• State Policy

    Ohio House Passes HB 95 to Help Farmers Overcome Land Access Challenges

    On June 28, by a vote of 96 to 1, the Ohio House passed the Family Farm ReGeneration Act, which could clear a major hurdle for the next generation of Ohio farmers and create greater resilience in our local food system!

    Thank you to everyone who has helped us get this far, by signing our petition, attending a hearing, or contacting a legislator. Your action really does make a difference!

    Access to—and secure tenure on—affordable, high quality farmland is the number one challenge young farmers face. At the same time, millions of acres of farmland is being lost to development or changing hands as older farmers retire.

    House Bill 95—sponsored by Representatives Manchester (R-84) and Lightbody (D-19)—will authorize tax credits for those who sell or rent farmland, livestock, buildings, or equipment to beginning farmers. It also provides a credit for beginning farmers who attend a financial management program.

    The past year has illustrated, in stark terms, the vulnerability of our food system, and the need to take steps to ensure that those interested in providing what is a paramount service to society—contributing to our food supply—are successful.

    You can help us get this important bill across the finish line and support beginning farmers and land access. Join us now in signing this petition and contacting your State Senator so we can make sure the Senate introduces and passes a companion bill for the Governor to sign.

  • Conservation,  General

    Unpacking Land Policy and What is Needed for a More Equitable Farming Future

    This guest post was written by Holly Rippon-Butler, Land Campaign Director with the National Young Farmers Coalition. The Coalition is a national advocacy network of young farmers fighting for the future of agriculture.

    Editor’s Note: To begin helping to address the challenges identified in this report, OEFFA is working to pass the Family Farm ReGeneration Act. The bipartisan House Bill 95, which would help beginning farmers access farmland and provide greater resilience to Ohio’s food system, has cleared its House committee hurdles and awaits a full House floor vote. If you care about these issues and would like to get involved, complete this petition to the Ohio legislature and call your Ohio House Representative today and ask them to bring HB 95 to the floor for a vote.

    This past year has highlighted the critically important role that young farmers and ranchers play in stewarding natural resources, advocating for policy change, and supporting food security. Yet, access to affordable, quality farmland—the key resource that these growers need—remains deeply inequitable and out of reach for far too many.

    The National Young Farmers Coalition released a new report, Land Policy: Towards a More Equitable Farming Future, that illustrates the critical connection between land, policy and power. The report highlights the challenges young farmers, and in particular, Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color (BIPOC), face accessing land and provides a detailed path forward through policy change.

    Young Farmers released this report alongside a new Land Policy website which includes profiles of farmers who are navigating the challenges of accessing land as well as a growing library of resources and policy solutions that lawmakers can implement now to facilitate secure, equitable land access for growers. Together, these resources provide a toolkit for farmers, policymakers, organizations and advocates to understand these issues and take action.

    Understanding the Issue

    Access to farmland remains the number one barrier facing aspiring farmers today, and this barrier is even higher for farmers of color. Land ownership is rooted in the dispossession of Indigenous land and centuries of stolen labor from people of color—both sanctioned through public policy—while the contributions these communities have made to U.S. agriculture remain largely unacknowledged. This history is essential to understanding the land access challenges young farmers face today.

    While the challenge of access to land is nearly universal, the nuances vary significantly depending on your vantage point. Farmers in arid parts of the U.S. must navigate complex management structures to secure necessary water resources. In urban areas, farmers grapple with zoning barriers and contaminated soil. Land-related challenges are compounded for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, farm workers, women, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ individuals due to the intersection of land access challenges with structural racism and other tools of systemic oppression.

    Part of the reason finding secure access to farmland is so complex is that farmers are not simply searching for land to grow on, they are looking for land to build a life upon. Further, land often changes hands without ever coming onto the formal real estate market, presenting a serious challenge for young farmers in particular, many of whom didn’t grow up in farming and aren’t connected to networks of landowners.

    These factors all intersect with the affordability of the land. The prospect of saving enough money for a down payment while employed in agriculture is an elusive promise. Paradoxically, gaining the skills to actually run your own farm business often puts that same dream out of reach. For many farm workers, especially those who have traveled to the U.S. to work, language barriers, legal obstacles, and ingrained systems of oppression in farm labor mean that the dream is even further removed from possibility.

