The Issue

A relationship with the natural environment is one of the most valuable parts of rural life. Hardworking rural Americans depend on the land and natural resources for work and play, and seek to be good stewards of the land in return.

In contrast, many of the dominant industries in rural areas are extractive, mining the land’s natural resources to make profit for distant corporate headquarters and leaving behind polluted soil and water. Today, the consequences of extractive industries are not just seen in abandoned mine pits, but in the higher rates of illness and lower property values for people living near large animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or contaminated well water from agricultural runoff or hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

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Framing: self-determination, security, stewardship

As policymakers, we can acknowledge the challenges and connect on solutions through shared values. Advocating for a food system that encourages rural Americans to be good stewards of the environment is our priority. The values of self-determination, security, and stewardship are powerful because these values are deeply held by hardworking Americans regardless of where they live or what they look like.

With the support of policy priorities that address environmental stewardship 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.


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 environmental stewardship:


  • Framing: Rural Americans care about policies that regulate CAFOs because they value local self-determination. Rural communities want the power to make their own decisions about important issues affecting their communities. They do not want faraway corporations or government officials making decisions that will impact the land they grew up on, the water they drink, or the air they breathe.
  • Example Statement: (Value) Hardworking rural Americans must be able to make their own decisions about issues that will impact their futures. (Problem) For years, agribusiness firms have pressured legislators to shift decision-making about siteing industrial-scale farm operations to the state, leaving local governments without a say. (Solution) State legislators must listen to family farmers and rural communities and draft a bill to give county governments a binding recommendation in the CAFO permit approval process.
  • Example Talking Points
    • Rural people know their communities best. They must have the final say on whether a new or expanded industrial-scale livestock operation is appropriate for their county.
    • When it comes to expanding large-scale livestock operations that could pollute our communities, decisions should be made by local governments, not at a corporate conference table.


  • Framing: Rural Americans value security, which is closely connected with a healthy environment. Pollution that threatens the land, water, air, and health compounds the stress of shrinking political power, inadequate healthcare, and narrowing economic opportunities. Progressive policy approaches to environmental protection can help establish the sense of stability and security that rural families need.
  • Example Statement: (Value) The safety and security of our communities is a top priority of hardworking rural Americans. (Problem) As an American, I should be able to trust that the water that comes from my faucet is safe to drink, but predatory fracking leases sold by outside energy companies put our community’s water in danger. (Solution) A fracking moratorium bill will protect families by keeping hazardous waste out of our water supply. .
  • Example Talking Points:
    • Local families, not Ag CEOs, are the ones who are ingesting the chemical contamination from CAFO farming in our local water supply. That’s why it’s those local families who should decide on local CAFO zoning and ordinances.
    • Our children and families can no longer enjoy our region’s beautiful rivers and lakes, because our waterways have unsafe levels of algae due to preventable agricultural runoff. We must work with our region’s farmers to implement standards for ag chemicals to keep our whole community safe.


  • Framing: Rural constituents are also invested in environmental protections because they value stewardship. In rural America, people are proud of their relationship to the land, air, and water that gives life to their families and local economies. They are also proud of the knowledge and culture of environmental responsibility passed from generation to generation that keeps this connection alive.
  • Example Statement: (Value) For generations, rural families have been good stewards of our air, water, and land. (Problem) But rural people cannot be good stewards if they do not have accurate information, which is why it is a problem that pesticide manufacturers often obscure data about how their products impact the pollinators that are so critical to our food supply. (Solution) That’s why I am working to pass a pollinator protection bill for our state that would direct the study of such pesticides and their effect on pollinators. (Action) To make sure that rural Americans have the information they need to be good stewards of the land, we need constituents to contact their representatives and tell them to pass the Pollinator Protection Bill.
  • Example Talking Points:
    • Through decades of feeding our families and our neighbors, we know best how to balance meeting market demands today and keeping our land healthy so it will provide for generations to come.

In practice: Media getting it right

Farmer Op-Ed | State, federal regulations of CAFOs are weak. It will take political courage to strengthen them, 2022

    • Sets up the fight as being between locally-based farmers doing their best in a tough environment on one side and corporate interests enabled by the government on the other, with a call to hold government accountable to local communities.
    • Establishes trust with readers by relaying credentials as a fellow farmer and knowing what it takes to be a food producer in a rural area.
    • Establishes values-based differences between family-owned (small and mid-size) farms versus the (lack of) values held by corporations.
    • Makes a clear call to action that emboldens the value of self-determination.
    • This op-ed was written by a farmer member of a grassroots rural advocacy organization.  There are groups like this in rural areas across the country; to see who is in your region, check out this organization list from SiX.  These organizations can be valuable partners in advocacy and messaging.
    • Or, as an elected official, figure out aspects of your personal story that connect with a rural audience, especially rural workers. Not a farmer? No problem! You can still effectively connect with rural communities by relaying a time when you felt you could not access self-determination.

Press release | Over Fifty Groups Petition EPA to Improve Oversight of Water Pollution from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, 2022

    • Establishes the problem through data on CAFO waste and its connection to public health and quality of life, clearly lays out a solution: for the government to intervene on behalf of people and communities rather than for big business. 
    • Includes the collection of stories from local impacted communities.
    • Documents the negative impacts of CAFOs on communities of color, including the health risks and overall lower quality of life.
    • Lead with both data and values.


To learn more and explore policy examples, visit our resources on CAFOs, clean energy, and air and water.

If you have questions or feedback about these communications guides, please be in touch with the SiX Agriculture and Food Systems Team. We love to hear from you!

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