As 2021 comes to an end, we are using the opportunity to reflect on the incredible work that has taken place across the states over the last year. Whether that work has been to further equity and access for farmers of color, or advance critical soil health policy as a means to mitigate climate change, it is clear that advocates and policymakers are collaboratively working together to improve the lives of people living in rural and urban areas who work the land and grow food for their local communities.
Below is just a sample of some of the bills we’ve seen over the past year at the state level related to agriculture, food, rural communities, and the environment.
Farmer Equity & Justice for Black Farmers
After US Senator Cory Booker introduced the Federal Justice for Black Farmers Act in late 2020, different iterations of a farmer equity or justice for Black farmers bills were introduced in eight states. These bills addressed a variety of farmer equity issues including Black farmer land loss, barriers to finance and grants, and discriminatory policies in state agriculture departments. While not a bill, the state of Georgia appropriated $150,000 from its budget to support Black farmers to establish a food hub in rural Georgia.
By the numbers:
- 11 bills were introduced in 8 states to address inequities faced by BIPOC farmers;
- 2 bills introduced in North Carolina and South Carolina directed the state agencies to buy land and regrant that land to Black farmers;
- 6 bills promoted equity in agriculture by directing the state department of agriculture to conduct studies on the impact of state policies on farmers of color or create a commission to address the issue;
- 19 states have passed some version of heirs’ property laws.
Protecting Food & Farm Workers
Over the last year, COVID-19 has continued to shed light on the unjust and sometimes life-threatening conditions that food and farm workers face as they provide essential services that put food on the plates of millions of Americans. In fact, many food and farm workers are exempt from basic worker protections and labor laws. This past year, legislators have sought to increase the rights of farm workers by passing legislation that protects workers from dangerous heat and smoke, allows agriculture workers to organize, and grants overtime pay.
By the numbers:
- 6 states introduced bills that sought to improve the conditions that food and farm workers face.
- 3 states, Maine, Washington and Oregon, have all worked on agriculture worker overtime bills with significant bipartisan support.
- 2 states, Florida and California, worked on bills with the goals of addressing heat-related illness and dangerous wildfire smoke.
- 1 state, Colorado, enacted a sweeping bill to improve the rights of farm workers which included the right to organize and be paid overtime. This bill also removed the agriculture worker exemption from minimum wage laws.
Community Resilience Through Local Food
Over the course of this past year, the pandemic has continued to demonstrate that a centralized food supply chain is unreliable during times of crisis. Communities have realized that an alternative to the corporate-controlled supply chain is crucial in order to keep citizens nourished during times of uncertainty. In response, state policymakers have been working to build out local food processing infrastructure, increase equitable access to food and increase opportunities for homemade products to be legally sold from local farms or home kitchens.
By the numbers:
- 7 states introduced or amended Food Freedom bills making it easier for farmers and bakers to produce and sell food to their local communities;
- 27 states now have state inspected meat programs, with Oregon and Arkansas being the latest states to work on state-inspected meat legislation;
- 29 states have a version of Double Up Food Bucks, a 2-for-1 farmers market matching program. Using COVID-19 as an impetus, Hawaii expanded their Double Up Food Bucks program past the $10 matched limit.
- 2 states, Maryland and New Jersey, are the most recent to consider legislation to create state food councils;
- 2 states, California and Hawaii, are considering legislation to support community food hubs;
- 1 state senator worked with the state appropriations committee to secure $150,000 from the state budget to support a food hub project in rural Georgia.
Policymakers have found success in legislation that promotes healthy soils and regenerative agriculture practices. These bills have allowed state legislators to work across the aisle on issues that have a tangible impact on our climate crisis, while also providing resources to farmers in their district. Regenerative agriculture and soil practices are rooted in Indigenous and BIPOC cultures and communities and have demonstrated a remarkable ability to sequester carbon, while simultaneously improving soil health, which helps farmers to mitigate climate disasters.
By the numbers:
- More than 25 states considered some soil health or regenerative agriculture policy bill, with states like New York and Colorado enacting legislation to create a voluntary soil health program that incentivizes producers to implement climate friendly practices;
- 100% of tillable acres is the goal that Minnesota’s healthy soil bill is striving to convert to good soil health practices by 2040;
- 2 states, Utah and Virginia, considered creating a Healthy Soil Task Force
- $5 reduction on crop insurance premiums passed for Iowa and Illinois producers who plant cover crops.
If you are a state legislator interested in working on food, farm, environmental and rural issues next session. Reach out to us at [email protected]