    Ultimately, while it may be possible to find available land to grow on, accessing land where a farmer can have the security that they need to invest in the land and their business can prove to be a nearly insurmountable barrier. For many, land ownership will forever be out of reach and leasing might be the only option. But leases often prevent a farmer from building financial equity, locking them into low-income careers with little prospect of saving and few avenues to grow their businesses without valuable collateral to borrow against.

    Private Property, Land Loss and Wealth

    The system of private property rights, which is based on an extractive relationship with land, is at the root of the land access challenge. The fact that land is a limited resource that is steadily being degraded, alongside the impacts of generational wealth-building, further exacerbate the issue.

    Land as an entity that can be bought and sold is a settler-colonial construct. This framework has been enforced through the United States’ political and legal systems, and it has been used to dispossess Indigenous people of billions of acres of land. Land has been tied to wealth extraction from every community of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in America since Columbus. The result is deep inequity—98 percent of farmland in the U.S. is owned by white people and 95 percent of farmers are white.

    This inequity exists against the backdrop of numerous other challenges—the cost of land is rising, the climate crisis threatens farm viability, farm consolidation marches on, land continues to be developed at an alarming rate, and the agricultural land that remains is increasingly owned by non-farmers.

    Strikingly, the USDA estimates 30 percent of farmland is now owned by non-farmers; 40 percent of farmland is leased; and nearly 45 percent of landlords have never farmed. As investor interest in farmland grows, the consequences are significant for farmers who cannot compete in terms of price or speed of purchase.

    And that competition is getting steeper as the resource itself dwindles. According to the American Farmland Trust, farmland is lost at a rate of 2,000 acres per day. The land that is paved over and turned into housing developments is disproportionately high-quality land around urban areas, precisely where young farmers want to grow.

    As land is lost from agriculture or sold to non-farmers, farmers themselves are competing for what remains and being driven towards economies of scale that perpetuate consolidation of land. Forty-one percent of farmland in the U.S. is operated by just over 7 percent of the farms.

    Who Owns the Land Matters

    Land ownership has a cumulative effect on farm viability. When farmers own land, they can leverage that land to capitalize further land purchases, infrastructure investments, or other forms of saving that benefit future generations. The effects are clear: in the Coalition’s 2017 survey of young farmers across the country, the average farm size of respondents who came from farm families was 87.25 compared to 12 acres for those from non-farming backgrounds.

    Who owns the land matters in part because a lot of wealth is tied up in farmland. The overall value of farm real estate in 2020 was forecast to be $2.58 trillion, accounting for over 80 percent of all 2020 farm sector assets. Access to this land and wealth is directly tied to the ability to succeed in agriculture. However, the problem is bigger than simply who owns the land. We must look critically at the policies that have perpetuated commodification and inequity in land over centuries.

    Land, Policy and Power

    Land is a canvas where the results of a racialized system that uses extraction as a tool is made visible. If we are going to advocate for policies that move towards a more equitable farming future, we must understand the ways in which policy and land have been deeply intertwined to create our present reality.

    Land has been tied to controlling access to political power ever since colonial land laws prohibiting non-white ownership and restricting voting to those who owned land. Once in power, those individuals proceeded to enact policies designed to perpetuate their control of land-based resources. Strategies of this work have included dispossession and fractionation, employing state-sanctioned violence; redistribution of land to white individuals; and denying access to the resources necessary to acquire and hold land, such as home mortgages and farm loans.

    Once the system of land ownership that privileged white male landowners was established, tax laws and programs that provide government dollars to landowners have continued to benefit these owners without explicit statements of discrimination. These strategies have played out through executive orders, legislative action, judicial rulings, and administrative implementation. These tools of oppression can be turned to tools of liberation, but dedicated advocacy is required.

    In the face of this history, there is an equally strong narrative of resistance and innovation from communities of color. Many of the practices of what we call sustainable, regenerative, and organic farming in fact come from BIPOC communities. Tools such as land trusts, community supported agriculture, and critical policy advocacy that have advanced civil rights in the face of land-based discrimination have been led by those communities. The history of resistance is equally important and forms the framework on which we will learn and build our current resistance and dismantling work.

