Family farms are struggling with two hidden challenges
Kat Becker feeds hundreds of people with the vegetables she grows on her Wisconsin farm, and she wants to expand. But her ability to grow her business collides with her need for affordable health insurance and child care.
She has had to make difficult choices over the years: keep her farm income low enough so her children can qualify for the state’s public health insurance, or expand the farm and buy expensive private insurance. To look after her three young children, she could hire a cheap but inexperienced babysitter, or spend a significant share of her income on child care and have peace of mind that the kids are safe from dangers on the farm. “The stable choice for my children to have health insurance is an irrational choice for my farm business,” she said.
We’ve heard numerous stories like Kat’s in our work as social scientists supporting the next generation of farmers. Through thousands of interviews, surveys and conversations with farmers across the country, we have documented how household expenses like access to health care and child care undercut investments that could increase food production across the United States.
Protecting Food from the Farm to Our Plates
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is ahead of the pack when it comes to ensuring that the food we eat and our agricultural supply are safe. An attack on our food supply—whether from intentional tampering, or due to contagious animal disease—could be dangerous to human health and could cause long-lasting economic impacts.
For S&T, food defense is a critical aspect of protecting the nation and our citizens. It is why S&T is working with partners across DHS and other federal agencies to ensure every step in the food supply chain is safe and secure—from farms, where crops and livestock are grown, to manufacturing facilities, where food products are processed, packaged, and then distributed to stores, and on to Americans’ kitchen tables. To achieve this, S&T is developing resources such as risk assessments to help the sector focus on the highest risk areas, so we can trust that the food we eat is safe, especially during a pandemic. These resources include developing tools for preventing and securing food from intentional adulteration during processing, developing animal disease vaccines and detection tools, and studying and characterizing toxic chemicals and pathogens that can contaminate food.
This large and important effort calls for a coalition of top experts: S&T, through its Office of Mission and Capability Support (MCS), the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) and the Chemical Security Analysis Center (CSAC), is collaborating with the DHS Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office (CWMD) and others across DHS and the federal government, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
An invisible essential labor force
How the migrant women farmworkers who put food on our tables are organizing for a better life after the pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, there’s been an outpouring of public support for essential workers. But this has largely excluded migrant women farmworkers, despite their vital role in keeping food on American families’ tables.
Monica Ramirez is working to change that.
“I’m the first generation in my family that didn’t have to work in the fields to make a living,” Ramirez told me. “So I was raised to be part of this movement and fight on behalf of my community.”
The battle for the future of farming: what you need to know
It is widely agreed that today’s global agriculture system is a social and environmental failure. Business as usual is no longer an option: biodiversity loss and nitrogen pollution are exceeding planetary limits, and catastrophic risks of climate change demand immediate action. Most concede that there is an urgent need to radically transform our food systems. But the proposed innovations for more sustainable food systems are drastically different. Which we choose will have long-lasting effects on human society and the planet.
Suggested innovations in food systems can be broadly understood as either seeking to conform with – or to transform – the status quo.
Struggle for the future of food
Producers and consumers seem helpless as food all over the world comes under fast growing corporate control. Such changes have also been worsening environmental collapse, social dislocation and the human condition.
Longer term perspective
The recent joint report–by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and the ETC Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration–is ominous, to say the least.
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Solving America’s Food Waste Problem
What will we do? Probably toss the mess in the trash and let somebody else worry about it. What we should do is quite different, though, in light of the massive scale of food waste in the United States.
That’s long been the view of assorted activist groups, along with the nice folks who wear properly aged LL Bean flannel and drive vintage Subaru Outbacks. But there is change in the air (and, one hopes, the landfills): these groups are being joined by growing numbers of state and local officials.
The US food system creates hunger and debt – but there is another way
The Covid-19 pandemic has not only been a public health crisis, it has also been a hunger crisis. When millions of Americans lost their jobs, they no longer had enough money to feed themselves and their families. Hunger predictably struck people who were already marginalized. As was evidenced by long lines at food banks, it also struck middle-class families and exacerbated inequality. Even with vaccines, people continue getting weak and sick during the pandemic and the burden is disproportionately landing on women to work harder to ensure everyone stays healthy and alive.
To add injury upon injury, parts of the food system are also a public health hazard. For example, meatpacking plants in the US and around the world have fostered the pandemic, spreading the virus to nearby communities due to poor working conditions and environmental abuses.
2021 Global Food Policy Report
Lessons from COVID crisis for reducing inequities and enhancing resilience of food systems
The severe health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted food systems and upended livelihoods. Yet pandemic responses have demonstrated the power of well-crafted policies to blunt the impact of major shocks while laying the groundwork for stronger, more resilient food systems, according to the 2021 Global Food Policy Report, released today by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The report provides lessons drawn from the current crisis that can help us transform food systems to reduce the impact of the ongoing pandemic, better prepare for future shocks, and address longstanding weaknesses and inequalities.
Farmers face complex political, economic landscape in 2021
Farmers face a complex landscape for 2021, above and beyond the usual variables that affect them — such as, quite recently, drought and windy weather that is stirring up dust and a potentially harsh spring here in the MonDak.
Not only is America still struggling with economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic — which is itself threatening to resurge on the strength of COVID-19 variants amid slower-than-hoped vaccinations — but there is a new sheriff on board, with very different priorities than the previous federal administration, and that shift in focus includes agriculture.
20 Hotspots to Start Fixing Nitrogen Pollution in Agriculture
Surplus nitrogen from farm fertilizer contaminates drinking water, creates dead zones, and contributes to climate change. A new study pinpoints prime places to target with solutions.
Nitrogen pollution is one of agriculture’s biggest and most intractable problems. Crops can’t grow without the critical nutrient, and because sources of nitrogen are easy to come by—synthetic fertilizer is cheap and manure from large animal agriculture operations is plentiful—farmers often apply too much, to try to ensure the highest yields.