A beautiful Fall season is upon us. And for that, we give thanks. Apples, cranberries, pumpkins, corn, squash and delicious recipes from Grandma and Auntie to enjoy. Yet all of this cannot be enjoyed by All if we don't fund our food security programs and protect our farmers, our crops, our animals, our air, our waters and soils. Sadly, this does not seem to be a priority on the horizon. The looming deadline for the Farm Bill is upon us - with no replacement Farm Bill in sight. 

As legislators in Washington continue to focus and battle over an impending government shutdown connected to annual spending legislation, the five-year Farm Bill - a separate piece of legislation-  will expire on September 30th. The Farm Bill is an important federal piece of legislation that funnels nearly $1 trillion dollars into programs that impact the entire farm and food system and the food that we are able to put on the table to feed our families and children. At stake, are funds for food security and hunger relief programs for low-income households, healthy food access, conservation and pollution prevention practices to protect our farmlands and working waters, vital insurance programs to help farmers and ranchers recover from increasing climate disasters, and more.

While Washington continues to debate dragged-out legislation over party lines, some Northeast states have been successful at revising their Food Action and Food Strategy Plans in the last few years - most recently Massachusetts (2023), and Rhode Island (scheduled to be completed by Fall 2024). While these state plans are not perfect, they are an important step forward - and yet not enough. They are not enough when faced with the urgency of feeding our people and of restoring the balance and health of Mother Earth, our ecosystems and our communities.

As the Farm Aid Festival comes to a close, and as we wrap up the Farmer’s Climate Action Week with NSAC, it is imperative that we continue to organize in order to create an equitable, just, sustainable, healthy and balanced farm and food system for ALL.


Let's look at some important data:

  • In 2020, according to a McKinsey & Company study "just 1.4 percent of farmers identify as Black or mixed race [and are considered Black farm operators] ….. with a 14 percent of operating margin gap versus their peers, before government payments.” Per USDA: A farm operator is a person who runs the farm, making day-to-day management decisions. An operator could be an owner, hired manager, cash tenant, share tenant, and/or a partner. (source)
  • From 1992 to 2012, total cropland decreased from 460 million acres to 392 million acres.
  • Consolidation of farms, food processing operations, and distribution warehouses often increases distance between food sources and consumers.
  • Consolidation in the food system is also concentrating management decisions into fewer hands. For example:
  • Four firms control 85% of the beef packing market; 82% of soybean processing is controlled by four firms.
  • The top four food retailers sold almost 35% of America’s food in 2019, compared to only 15% in 1990.
  • Large-scale family farms and industrial nonfamily farms account for only 5% of farms, but 59.4% of production (in $). Small-scale family farms represent nearly 89% of U.S. farms, but only 20.4% of production.
  • In 2000, 25% of corn, 61% of cotton, and 54% of soybeans planted were genetically engineered; by 2020, these percentages increased to 92%, 96%, and 94%, respectively.
  • From 2007 to 2012, pesticide use increased by 10% while herbicide use increased by 20% from 2010 to 2014. In 2012, the U.S. agriculture sector used 899 million pounds of pesticides.
  • The EPA estimated that in 2010, 31% of the food supply was lost, 50% more than in 1970. In 2018, more food reached landfills than any other material. This waste accounts for roughly 22% of the municipal solid waste stream and represents a loss of $450 per person each year.
  • Between 2014 and 2016, 48% of the hired agricultural labor force lacked authorization to work in the United States.
  • As of 2014, 90 percent of food in New England came from outside of the region and up to 15 percent of families regularly did not have enough to eat.
  • New England Feeding New England has set the goal for New England to increase its local food production to 30% in order to feed New Englanders by 2030 - New England feeding New England  30x30. (source)


Some questions to reflect upon:

  • What can we do as a region - in the short term and in the long term- to make our farm and food system more equitable, just, balanced and sustainable?
  • What will it really take to access farmland, working waters and capital, to grow, raise, produce, harvest, and move food  through a regional and complex supply chain so that we can produce food locally and eat locally? 
  • How might the increasing and escalating impacts of climate change impact our ability to feed ourselves? 
  • What does liberation on the ground look like in 10 years? 