    Why Now?

    Secure access to land is the foundation of vibrant communities, food sovereignty, climate resiliency, and sound farm businesses. It is critically important for food safety, mental health, market access, farm planning, soil improvements, and navigating severe weather events.

    A greater percentage of U.S. farmland than ever before is farmed by individuals nearing the end of their career – meaning hundreds of millions of acres are expected to change hands in the coming decade. This represents an incredible opportunity to shift power and resources, but bold policy change is needed. If we do nothing, the forces of wealth accumulation and extraction from the land will continue, and we will lose a generation of young growers who are trained and stand ready to grow food for their communities.

    Policy Action

    As illustrated, public policy is at the heart of land use and many of the challenges that farmers face accessing land. Policy has shaped our food system and must be part of the bold, systemic change required to tackle its interconnected challenges. As millions of acres are predicted to change hands in the coming years, there is a real opportunity to work towards land justice, rematriation, and more equitable models of land access that put land in the hands of young, diverse farmers.

    Young Farmers’ report offers a path forward through key principles to guide policy solutions, as well as important, actionable steps that policy makers can implement now to create more secure, equitable land access for the next generation of growers.

    Specifically, the report calls on policymakers to act now to:

    1. Eliminate inequities in land ownership and access;
    2. Protect farmland for producers;
    3. Facilitate appropriate, affordable, and secure land tenure; and
    4. Support farm viability and transition.

    The report acknowledges and uplifts the work that farmers, and farmers of color in particular, are doing to address inequity and land access challenges through organizing in their communities, and urges policy makers to reflect the values and examples embedded in that work.

    For more detailed state, federal, and local policy recommendations, see the full report.

    Land is fundamental to survival. Access to this resource should not be a privilege. As we work toward a future defined by racial equity, community well-being, and climate resilience, land must be centered in our policymaking and our organizing.

    About the National Young Farmers Coalition

    The National Young Farmers Coalition (the Coalition) is a grassroots network of farmers, ranchers, and supporters fighting for a more bright and just future for agriculture. Since 2010, we have launched 48 farmer-led chapters across the United States and built a grassroots base of more than 200,000 individuals. The Coalition helps young farmers become leaders in their communities through local chapter organizing, ensuring they have a seat at the table in local, state, and national policy decisions. We address structural barriers facing young farmers through farm bill advocacy, United States Department of Agriculture program reform, and by training key stakeholders and service providers to better serve the next generation. In addition, we provide business services to young farmers, offering tools, resources, and technical assistance to help them navigate business challenges and seize market opportunities.

  • Climate Change

    Tell the USDA Investments in Organic and Regenerative Agriculture Will Help Address the Climate Crisis

    Time is running out! Comments are due by Thursday, April 29!

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now requesting input on agricultural solutions to climate change through this open docket.

    We know that organic and regenerative farmers use the kind of holistic, systems-based practices necessary to limit greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions, sequester carbon, and mitigate the damaging effects of increasingly severe weather. Certified organic agriculture has a 20-year track record as the only USDA-accredited, voluntary, system-based approach to ecological agriculture that has soil health at its foundation and limits outside inputs that contribute to GhG emissions.

    As sustainable farmers and organic advocates, this is our opportunity to support organic and regenerative agriculture solutions to the climate crisis, share their benefits, and shape the USDA’s climate agenda for years to come.

    Specifically, the USDA is seeking your input on these two important questions:

    1. What can the USDA do now with existing programs to encourage voluntary adoption of farming practices that sequester carbon, reduce GhG emissions, and ensure resiliency to climate change and what can be done with new resources and strategies?

    Suggested Talking Points

    The management practices associated with organic agriculture focus on soil building techniques and reducing the need for off-farm inputs which are a persistent emitter of nitrous oxide, a long-lived GhG. Long-term studies demonstrate that organically managed soils have increased water holding capacity and better water infiltration, which are also key adaptations necessary for farmers to survive and thrive in the years ahead.

