GROWING EQUITABLE FOOD SYSTEMS
It’s often hard to talk about race particularly in today’s polarized political climate. Talking about race in farming can be especially hard because the farm system is stacked against family farmers as a whole. Most farmers – whether white or Black, new or experienced – have experienced high prices for what they buy and low prices for what they sell, a farm economy that feels rigged in favor of the big guys, and years when they weren’t sure they would make it. There is no doubt that it is challenging to be a family farmer in the US today.
It is even harder for farmers of color, and Black farmers in particular. Black farmers face ongoing discrimination and continued debt from a century of well-documented discrimination by banks and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) itself. Black farmers have lost 11.3 million acres of land since 1910 and now make up only 1.4% of the farm population; one estimate suggests that USDA discrimination triggered a loss of $300 billion in Black wealth. Other racial inequities abound in the food system. As just one example, the vast majority of food and farm workers are non-white immigrants, while these are some of the dangerous jobs in the country. All of these injustices are interconnected, but this divisive political moment tells us that we must guard what we have, rather than seeking common cause with those different from us in order to gain more for all.
FRAMING: FAIRNESS, COMMUNITY CARE, INNOVATION
As policymakers, we seek to unite communities across shared values. Advocating for a farm and food system that provides fair pay and equitable opportunities for all is a top priority. The values of fairness, community care, and innovation are powerful because these values are deeply held by hard working Americans regardless of where they live or what they look like.
Championing legislation that centers on shared values enables you to create a shared vision of what our future could look like if we work together; clearly names the problems we encounter keeping us from this shared vision; claim the solutions needed to solve our problems, and call your audience to take action with you to get us closer to that shared vision (This is called the VPSA model.).
With the support of policy priorities that address equitable food systems like those below, local communities will have what they need to solve local problems. Opposition continues to talk at families, we are forging a new path to ensure legislators are speaking with families. By using effective communication strategies, we can neutralize inflammatory language, unite our coalitions, and pass the policies we all need.
USE SHARED RURAL VALUES TO CRAFT YOUR MESSAGE
Effective communication requires not only facts but leveraging the values people share to resonate across race, class, age, gender, and place. The best messages follow the VPSA model: Values, Problem, Solution, Action. First, we unite along shared values to introduce the issue, then demonstrate the collectively-held problem, name the solution to the problem, and finally, when appropriate, leave with a call to action joining you to solve the problem. This formula keeps our messages concise while disarming opponents who seek to divide us. To get you started, here are three rural values that are particularly relevant for communicating with rural constituents about the issues of food system equity:
- Framing: Rural Americans value fairness. Most rural families want the same thing: to ensure they can keep a roof over their heads and provide quality, nourishing food to their families. This can only happen when workers are getting their fair share so each person can provide for their family as they need.
- Example Statement: (Value) Everyone deserves fairness under the law. (Problem) For generations, USDA employees have denied loans to Black farmers and provided them less financial assistance than to equally qualified white farmers – leading many Black farmers to lose their land and farms. When lenders and county commissioners don’t administer rules fairly, it weakens the whole institution of family farming and makes everyone less secure. (Solution) Fair treatment and investment in Black-owned farms protects a strong future for all independent farmers and their communities.
- Example Talking Points:
- Farm workers should be afforded the same protections as fair labor All farmers need fair access to loans and other opportunities. Farmers who have been left behind because they were denied loans due to discrimination require additional tools to bring them to the same starting line.
- Farmworkers deserve the same dignity as any other workers and must be included in state fair labor standards.
- An hour worked is an hour worked. There should not be a difference in overtime pay law for farmworkers and the rest of the labor market.
VALUE: COMMUNITY CARE
- Framing: Rural Americans care deeply about each other and their communities. Community care can look like a community-owned food pantry drive, sharing deep freezer space after a successful hunting season, or a farmer-owned fuel cooperative to share costs. Rural people work together to take care of each other.
- Example Statement: (Value) In rural America, we look out for our neighbors, whether they look like us or not. (Problem) Our immigrant neighbors working in fields or factories to put food on our tables are unprotected by basic labor standards, leaving them vulnerable to dangerous working conditions and low wages. (Solution) Standing up for the rights of all of our neighbors builds a stronger community. We all do better when everyone has the tools and opportunities they need to build a good life and look out for others. (Action) We must pass my proposed Farmworker Bill of Rights to guarantee basic rights to our neighbors who do the essential work of putting food on our tables.