- Cristina Cabrera 





Additional Resources

  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research Service (ERS) (2021) Food Expenditure Series: Normalized food expenditures by all purchasers and household final users.
  2. USDA, ERS (2019) 2017 Census of Agriculture.
  3. U.S. Census Bureau (2019) “Monthly Population Estimates for the U.S.”
  4. USDA (2021) America’s Diverse Family Farms.
  5. USDA, ERS (2022) Food Dollar Series.
  6. Elitzak, H. (1999) Food Cost Review, 1950-97. USDA, Agricultural Economic Report 780.
  7. USDA, ERS (2020) Farm Labor.
  8. USDA, ERS (2017) “Cropland, 1945-2012, by State.” 
  9. Konikow, L. (2013) Groundwater depletion in the United States (1900-2008). U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Scientific Investigations Report.
  10. USGS (2019) “Irrigation Water Use.”
  11. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (2017) “Gulf of Mexico ‘Dead Zone’ is the Largest ever Measured.”
  12. USDA, ERS (2019) Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2019.
  13. USDA, ERS (2020) “Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S.”
  14. Borrelli, P., et al. (2017) “An assessment of the global impact of 21st century land use change on soil erosion.” Nature Communications, 8(1).
  15. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2022) Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990 - 2019.
  16. Heller, M. and G. Keoleian (2000) Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System, The University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems, CSS00-04.
  17. USDA, ERS (2015) “Archived Tables - Nutrient Availability.”
  18. USDA, ERS (2019) “Loss-Adjusted Food Availability - Calories.”
  19. USDA, ERS (2021) “Food Availability.”
  20. USDA, ERS (2022) Feed Grains Yearbook Tables.
  21. USDA, ERS (2021) “Loss-Adjusted Food Availability - Sugar and sweeteners (added).”
  22. American Heart Association (2018) “Sugar 101.”
  23. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2021) “Health, United States, 2019.”
  24. Harvard T.H. Chan, School of Public Health (2016) “What Should I Eat: Vegetables and Fruits.”
  25. U.S. EPA (2021) “U.S. 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal.”
  26. Natural Resource Defense Council (2017) “Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.”
  27. U.S. EPA (2020) Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2018 Tables and Figures.
  28. Cuellar, A. and M. Webber (2010) “Wasted food, wasted energy: The embedded energy in food waste in the United States.” Environmental Science & Technology, 44(16): 6464-69.
  29. Canning, P., et al. (2010) Energy Use in the U.S. Food System. USDA, ERS.
  30. U.S. Census Bureau (2002) National Population Estimates.
  31. USDA, ERS (2017) The Role of Fossil Fuels in the U.S. Food System and the American Diet.
  32. Heller, M., et al. (2018) “Greenhouse gas emissions and energy use associated with production of individual self-selected U.S. diets.” Environmental Research Letters 13(4):1-11.
  33. USDA, ERS (2016) Thinning Markets in U.S. Agriculture.
  34. USDA, ERS (2021) “Retail Trends.”
  35. Tilman, D., & Clark, M. (2014). “Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health.” Nature, 515(7528), 518–522.
  36. U.S. EPA (2021) “Agricultural Animal Production.”
  37. Heller, M., et al. (2021) “Individual U.S. diets show wide variation in water scarcity footprints.”
  38. Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2019). “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers.” Science, 360(6392), 987–992.
  39. U.S. EPA (2021) “Reducing Wasted Food at Home.”
  40. Heard, B. R., Bandekar, M., Vassar, B., & Miller, S. A. (2019). “Comparison of life cycle environmental impacts from meal kits and grocery store meals.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 147, 189–200.
  41. USDA, ERS (2019) “Food Product Dating.”
  42. Porras, G., et al. (2020) A guide to household manual and machine dishwashing through a life cycle perspective. Environmental Research Communications, 2(2020).
  43. Cornell Cooperative Extension (2003) “Replace Your Old Refrigerator and Cut Your Utility Bill.”
  44. Organic Trade Association (2021) “U.S. organic sales soar to new high of nearly $62 billion in 2020.”
  45. State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (2017) “Food Transportation.”


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