    The USDA can address this crisis by:

    • Providing increased investment in Natural Resources Conservation Service conservation programs that, with a focus on reduction of GhG, carbon sequestration, and climate mitigation, will help organic and regenerative farmers to significantly amplify their practices and support conventional farmers looking to improve their stewardship and be part of the solution;
    • Elevating and promoting organic management systems as a premier approach to address climate change and create a plan for significant increases in organic research at the Agricultural Research Service and National Institute for Food and Agriculture;
    • Abandoning the policy that it cannot extol the benefits of organic management for fear of offending conventional agriculture and instead promote the good work that is being done by organic producers across the country;
    • Creating a new Conservation Reserve Program agroforestry initiative to encourage transition to perennial production;
    • Offering insurance premium subsidies for the adoption of climate-smart regenerative agricultural practices; and
    • Increasing the minimum payment for participation in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CS) and rewrite the CSP rule to emphasize and encourage the holistic systems of practices that work synergistically to address climate and ecological health.

    2. How can the USDA ensure that the funding, programs, and outreach effectively reach and equitably serve all landowners, producers, and communities?

    Suggested Talking Points

    The USDA can improve access by:

    • Identifying and engaging communities of color at all stages of the USDA process;
    • Engaging diverse farm groups in gathering input and enlist them in disseminating information and resources; and
    • Cross-training USDA agency staff to be able to speak to programs within other agencies and to connect these communities, landowners, and farmers with the USDA staff who can address their needs.

    The USDA needs to hear your voice. Please take a few minutes to submit brief comments to the Federal Register today and help create a more sustainable agricultural agenda for the future.

    Writing effective comments only takes a few minutes! Here are some tips:
    • Put suggested talking points in your own words. Unique comments stand out.
    • Share related personal experience, if any. Personal stories make comments more impactful.
    • The best comments are brief and to the point. Bullet points can be a useful way of conveying information at a glance.

    Read OEFFA’s comments to the USDA, submitted April, 27, 2021.

  • Climate Change

    Can a Carbon Bank Help Solve the Climate Crisis?

    By Guest Blogger Eve Gleeson

    With the new Biden administration comes the emergence of fresh ideas to tackle climate change and environmental degradation. A potential “carbon bank” for farmers has begun to gain traction, which would be able to reward farmers for sequestering carbon into soils by selling the resulting credits to corporations who wish to offset their emissions. While well-intended, there is no shortage of obstacles to creating a carbon bank that is as equitable, sustainable, and effective as its proponents suggest.

    A carbon bank would be a product of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), a U.S. Department of Agriculture program responsible for financing agricultural support programs like subsidies and aid payments. In a perfect world, the program would be equipped with the technical and logistical dexterity to monitor soil carbon levels on farms, calculate “credits” and pay farmers according to each ton of captured carbon, and serve as a mediator between credit-producing farmers and credit-buying corporate entities.

    Despite the challenges, a carbon bank may impart considerable benefits.

    First, advocates claim that if only $1 billion were dedicated to the program annually (CCC is authorized to lend up to $30 million), there could be atmospheric carbon reductions of around 50 megatons per year with carbon prices at $20 per ton. As we will see, the environmental impact of this program is far more complicated than these figures suggest. For this reason, the program may be more useful in a symbolic sense, encouraging a movement toward cultural and behavioral norms that embody sustainability, especially within the food system. Commoditizing a natural resource (in this case, soil carbon) is understandably controversial, but it has great power to convey the value of ecosystem services to a profit-oriented financial system.

    Lastly, though likely to falter in its early stages, a carbon bank may offer a short-term solution to a time-sensitive climate crisis, as the systemic and institutional changes we really need may take decades we simply do not have. Given its potential, healthy criticism shouldn’t precipitate a premature dismissal of government-backed carbon markets. As with most innovation, this program might just require several years of troubleshooting before coming into its own.

    Unfortunately, this carbon bank does pose some structural and conceptual challenges that may make it a non-starter.

    If designed correctly, [a carbon bank] could successfully incentivize ecological stewardship. But at present, this program may only serve to enrich corporate landholders, stagnate genuine land regeneration, and neglect more integrated movements toward a sustainable food system.

