Economic justice, for people and the land | Opinion

A legislative agenda to heal land and people

February 9, 2021 6:00 am

Family farms need help in the face of mega dairies, the writer argues. Photo courtesy of Organic Valley.

After the November election in which Minnesotans voted for climate action, economic and racial justice and caring for neighbors and the land, thousands of Land Stewardship Project members across Minnesota are building and exerting our power to win some of the bold, transformative changes Minnesotans are demanding — and we need you with us.

Whether it be a push for fair access to ag markets, investments in regenerative farming, or accessible, high-quality, affordable healthcare, one thread that connects all of LSP’s legislative priorities is economic justice.

For example, rural communities have been decimated by corporate consolidation and control — whether it’s on Main Street, in the meat processing industry, or on our crop and livestock farms. Consider the dairy sector: While a handful of large corporations and mega-dairy operations are consolidating and monopolizing, hundreds of Minnesota’s small and mid-sized dairy farmers have gone out of business each of the past six years. Each of those farms represents a family or group of people who are supporting their local economy, working in local businesses and institutions, participating in their community, and investing in the health of their land.

Just like when Walmart moves into a town and destroys Main Street businesses, a mega-dairy comes into a rural community and guts dozens of small and mid-sized farms. Instead of having 100 dairy farm families making an honest living with 100 cows each, one operation with a single 10,000-cow dairy hoards the wealth that could be generated by those families and spent in their communities. Farmers don’t get a minimum wage and can’t afford to keep operating as mega-dairies over-produce milk and use massive economies of scale to flood the market with milk so underpriced that all competition is drowned out.

That’s why LSP is organizing hundreds of small and mid-sized dairy farmers to win a moratorium on new or expanding mega-dairies. For economic justice for farmers. For rural economies. For all Minnesotans. 

We also are advancing economic justice when we invest in building the farm and food system we need and deserve, including:

  • Abundant local and regional markets.
  • A framework of new local processing facilities, providing jobs and livelihoods in rural communities. 
  • Accessible land, training, and capital for young and beginning farmers to get them started farming — particularly Black, brown, and Indigenous people who have been denied resources for generations.
  • Investing in regenerative and sustainable practices that nurture our land, water, and climate for current and future generations.

With this community-based foundation, farms can provide Minnesotans accessible, healthy, affordable food while bolstering local economies, enhancing the health of our land, cleaning our water, and sequestering carbon in the soil. 

All of this is in reach. LSP members are already organizing to set and achieve a statewide goal of getting 100% of our landscape covered in cover crops, perennial crops, and perennial pastures 365-days-a-year by 2040. Rep. Todd Lippert, DFL-Northfield, introduced House File 701, last week, and a Senate companion bill is coming. Accomplishing this will include securing necessary grants and ongoing payments to assist farmers in transitioning to and sustaining practices that build soil health and capture carbon. Innovative farming that generates public goods requires public support. Investing in soil-health practices such as managed rotational grazing or cover cropping will bring additional support to farmers in financial stress, clean up our water, and both mitigate and build resiliency from the climate crisis. 

Finally, we achieve economic justice through high-quality health care for all Minnesotans. We must take bold action together to ensure that every person in our state can easily get the care they need, regardless of their employment, income, immigration status, or geography. We can begin by opening up our successful MinnesotaCare program to all Minnesotans, rather than leaving people on their own to navigate the unaffordable and needlessly complex private insurance market. In the current system, high deductibles, co-pays and in-network requirements all add up to enormous barriers that too often prevent even those who do have insurance from actually getting care.

We cannot have a healthy, resilient landscape without healthy, resilient people stewarding it. Careful management of the land requires our farmers to be present on that land, not working a town job 40-hours-a-week just to qualify for health insurance, or traveling far from home because major health care conglomerates have cut essential medical services from their communities. Continuing to tie health care coverage to employment perpetuates economic injustice and holds people back from being able to farm, start small businesses, become self-employed, or focus on caring for loved ones. When the question of health care access controls so many major life decisions, none of us are fully able to thrive. We must build a system that is designed to meet the health care needs of people in all communities, rather than to feed corporate profits above all else.

Rural, urban, or suburban, we depend on each other to survive and thrive. Whether you’re in Saint Paul or Saint Peter, Lake Elmo or Lake City, Duluth or Dawson, our future depends on our decision-makers fulfilling our mandate for an economically just farm and food system, rural communities and Greater Minnesota. Please join us in making this transformative vision a reality.

To learn more, contact Amanda Koehler at [email protected].

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Amanda Koehler
Amanda Koehler

Amanda Koehler is a policy organizer at the Land Stewardship Project, which organizes to transform the farm and food systems and build thriving rural communities.