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Northeastern Farmers Need a Robust Farm Bill to Meet Challenges

Photo: Robert Rodriguez, Jr.

How important are the 80,000 farms in the Northeastern states stretching from Maine to Pennsylvania?

These farms:

  • Supply the freshest, healthiest food to 43 million people;
  • Contribute more than $70 billion to the economy;
  • Sustain nearly 340,000 jobs; and
  • Are evolving into increasingly critical supports for sequestering carbon and combating climate change.

That’s quite an impact. Yet the U.S. Farm Bill — the federal government’s chief means of support for farms and farming — provides relatively little aid to these primarily small and mid-sized family operations.

The Northeast Climate Alliance (NECA), founded by Scenic Hudson and partners in 2020, is trying to change that.

With the Farm Bill up for reauthorization by Congress next year, NECA is uniting farmers, farm organizations, and groups that conserve farmland to ensure the upcoming bill will address the unique concerns of Northeastern farmers and the long-overdue need for strengthening opportunity, equity, and diversity in agriculture, especially for Black and Indigenous farmers.

While NECA is focused on helping farmers and other land managers adopt practices that sequester carbon, it recognizes that to be part of the climate solution — and meet growing demands for locally-produced food — farms must remain viable. Keeping them in business depends on confronting issues such as turbulent markets and supply chain bottlenecks that make farming in the region so unpredictable. Another imperative: filling the void created by the large number of farmers approaching retirement age, making their irreplaceable fields and orchards more vulnerable to development.

Listening session kicks off campaign for Farm Bill support
A Farm Bill providing more robust support to tackle these issues and encourage climate-friendly farming and forest management is essential. Kicking off a collaborative campaign to secure it, Scenic Hudson and NECA hosted an event last month at Liberty Farm in Columbia County. It brought together a broad mix of agricultural stakeholders, including U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Robert Bonnie (responsible for implementing climate-related provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill); Richard Ball and Amanda Beal, agriculture commissioners of New York and Maine, respectively; and Congressman-elect Marcus Molinaro.

These leaders came to listen — to farmers large and small, vegetable and livestock, conventional and organic, urban and rural — about their aspirations for the Farm Bill. They heard how it could support a shift to practices offering climate solutions, both through financial aid and training, while helping to keep farms thriving. From urban farmers they learned about the need to pay a living wage and make grant applications more accessible to people of color and members of other historically underserved communities. And an Indigenous chief urged Farm Bill support for Native peoples’ efforts to restore biodiversity and environmental health through agroforestry — growing and cultivating food on forested lands.

This event vividly illustrated that the number and diversity of farms in the Northeast, coupled with their proximity to metropolitan areas, positions this region to be a national leader in advancing climate solutions as well as strengthening equity, opportunity, and economic stability for current and future farmers, and meeting rising demands for fresh food. As Scenic Hudson and NECA continue bringing farmers and other stakeholders together, we’re urging Congressional leaders in the Northeast to join with us to secure Farm Bill funding that will support these goals. Stay tuned to learn how you can get involved to make sure they do.