    First, there is a general absence of objective and affordable measurement tools for monitoring changes in soil carbon. This results from a poor understanding of how carbon functions in soil, frequent incremental changes in carbon levels, and high variability in soil carbon across soil types. Consequently, there is immense variability in soil carbon measurements across farms, putting additional pressure on a carbon bank to standardize and assign value to something that is by nature highly variable and volatile.

    Like other carbon markets, this carbon bank could cater to corporate and industrial operations, while disadvantaging the small-scale independent farmers that are truly regenerating damaged lands through holistic practices. Because this program would pay landowners for capturing atmospheric carbon, it could also exacerbate land-grabbing practices by corporations seeking to profit off the program. Small and diversified farms, who provide various ecosystem services and other benefits for the food system, could be overtaken by industrial operations that profit better in a carbon marketplace. This could worsen the struggle many new farmers face in accessing affordable farmland.

    More generally, a carbon bank could further benefit a small group of corporate landholders, who already own over 75 percent of all agricultural production in the U.S., while overlooking the system that caused too much atmospheric carbon in the first place– the manufacturing and fossil fuel industries. This brings me to my last point.

    There may be legitimate environmental costs associated with this program.

    Exclusive attention is often paid to greenhouses gases, particularly carbon, in climate change discourse, pointing to our obsession with siloing the often complex causes of and solutions to climate change. This carbon bank is no exception. Assigning value to carbon but not other forms of natural capital narrows our understanding of ecological health both on and off the farm. Carbon can be sequestered into soils even with the continued use of pesticides and monocropping, practices that damage biodiversity, produce nutrient-depleted crops, and pollute the environment.

    A carbon credit program like this one also entitles corporations to continue their emissions-intensive practices, though they may now effectively greenwash their products and operations. There is also no indication that these programs can significantly reduce greenhouse gas levels in the long run; the volatility of soil carbon means that changes in land practices or weather events could release stored carbon that has already been credited.

    How might a carbon bank impact farmers in the Midwest?

    Existing carbon marketplaces like Indigo Ag or Nori are designed around collecting credits racked up by large landholders. The average size of these corporate farms is 1,000 acres; approximately 90 percent of OEFFA farmers hold less land than this. As such, most small-scale farmers in the Midwest are unlikely to be included in a carbon bank, as the high cost of the program requires participants that can demonstrate soil carbon changes substantial enough to amass credits. Even if they were included, profiting significantly would be a struggle. With the cost of carbon at just $20 per ton, and most Midwest farms capable of sequestering between half a ton and one ton of carbon per acre, independent farmers are unlikely to strike gold the way industrial farms might.

    If we look hard enough, we might just be able to see the opportunity a carbon bank bestows for sparking a greater movement toward sustainable cultural and economic trends.

    If designed correctly, it could successfully incentivize ecological stewardship. But at present, this program may only serve to enrich corporate landholders, stagnate genuine land regeneration, and neglect more integrated movements toward a sustainable food system.

    Born and raised in Cleveland, Eve Gleeson is a sustainability consultant, freelance writer, and an intern at Food Tank. You can find her spreading knowledge and resources about sustainable food on Instagram, Twitter, and her website. She can be reached at evegleeson@gmail.com.

  • Conservation,  State Policy

    Family Farm ReGeneration Act Heads to House Floor

    The Ohio House Agriculture Committee has unanimously passed House Bill 95, the Family Farm ReGeneration Act, putting us one step closer to achieving much-needed support for beginning farmer land access and providing greater resilience to Ohio’s food system!

    Sponsored by Representatives Susan Manchester (R-84) and Mary Lightbody (D-19), the bill now heads to the full House for a floor vote.

    The Family Farm ReGeneration Act provides an important bridge between landowners and land seekers, authorizing tax credits for those who sell or rent farmland, livestock, buildings, or equipment to beginning farmers. It also provides a credit for beginning farmers who attend a financial management program.

