Rural Vermont: Standing Up for All Farmers | Perspective
We are fortunate in Vermont to have so many food co-ops, grocery stores, farm stands and local farmers markets, which offer fresh produce, meat, milk, cheese and more throughout. of the year. But in most of the supermarkets and convenience stores where the majority of people buy their food, where do you imagine their products come from? Can you imagine small, local, independent farms and ranches? This may have been true decades ago, but today a few powerful companies dominate the food industry, making it extremely difficult for small farms to compete.
Family farm debts and bankruptcies are on the rise in Vermont and across the country, with thousands of producers filing Chapter 12 in the past decade. The State Agriculture Agency’s January dairy data update shows that the number of small and medium-sized dairy farms in Vermont has declined significantly since 2012, while the number of large farms has more than double. For example, a few weeks ago, nearly 90 organic dairy farms in the Northeast (including 28 farms in Vermont) received a notification from Danone – a multinational food conglomerate that owns Horizon Organic – that their contracts will be terminated. in 2022.
You would think federal assistance programs would support the struggling small farmer, but unfortunately most of that support has gone to the larger, wealthier agribusinesses. Of the $ 4.9 billion in COVID-related aid funding in 2020 for the entire United States, more than three-quarters went to the top 20% of producers. In Vermont, non-dairy farm businesses, logging operations, and value-added food businesses were initially excluded from consideration for COVID relief funds – yet Rural Vermont, Northeast Organic Farming Association and other farm organizations have is lobbying the state legislature to place more than $ 6 million in the state’s COVID-19 farm aid program. Our immigrant neighbors and farm workers without immigration status would also have been overlooked by government relief efforts without the advocacy of Migrant Justice, farm worker leaders and others working in solidarity to achieve Vermont Coronavirus Economic Stimulus Equity Program, which has provided over $ 5 million to support these communities.
In the past, federal aid programs guaranteed farmers a fair price for their cost of production and prevented large corporations from controlling the market. But for much of the past 50 years, agricultural policy decisions have been stacked in favor of economies of scale and the consolidation and concentration of corporate power, pushing smaller-scale farms out of business. These practices have been particularly damaging to black farmers whose families have faced a long history of systemic racism and white supremacy in the United States, and well over a century of discrimination by the USDA. According to some estimates, the discriminatory practices of the USDA have deprived black Americans of $ 300 billion in wealth and made all family farmers poorer and more powerless.
Small and medium-sized farmers – white and black – are suffering. Our neighbors and our main streets in rural America are in crisis. So let’s get to the root of the problem: let’s right the wrongs done to black farmers, stop facilitating the consolidation and concentration of agriculture, stop bailing out the big agricultural corporations with taxpayer money, and start feeding the small and medium-sized. independent farms that bring out the very skills, products and relationships our communities rely on to survive.
Just like any crop needs sun and soil, we need better policies and better programs that build on each other to uplift us all: right now that means unlocking aid for farmers in color and exhort our Senses. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders to keep moving forward with their bill – the Relief for America’s Small Farmer’s Act – to alleviate the debt of all small family farmers.
The destinies of all farmers are intertwined. It is only by joining our efforts and working in solidarity with one another that we can all start to breathe again.
Graham Unangst-Rufenacht is Policy Director at Rural Vermont. He lives in Marshfield and is a member of the board of directors of the National Family Farm Coalition. He owns / operates Robinson Hill Beef, a grass-fed, finished beef operation in Plainfield.