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Earth Week 2021: Agriculture Policy as Climate Policy – NY’s A 5386

New York State Assemblywomen Donna Lupardo and Dr. Anna Kelles are just two of the legislators leading the policy efforts to position soil health as climate resiliency in New York. 

Assemblywoman Lupardo grew up in New York City. While her parents gardened in their later years, she gave little thought to where food came from beyond the grocery store. When she became a legislator and had a chance to meet farmers and learn about challenges facing our food and agriculture system, a new policy world opened up to her. She soon began working in earnest on food and agriculture policies to address some of these challenges. From support for local farmers markets, policies legalizing industrial hemp production, and revising craft beverage laws, her efforts to champion agriculture policy ultimately landed Lupardo as Chair of the Assembly’s Agriculture Committee, a position she still holds today. 

Assemblywomen Kelles’ familiarity with farming, on the other hand, started in her youth. She got her first job shoveling manure on a farm next to her childhood home and became passionate about soil health when she took a regenerative agriculture class in college. This led her down a path to work on an indigenous permaculture farm in Ecuador, where she learned about regenerative practices indigenous communities have used for generations. She received her doctorate in nutritional epidemiology, later creating a course on the impacts of agriculture on the environment. 

While Lupardo and Kelles have different backgrounds, their paths converged with their common belief that good agriculture policy can be good climate policy. They both feel strongly that diving deep into soil health is a great place to start. 

“In my opinion, soil health is one of the lowest-hanging fruits in our fight against climate change — and yet it is the most overlooked,” said Kelles.

NY A 5386, known as the Soil Health and Climate Resiliency Act, establishes a program to assist farmers in improving the health of their soil. The bill creates a funding stream to support research and would provide matching grants to fund projects which reduce greenhouse gas emissions, implement water management systems on farmland and encourage soil health and resiliency. The program is designed to prioritize socially disadvantaged farmers as well. 

Lupardo shares that though she is not a scientific expert, she feels “we are on to something with this bill. We can help farmers implement these adaptive soil practices while supporting researchers.” 

The advocates behind the Soil Health and Climate resiliency bill include the Northeast Organic Farmers Association, the National Young Farmers Coalition, regional soil and water conservation districts and the Soil Health Institute at Cornell University

Kelles points out that an inch of soil can take a 100-500 years to create, yet can be destroyed in 50-60 years with extractive practices.  

”Soil is this gorgeous beautiful ecosystem in and of itself,” said Kelles. “It is not soil unless it has all of the living creatures and porosity and organic matter. It is one of the greatest carbon sinks that we have, but it is under-appreciated, under respected, and abused.” 

The Soil Health and Climate Resiliency Act could help support farmers to transition to adaptive soil practices that are good for the climate. Backed with appropriations for research and funds for farmers and programming, the bill would also lay the foundation for a larger conversation in New York around agriculture policy as climate policy.  

Lupardo concludes, “We need to support a culture of soil health. We have been building a culture of local foods and now it’s time to go a bit deeper. We are all in this boat together — and legislators have a role to play.” 


About the Bill: NY A 5386

Co-Sponsors:  Didi Barrett  Anna Kelles  Emily Gallagher  Fred Thiele Steve Otis 

Where it’s at:  Referred to Agriculture 

Where it’s expected to go: It’s had amendments offered and is expected to get movement by mid-June.

About the Legislator: Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, Represents NY’s 123 district, in the legislature for 17 years, Chair of the State Assembly Standing Committee on Agriculture.

An Earth Day memory: “I was a founding member of Earth Day Southern Tier, a group formed in 1990 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Earth Day. This is one of the longest operating Earth Fests in the country. At one of the Earth Fests in 2013, I picked up a brochure on industrial hemp from a group working to legalize hemp as a crop. As a result, I  introduced legislation to legalize industrial hemp.” 

Advice to other legislators: “Find someone doing this and go hang out on the farm. That’s where I started. There is nothing better than getting out there and hearing the stories from the folks who believe in the work and are proud of what they are doing.”

About the Legislator: Assemblywoman Dr. Anna Kelles,  Represents NY’s 125 district and is in her first term.

An Earth Day memory: “My best Earth Day memory is when I go into the woods by myself and spend the entire day with the trees in spiritual retreat. You get the best answer on what the environment needs when you listen to it.” 

Advice to other legislators: “One of the most important things is to provide a funding mechanism to support specific practices that are good for soil.  If you want farmers to do low-till or no-till practices or use cover crops, we need to provide funds to support farmers to invest in the labor and capital costs of using these practices. They can’t do that if grants aren’t provided“

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