    Because farmland is so hard to find, first generation beginning farmer and OEFFA member Jason Ward farms more than 30 parcels of land spread across four counties and 20 miles. “Increasing pressure from large corporations and investors on landowners to sell their farmland for development purposes has been detrimental to small family farmers like me. The availability of farmland continues to decline at an alarming rate, yet there is currently no incentive for landowners to take a chance on beginning farmers, such as myself,” Jason said.

    Ohio lost almost 1 million acres of farmland since 1997 and nationally, 100 million acres of land will change hands in the next few years, putting even more land at risk for development.

    The good news is that there are next generation farmers excited about entering a career in agriculture, but access to land is the biggest barrier they face. Now is the time to take action to help get new farmers on the land, so that we have a future for Ohio’s food and agriculture industry.

    If you support beginning farmers and farmland access, help us get this important bill across the finish line! Sign this petition now and show Ohio’s lawmakers how overwhelming the support is for beginning farmers!

  • General,  State Policy

    Find Our Where Your Local Candidates Stand on Food and Farm Issues

    The election season is well underway. 

    As you ponder who will get your vote in the upcoming election, OEFFA, in partnership with the Ohio Farmers Market Network, Produce Perks Midwest, and the Ohio Food Policy Network, compiled an Ohio Candidate Questionnaire—a list of seven questions you can use to find out where each candidate stands on important food and farm issues related to climate, food access, and local food systems. 

    There is an urgent need to help candidates understand the challenges Ohioans face every day in accessing healthy food, as well as those faced by farmers working to provide that food.

    Hold your candidates accountable this season and ask them to champion your priorities!

    How to Contact Your Candidates

    Here are some ways you can contact your local candidates to learn about their positions:

    • Attend an in-person or online debate or town hall
    • Call or email them
    • Post to their social media page or tag them on social media

    More Candidate Resources

    In July 2020, OEFFA and our partners released “Opportunity in a Time of Crisis: Recommendations for Building a More Resilient Ohio Food System.” This report is another resource to reference as you interact with candidates.

    Finding Your Candidates

    Finding your candidates’ schedules can be difficult! Check out your candidates’ websites and Facebook pages for their latest news or call their office if necessary. Other helpful resources are: County Boards of Elections; County Democratic Party Events page; and County Republican Party Events page.

    Voting in Ohio

    Have a question about voting in Ohio? Visit the Ohio Secretary of State website today.

    Thank you for participating in the democratic process with us! Please contact us to let us know what you hear!

  • Climate Change

    National Climate Week: Agriculture Solutions to the Climate Crisis

    Since 1961, food production has increased by 240 percent, the use of synthetic nitrogen has increased by 800 percent, and land degradation has increased by 200 percent.

    As a result, agriculture accounts for about 13 percent of carbon dioxide, 40 percent of methane, and 82 percent of nitrous oxide greenhouse gas emissions.

    But, while agriculture is a significant contributor to the greenhouse gases causing the climate crisis, it can also be part of the solution. Resilient, sustainable agricultural systems can sequester carbon and benefit our climate, while improving public health. Land management-based responses to climate change can also help improve public health, eradicate poverty and hunger, and decrease food waste.

    This year’s extreme rains, floods, and delayed planting have brought home the urgent need to address the climate crisis and its impacts on agriculture.

    Now is the time to join thousands of other producers across the nation to ask policymakers and federal administrators to help us meet the challenges of a changing climate and become part of the solution.

    As a member group of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, OEFFA is gathering signatures on a Farmer Letter on Climate Change Solutions in Agriculture. Beginning in the spring of 2020, we will use this letter in meetings with members of Congress, USDA program leaders, and other key decision-makers to urge effective policy action to combat climate change, and especially to help farmers and ranchers weather the storm and lead the way toward a more sustainable future.

    Please take a moment now to add your name to letter and stand with farmers across this nation during National Climate Week.

    There is no time to waste. We must rise to meet the challenges we face and champion policies that support sustainable, organic agriculture systems to protect our planet for the future.

    Note that we are specifically seeking signatures from farmers, as defined by USDA (producers who sell at least $1,000 in farm products annually). If you are not making an income from farm products, please share this sign-on opportunity with the farmers you know, or at farmers’ markets or farm stands where you shop.