Sustainable Agriculture and Food Justice

Food is a necessity and a fundamental human right. All people have a right to sufficient, safe, and nutritional food. Those who produce it have a right to a fair return for their labor. Food should be produced in an ecologically sustainable manner.

New York is a major agricultural state: 1st in yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, and sour cream; 2nd in apples, wine, maple syrup, and cabbage; 3rd in milk, corn for silage, and grapes; 4th for tart cherries and pears. Most New York farms are family farms, with a 200 acre average that is about half the national average. Milk production accounts for nearly half of New York's agricultural sales.

New York's cities and farms depend on each other for food and markets. But less than 10% of NYS food production is sold direct to consumers.

Farmer and consumers are natural allies. The government should represent the interests of farmers and consumers instead of the corporate oligopolies of the food and agriculture industry. Giant vertically-integrated food and agricultural corporations stand in the middle marketing, processing, wholesaling, distributing, and retailing to make monopolistic profits by squeezing both farmers and consumers. Much can be done to more directly connect famers and consumers and minimize middleman costs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that more than two million New Yorkers, 12% of the population, do not have enough money to meet their basic nutritional needs. Over one-third of New York's residents have incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level and may be eligible for federal food assistance programs such as SNAP. But these programs do not adjust for New York State's higher costs for housing, utilities and food.

A strong agricultural economy is the basis for revitalizing rural economies, repopulating rural communities, and supplying our cities with healthy food. Agriculture provides the value added that fuels commerce in the towns. It should fuel the expansion of clean green manufacturing based on biodegradable food, fuel, and fiber feedstocks. Agriculture maintains the rural landscape that is the foundation for tourism and recreation, including hunting and fishing.

SUPPORT FAMILY FARMS

  • Guarantee a Living Income for Working Famers: Commit to ensuring that every working farmer gets a fair return on the their labor and earns a living income.
  • Empower Family Farmers in Marketing and Processing Agricultural Products: Enact reforms to enable farmers to collectively bargain with firms that market and process agricultural product, including reforms of agricultural cooperative laws to enable democratic farmer control of marketing and processing cooperatives. 
  • Tax Relief for Farmers: Increase state revenue sharing of more progressive personal and business income taxes, with business tax loopholes eliminated, in order to reduce local property and sales taxes, which are regressive taxes that hit farmers especially hard. Property taxes should only pay for local property-related services (local police, fire, garbage, snow plowing). Schools and other public works and services should be paid for mainly by progressively graduated personal and business income taxes.
  • Phase Out CAFOs: Corporate factory farming in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFPs) is driving family farms off the land. CAFOs undermine small, diversified, farms where free-range poultry and livestock are part of a sustainable farm ecosystem producing for local consumers. CAFOs are negative for the environment, food safety, public health, the ethical treatment of animals, nearby property values, and rural economic prosperity.
  • End Corporate Farming: Prohibit non-farm corporations from owning and controlling farms.
  • New Farmer Training: Establish a new farmer training program supported by departments of Labor and Education that compensates existing farmers as mentors and teachers.
  • Land and Financing for New Famers: Establish a program to enable new farmers to affordably finance and purchase land and equipment to start new farms, including urban farms.
  • Enact a Farmworkers Bill of Rights: Extend to farmworkers the same rights under labor law as other workers, including A Day of Rest, Overtime Pay, Collective Bargaining Protections, Disability Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, Child Labor Protections, and Occupational Safety and Health Standards. Corporate farms compete unfairly against working farmers by being allowed to exploit cheap labor at sub-poverty wages and benefits and unsafe working conditions.

PROTECT FARMLAND

  • Farmland Protection Fund: Increase funding for the New York State Farmland Protection Fund to at least $100 million a year. Fully payback Farmland Protection Funds “swept” into the general fund in previous years. The Farmland Protection Fund pays farmers by purchasing development rights in order to permanently protect their land for agriculture. Farmers reinvest these funds into their farms. The program is needed to protect farmland from development on the edge of urban areas. Urban sprawl is reducing New York farmland at a rate of about 10% per decade.
  • Environmental Protection Fund: Increase funding for the Environmental Protection Fund. EPF funds programs like the Farmland Protection Program, Conservation Partnership Program, and the Agricultural Nonpoint Source Program that help farmers protect their land from real estate development and enhance water quality.
  • Ban Fracking: Protect New York farms from the air, water, and land pollution, climate change, and degradation of rural infrastructure and property values that hydrofracking of shale formations for natural gas would bring to rural upstate New York.

