United States Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Collective Action

Explainer: Is Congress Actually Helping Organic Farmers?

There's a government push to explore regenerative farming. Here's what that can actually accomplish.

We talk a lot about individual action at Wild Elements, and how our small steps can lead to big changes. That’s 100% true, but we also need systemic change to help protect the planet and its people. Systemic change is when people push institutions—the government and big businesses—to make bigger changes on behalf of society, including (of course) the people that elected government officials have pledged to serve.

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On July 19, 2022, Congress took one step towards that goal with a hearing on regenerative agriculture. It included testimony on soil health, water quality, and plant resilience from 5 farming experts, including farmers, a sustainability professor, and a representative for Indigenous lands, along with questions from leaders like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York) and Representative Yvette Herrell of New Mexico.

You can watch the full session here, but if you don’t have time for C-SPAN today, no judgments! Wild Elements’ coordinator Erika Steiner was there to document the big day. Here’s a recap of some key points, and how you can help regenerative farming to thrive on a personal level, and a legislative one, too.

  • Our local agricultural communities can make a major difference for both people and the planet. Farms that transition to organic methods can improve water and soil quality, and by putting nutrients (not chemicals) back into the soil, they can also help sustain entire ecosystems in their region.

    But transitioning from conventional farming methods to regenerative agriculture takes resources many farms don’t have, so subsidies and support are key benefits the government should provide.

  • So look, regenerative agriculture is inherently (and unfortunately) political because it tackles two polarizing topics: climate change and regulations on big businesses. But the farmers and ranchers who testified at the hearing all said the same thing, regardless of their personal politics, their district, or their specialty.

    Whether it was plants, dairy products, or livestock, the farmers testified that regenerative farming has been better for their land and water health, their crop productivity, their fuel costs, and their bottom line. (It’s also better for biodiversity!)

    But transitioning from conventional farming methods to agricultural ones took time, space, and labor—in other words, a lot of money. And with American farmers already under stress, many can’t make the change without real systemic help from the government.

  • Statistically, clean food and water are harder to get in communities of color—and those communities are also the ones most affected by the climate crisis. Regenerative agriculture eases both these issues, providing nutritious and local food to all people while strengthening soil against erosion and flooding. And since regenerative agricultural practices are part of many indigenous tribal traditions, the practice can also be led and guided by native communities as part of the Land Back initiative restoring tribal sovereignty to the First Peoples.

  • Currently, “big agro”—major corporations involved in farming and food supply—control most of the market. And though government subsidies are currently available, they tend to benefit corporations over small farms and local farmers. Even worse, many elected officials have their campaigns funded by “big agro,” which isn’t… uh… ideal when they’re voting on bills that can make or break indie farms. So do a quick search of who’s supporting your local, state, and national representatives, and don’t be afraid to tell them (respectfully!) that you’re a voter and you care about soil health, regenerative farming, and how their district is getting fed!

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