to sell added value agriculture products to retail grocery outlets through state cottage industry laws.
  • Strengthen restrictions on the foreign ownership of farmland at the state level.
  • Provide government funding for Tribal self-governance programs.
  • Provide government funding for the development of infrastructure to support a resilient local and regional food system.
  • Provide tax incentives for individuals who invest in infrastructure and local and regional foods systems.
  • Remove regulatory barriers that hinder small and medium sized processing plants from being able to fairly bring local and regional foods to the consumer.
  • Adopt Commodity Research and Promotion Program (checkoff) reforms to stop these mandatory government assessments from being used to promote abusive monopoly control of our food and agriculture system.

Family Farm Action Alliance’s partner organization, Family Farm Action, advances our policy positions in both state and federal capitols. Together, we represent a seamless chain of action from research and policy development to the adoption of the policy through legislative action by elected officials who support our vision.

Family Farm Action assisted with the drafting of legislative packages, which, if passed, would place a moratorium on all large agriculture, food and beverage manufacturing, and retail grocery, would provide producer protections in the Packers and Stockyards Act, and would fund technical assistance for Black farmers to acquire legal title to their farms.