By Laura Kington
As a seasonal farm employee and food system advocate, my post-grad years have consistently revolved around three seasons: planting, harvesting, and conference-ing. The last two years, I’ve worked at a flower farm on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio, the city where I grew up and where I remained after graduating from the Ohio State University’s College of Food and Ag., and the year prior to that I had my first season farming on a mixed vegetable CSA farm in eastern Iowa. Through the winters, I’ve organized with college students for the Real Food Challenge, with farmworkers of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and this year I’ve joined the team at the nascent political partner to OCM, Family Farm Action.
Alongside the Organization for Competitive Markets, Family Farm Action is helping to coordinate a farmer and rancher-led campaign to stop HR 4879/3599, harmful legislation introduced as an amendment to the upcoming Farm Bill by Iowa’s Representative Steve King. Misleadingly named the Protect Interstate Commerce Act, King’s legislation would wipe out state and local ability to have unique regulations and supports for agriculture, an attack on family farmers and rural communities who depend on both farmer support and consumer protection at the state and local level. More than 80 food and farm focused organizations have joined our coalition to fight back.
As an organizer with Family Farm Action working to spread the word about King’s harmful legislation, I’ve had the chance to attend six food and farming conferences this winter. The more strangers I’ve talked with, the more stories I’ve heard from farmers about how the King amendment could tip them over the delicate balance between being able to continue their way of life and losing the family farm, the more resolute I’ve grown in my dedication alongside the powerful team at Family Farm Action and OCM to stop King’s legislation from going through.
From the hyper local Eastern Kentucky Farmers Conference, to the state-focused Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association conference and the Michigan Family Farms conference, as well as state and national Farmers Union conventions and the national summit of the newly formed HEAL Food Alliance, a highly diverse swath of farmers and conference attendees agree that King’s attack on farmers and rural communities must stop.
For family farmers and farmers who are at a social disadvantage due to their race, scale, or marketing model, the King amendment would mean stripping supports for niche markets available through local food promotion programs or special placement at farmers’ markets.
For farmers and their advocates seeking to build a more ecologically sound agricultural system that reduces damage to local soil and waterways, the King amendment would wipe out environmental standards that impact the use of harmful chemicals and state laws that support farms practicing conservation through buffer zones.
And for those seeking a more equitable food system for underserved consumers and food chain workers, the King amendment could undermine important progress like the Good Food Purchasing Program and progress towards state policies around overtime pay or minimum wage for farmworkers.
At every conference focused on food and agriculture, there is necessarily an acute sense of place: each is distinct in terms of geography, agricultural niches, environmental challenges, and social strifes faced by farmers and their communities. This attention to diversity, to finding one’s niche, is an attribute that family farmers and ranchers have used to persist through generations of policy shifts impacting how we are expected to do business.
King’s legislation, which would wipe out state and local laws impacting food and agriculture, is an affront to this livelihood strategy and to the vast and diverse communities of farmers who gather each winter across the country to share skills and knowledge, motivate each other to keep working, and dream up visions for the future of agriculture.