EXPAND AND IMPROVE MARKETS FOR FARM PRODUCTS

  • Collective Bargaining by Farmers: Support farm associations to bargain collectively with large buyers (public and corporate) for fair contracts for their products.
  • State Procurement of Local Farm Products: Require state and state-funded institutions to buy more food grown on New York farms, including schools, hospitals, prisons, senior and child care centers
  • Regional Food Processing and Distribution: Increase state financing for regional food processing and distribution facilities.
  • Expand the Certified Raw Milk Market: Establish a Certified Raw Milk Program to regulate the production, consumption, marketing, distribution, and off-farm retail sale of raw milk.
  • Expand Green Manufacturing: Promote green manufacturing that relies on locally produced biodegradable food, fuel, and fiber.

RE-LEGALIZE INDUSTRIAL HEMP

  • Enable Hemp Research: Pass state legislation enabling New York agricultural schools to research industrial hemp under new provisions in the 2014 federal farm bill.
  • Re-legalize hemp in New York. 
  • Defend Hemp Growers: Require the state Attorney General to defend New York hemp growers prosecuted by the federal government.
  • Demand that the federal government re-legalize hemp.

INCREASE CONSUMER ACCESS TO HEALTHY FOOD

  • Public School Education: Mandate and fund a food, agriculture, and nutrition curriculum for K-12 public school students, including a home economics curriculum that includes the knowledge and skills to purchase and prepare fresh foods and access to some form of agriculture: a school or community garden, or urban or rural farm.
  • Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program (CFP): Increase funding for community food projects, including Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), food cooperatives, urban farms, and community gardens.
  • New York Healthy Food and Health Communities Fund: Increase funding to support the development of healthy food markets and cooperatives in underserved communities.
  • Farm to Table Program: Establish a program to enable farmers to sell fresh foods directly to childcare facilities and senior meal programs.
  • Soda Tax: Enact a sugary beverage tax, with revenues used to fund nutrition, food, health and agriculture programs.
  • Urban Farms: Establish a program to support the expansion organic food production by urban farms and community gardens.

RESTRICT GMOs

  • GMO Labeling: Pass the bill requiring labeling of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) in food. Consumer have a right to know.
  • GMO Moratorium: Apply the Precautionary Principle to GMOs and place a state moratorium on them until safety can be demonstrated by long-term studies on health impact, genetic drift, pest resistance, biodiversity, and soil and other ecosystems.

TRANSITION TO ORGANIC AGRICULTURE

  • Ban Neonicotinoids: Ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides that are contributing to the Colony Collapse Disorder die-off of bees, which are necessary for crop pollination. 
  • Ban Antibiotics in Animal Feed: Antibiotics should only be used to treat illness and injury. Overuse of antibiotics is creating antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that endanger human and non-human animal health.
  • Organic Agriculture Transition Plan: Develop a plan to encourage and help farmers transition to organic farming, including research, training, subsidies and incentives to support farmers' transition to organic agriculture while natural systems of soil fertility and pest control are being restored. Organic agriculture should be promoted to protect the environment and the health of food producers and consumers, and to fight climate change by sequestering carbon in revitalized soil ecosystems.
  • Agriculture School Support: Direct SUNY agricultural schools and Cornell, New York State's Land Grant University, to focus education and research on organic food production by family farms and community gardens.
  • State Procurement: Use state purchasing power to provide markets for organic farms.

FAIR LABOR PRACTICES FOR FARM WORKERS

  • Enact a Farmworkers Bill of Rights: Extend to farmworkers the same rights under labor law as other workers, including A Day of Rest, Overtime Pay, Collective Bargaining Protections, Disability Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, Child Labor Protections, and Occupational Safety and Health Standards. Corporate farms compete unfairly against working farmers by being allowed to exploit cheap labor at sub-poverty wages and benefits and unsafe working conditions.
  • Halt the ICE Raids: Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has dramatically increased workplace and community raids in recent years. The detentions of immigrant workers is not only devastating for their families, it is disrupting the labor of migrants and immigrants on which many farms depend. New York State should do all it can to get ICE to halt these raids and grant undocumented farmworkers the opportunity to live and work here legally and documented farmworkers the opportunity to work and live here without harassment. 
  • Drivers Licenses for Undocumented Workers: This policy will promote general public safety as well as enable farmworkers to get to work safely.

END HUNGER

  • Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program: Increase funding to fund and support food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency shelters in New York State.
  • Increase SNAP Benefits: Use the USDA’s Low-Cost Food Plan, rather than the Thrifty Food Plan, as the basis for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), which will increase their purchasing power by about 30 percent.
  • Raise the Maximum SNAP Shelter Deduction: Adjust SNAP benefits to variable regional housing costs.
  • Increase Child Nutrition Funding: Increase supplemental funding for the various federal child nutrition programs, including Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and school meals. 
  • Increase Funding for Meals on Wheels for Senior Citizens.

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