- Example Talking Points:
- In our community, being a good neighbor means making sure every family has what they need, including access to the natural resources that sustain us.
- Rural communities have long known how to put food on their tables and keep their neighbors fed. It’s time we invest in local and regional food systems that build on this long experience.
- Cooperatively-run businesses support working families, keeping money and decision-making in local hands. Investment in cooperatives is a way for our community to do better by working together.
- Framing: Rural families value innovation as a way to address challenges. Due to isolated geography and sheer grit, rural communities often creatively and collectively solve their own problems. Whether fixing broken farm equipment or fixing broken policies, rural families have long thought outside the box to come up with solutions to day-to-day problems.
- Example Statement: (Value) Our rural communities have been home to inventors and problem-solvers since long before homesteaders arrived. Many agriculture practices developed by Tribal communities offer ecological ways to mitigate the climate crisis. (Problem) Some state policies violate Native treaty rights and make it hard for Tribal nations to practice and expand their traditional and climate-friendly practices. (Solution) Our bill protects Tribal food sovereignty and removes barriers to farm practices that benefit our environment.
- Example Talking Points:
- Hardworking rural Americans have always innovated to make use of limited resources. There is no shortage of creative talent in rural communities, we simply need policy tools to support the innovation already happening.
Black farmers and innovators have shaped agricultural science, but today fewer than 2% of farmers are Black. Equitable access for Black farmers to the tools and opportunities they need to succeed will foster new contributions to the agricultural field.
- Weather patterns have always forced farmers to think creatively and act quickly. As climate disruptions impact the food system on a much larger scale, we will need continued innovation from hardworking farmers who best know the land.
In practice: Media getting it right
Newspaper coverage | New wave of lawmakers creates voices for Black farmers in state legislatures, 11/16/2021
- WHAT WE LIKE
- Leads with values – (fairness) “Different legislators in different states, with farming in their past or present, hope to steer a fair future.”
- Race-forward – “‘I’m having a hard time going on record saying this, but this is just the facts,’ she said. ‘In Georgia, funding has gone to people who know people. And when your commissioner and all the commissioners in Georgia have been white men and white farmers, they’ve helped out their friends.’”
- Builds a bigger we – “‘There is solidarity amongst farmers, no matter what your race is,’ Sen. Jackson said. ‘We know what it is to work outside. We know what it is to work with your hands. We know how fickle the industry can be. I’m excited to be turning a new page.’”
- MOVING FORWARD:
- Add local coverage – public opinion research consistently shows that local media outlets are the news sources most trusted by rural voters.
Social media post | “Today the Governor signed House Bill 123, cementing State recognition of Alaska Tribes into law…” 7/28/22
- WHAT WE LIKE:
- Leads with values – (stewardship) “Tribes have quietly been doing excellent work, as government in its most local form and stewarding this land we now know as Alaska, since time immemorial.”
- To the point – In the top two sentences, this post clearly names the policy, its champions, the values, their efforts, and the policy’s impacts.
- Focuses on assets – “Our cultural heritage is a resilient strength that holds up communities, families, and ultimately Alaska.”
- MOVING FORWARD:
- Imagery – A short video could be stronger than static images, posting multiple images together actually makes each image smaller and harder to see–ultimately making the post less engaging.
Press release | IL Rep Sonya Harper, “Harper Creates Agriculture Equity Commission to Help Minority Farmers” (6/7/2022)
- WHAT WE LIKE
- Race forward – “‘This commission will review the current adversities that minority farmers face in the industry,’ Harper said. ‘This is a bedrock industry in Illinois that should better reflect our state’s diversity.’”
- Follow-up made easy for reporters – There is clear contact information for the representative, and this release includes links to the representative’s social media page and website.
- MOVING FORWARD:
- Values could be clearer – This story could be made more compelling by explicitly naming which communal rural value is motivating this policy move. For example, the shared rural value of fairness could be a strategic choice for this issue.