Family Farm Action, a coalition of farmers and workers fighting to reverse rural economic decline, on Thursday released a comprehensive plan that outlines how the Biden administration can revitalize rural communities throughout the United States.
Along with 16 other organizations who endorsed the plan, Family Farm Action pointed out that "our food system is a key intervention point to bring about a more inclusive economy that addresses discrimination and respects our land, natural resources, and neighbors here and around the world."
"Today, a handful of corporations and their CEOs have the power to dictate who gets to farm, what they farm, and who gets to eat."
—Family Farm Action
"Addressing increasing corporate consolidation in our food systems," they said, "requires a robust federal response that revives rural communities and includes them in the decision-making process, letting them know they have not been forgotten."
Joe Maxwell, president of Family Farm Action, said in a statement that "for far too long rural America has been ignored by those in Washington, D.C. leading to poverty rates 30% higher in rural areas than urban areas, a loss of population which undermines the tax base for essential services, and hospitals hours away from the rural citizens."
The legacy of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris "will be built on how successful they are in transforming rural America into an economic hub of prosperity for all rural communities," Maxwell added.
The transition paper (pdf)—Build Back Better: Our Call to Action and Roadmap for Rural America—was co-signed by several progressive organizations including People's Action, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, and National Housing Law Project.
According to Family Farm Action, the roadmap "lays a foundation for bringing economic vitality to rural communities in the face of racial injustice, economic decline, climate change, and a devastating pandemic."
In order to create "a rural America where everyone has the opportunity to share in the prosperity they help build," the paper urged Biden and Harris to address five key issues:
- Intentionally involving rural Americans in the movement for a more just economy and food system;
- Rooting out systemic racism and creating opportunity for all;
- Democratizing the agrifood system;
- Combating climate change through rural innovation; and
- Modernizing rural infrastructure and investing in its people.
The revitalization plan argued that "today, a handful of corporations and their CEOs have the power to dictate who gets to farm, what they farm, and who gets to eat."
"If rural America is to be a thriving hub of economic opportunity for all," the authors wrote, "we must do more to end the stranglehold monopoly corporations have over our rural economies and end the wealth gap that exists."
Family Farm Action wants "young folks to want to stick around their hometowns to build a life and a stronger community," but to achieve this objective, the organization noted that "we must show the good that government can do."
The roadmap called for investing in rural communities, including farmers from marginalized groups that have been discriminated against.
Although impoverished rural communities are vulnerable to intensifying environmental disasters, they are also ripe with opportunities to combat climate change. The paper cited regenerative agricultural practices that can sequester carbon as well as "green manufacturing... with good-paying union jobs" as key examples.
In addition to moving toward a more sustainable model of food production and bringing clean energy engineering opportunities to rural America, the plan called for modernizing crumbling infrastructure and expanding access to broadband internet service.
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While the Biden administration's policy choices are crucial, Family Farm Action stressed that the individuals it selects to perform the work of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are equally important.
To this end, the coalition made dozens of personnel suggestions, including recommending Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) for USDA secretary.
Fudge, Maxwell said, "has a vision for our food and agriculture system that is inclusive of America's farmers, food chain workers, and local and regional businesses."
"We need a USDA secretary," Family Farm Action's president continued, "who will root out the historical discrimination within the department's farm programs."
@RepMarciaFudge has a vision for our food and agriculture system that is inclusive of America’s farmers, food chain workers, and local and regional businesses. We need a USDA Secretary who will root out the historical discrimination within the department’s farm programs.— Family Farm Action (@FarmActionUS) November 12, 2020
"We need a leader," the group added on social media, "who will lift up farmers with markets that work, not bailouts, who will restore food security for families, and who will restore Abraham Lincoln's vision for the USDA as 'The People's Department.'"
As some commentators have highlighted in the wake of the Democratic Party's relatively poor performance outside of most major metropolitan areas, a more progressive future depends in part on mending the worsening urban-rural divide.
Writing in The American Prospect earlier this week, Jake Davis and Bryce Oates argued that corporate Democrats' proximity to Big Ag is "no way to win elections" in rural America, where the party's Republican-lite approach has proven disastrous at the polls.
Instead, Davis and Oates said, Democrats ought to return to their New Deal roots to appeal to voters. "Nearly a century ago," they pointed out, "Franklin D. Roosevelt fostered an entire generation of rural Democrats by fighting for populist progressive values."
In line with Family Farm Action's proposals, Davis and Oates gave the following advice:
Run on real progressive values that resonate with rural people, things like providing a good job for everyone, especially in a new green economy that combats climate change. Build a diverse rural coalition by fighting to end the injustice of concentrated animal feeding operations, which make Black communities in the South unlivable. Help meatpacking workers and farmworkers by increasing their pay and providing safer workplaces. Build rural infrastructure like high-speed internet and good schools.
"Embracing corporate agribusiness," they added, " has been a complete failure, both politically and economically."
"It's time for a new strategy that embraces the racial, ethnic, political, and economic diversity of rural America," they wrote. "It's time to stand up to corporations again, so that there are no more rural sacrifice zones of pollution and despair. It's time to fight for the working class and the poor.
According to Davis and Oates, "That's how Democrats can win back rural America."