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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

Must-read for progressive strategists: Mother Jones series on the Farm Bill

Welcome to Message Monday!


The Democracy Alliance, a major group of progressive funders, has a fine strategic approach to building power.  #2 on their top 4 priority list is this: “Expand the electoral map to win beyond the current battleground states, so we’re not always one election loss away from catastrophe.”


Expanding the map isn’t just about going beyond battleground states, but also going beyond metropolitan areas to rural America.  A while back, I talked about how Biden could mend fences with rural voters, who are either ignored or treated with contempt by most urban and suburban Democrats. 


City mice and country mice actually have common ground on important issues.  We could absolutely contest this terrain and ultimately win voters in rural areas – if we would only care about rural issues.  And monthly progressive stalwart Mother Jones knows that this matters enough to put real effort into explaining the Farm Bill, the core of the Federal government’s involvement in agriculture.  This bill is in play now.


Key progressive priorities are part of the Farm Bill


Here’s why you should care about the Farm Bill, even if you’ve never set foot on a farm, according to Mother Jones.

The farm bill is one of the most important but least understood pieces of US legislation, and it’s overdue for renewal. The 2023 omnibus law, which costs upwards of $100 billion a year, and which governs food stamps and most aspects of the US agricultural system, was supposed to be in place by Oct. 1.

But Congress couldn’t pass a new version, reflecting partisan dysfunction and also a contentious debate about what the bill ought to be—a debate that has become ensnared in the nation’s culture wars. Racial equity, food sovereignty, protections for workers, and meaningful action on climate change have broadened the bill’s traditional mandate of growing food and feeding hungry people.

In this special series that will run through the month of February, a partnership with the Food and Environment Reporting Network, we’ll be exploring some of the urgent issues a new farm bill must address. 

The Mother Jones Series

There are five stories in the series, all deeply reported, well written and concise, making complex policy issues understandable, and highlighting the political implications.  It would be a real investment of time to read the whole thing, no doubt about it.  But I believe that, especially for progressives looking for a long-term strategy to build real power in this country, it would be a good investment.

The first story is called Farmers Could Be the Nation’s Leading Environmentalists: Just tweak their subsidies.  This one does a great job of painting the beautiful tomorrow. 

Mother Jones notes that “the Federal subsidies —about $14 billion per year on average between 1995 and 2021—goes toward promoting commodity crops [corn and soybeans], compared with just $1.8 billion for conservation… These crops account for about 60 percent of US farmland, are used to fatten animals on factory farms, and deliver many of the sugars and fats in our ultraprocessed diets. Unsavory side effects of their production include planet-warming emissions, soil erosion, and polluted waterways…”

“So, for every dollar the department flashes in front of farmers to encourage them to grow [these harmful crops], it dangles just 13 cents to help them manage their land judiciously.” 

But there’s a better idea out there: why not flip the script, and make land management the FIRST priority?  Mother Jones suggests, “Want goodies from the USDA? Then show us your plan for preserving topsoil, controlling runoff, and slashing greenhouse gas emissions. The [commodity production] safety net would be contingent on farmers helping to preserve the ecosystems on which their livelihood relies.”  This kind of thing has been done before.

So I hope you’ll take the time to check out this very important series.  Thank you, Mother Jones.


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