Farmers, Fairness & the Farm Bill

where issues of producers, policy and equity converge

A Collaborative Research Project with Rural Coalition, National Family Farm Coalition & American University's School of International Service (Washington, DC)

2014 winter forum poster session

Sam Bellavance

ABSTRACT: For hundreds of years dairy farmers have needed to store silage (chopped grass or corn) when pasturing isn't an option.   In order to prevent silage from rotting modern dairy farmers use a layer of polyethylene plastic held down by discarded tires to create an air-tight seal around the piles.  This process, while cheaper and safer than conventional silos, is extremely wasteful, inefficient, and laborious. 

·        The petroleum based plastic deteriorates quickly forcing farmers to send hundreds of pounds of plastic to the landfill each year.

·        Furthermore, the tires used to hold down the plastic fill with rainwater and become breeding grounds for swarms of disease spreading mosquitoes. 

·        The process is also extremely slow, often taking the entire farm staff multiple days to cover a year’s silage crop, effectively halting other farm activities. 

·        Of most concern, this job is extremely tough on workers, requiring them to hand-place thousands of 20-80 pound tires up and down the 30’ tall pile all day.

Inspired by the edible wax coating found on cheeses and motivated by years of moving tires at my family’s dairy farm I began developing an edible coating that can be sprayed on silage piles and harden into a protectivecover.  This solution would remove plastic sheeting and tires from the process, and could be applied by one worker.  Because it is non-toxic, the coating could simply be mixed into the silage during feeding.  I am currently working with the AU chemistry department and Sunset Lake Farms to develop a prototype solution.  

AGRICULTURAL LIVELIHOODS: Rural Youth Migration in Rosário da Limeira, Minas Gerais Brasil

Claudia Barragan, Executive master of international seRVICE, 2015 & rachel teter, Master of International development, 2015, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY

ABSTRACT: The phenomenon of rural migration in regards to agriculture and food systems livelihoods is highly complex. As in any community, some young members will leave while others choose to stay. However, the ongoing trend over the last decade has shown a marked increase in urban residents and a coinciding decline in rural inhabitants.

In 2014 graduate student researchers from American University traveled to the rural community of Rosário da Limeira, Brazil.  Our research was at the heart of Brazil's Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest). Over time, this forest has been decimated while locals still struggle to generate forest-based incomes. Hosted by the Iracambi Research Center, our research addressed the impacts of rural youth exodus on rural livelihoods, and the development challenges inclusive of agricultural food systems that lead to vulnerability of the environment in the Limeira region and communities.

Based on data gathered from community member interviews, we found rural exodus is largely driven by deficiencies of investment in regional livelihoods, compounded by a lack of consideration of alternative agricultural programs for area farmers such as Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES). Specifically, the areas we propose to be addressed are community-fracturing, lack of youth participation in decision making, lack of investment in education, underproductive agricultural livelihoods, and environmental concerns. By actively replenishing the immensely biodiverse forests of the Mata Atlântica, farmers are proving they can foster ecotourism as an alternative livelihood opportunity, and as an incentive for rural families to participate in conservation activities.

RESEARCH PROJECT CLIENT: Iracambi, Atlantic Rainforest, Brazil


ABSTRACT: Since its founding the USDA has been tasked with two crucial goals: assuring farmers earn enough to make a living and that the US population has the means to afford the food produced. It is currently failing to meet both of these goals. Over time, inequality has risen in the US, causing the scale and depth of poverty to rise. More Americans than ever before are not making enough to afford a nutritious diet, with over 23.5 living in “food deserts” and one in seven receiving food stamps.

On the other side of this debate are the small-scale producers, who ironically are poorer than ever, despite the fact that SNAP was originally meant to support them. Farmers’ markets are a way of taking back a share of the SNAP sales that, over the last several decades, have been going more and more exclusively to large ag-biz corporations. This research uses academic literature and interviews to examine SNAP and how it affects both benefit recipients and those small-scale farmers who have found a means, primarily through farmers’ markets, of reaching these low-income families directly. It will look at the inconsistencies that have evolved between what the program originally set out to do and its current structure as well as how this structure is affecting low-income families, small-scale farmers and the US food system. My conclusion is that SNAP aids in permanently lowering poverty and is a largely untapped source of income for small-scale farmers. SNAP acceptance at farmers markets can also help eliminate food deserts throughout the country.




ABSTRACT: During the summer of 2014, I conducted qualitative research on farmer field education through a case study of Heifer International in the Cuzco region of Peru. The research questions focused on the educational techniques and programs used by Heifer Peru staff members to train smallholder farmers in sustainable agriculture. The Heifer program itself targets members of the poorest communities in rural Peru and I concentrated my research on two main communities that focused on the production of alpacas and guinea pigs and also had small farms.  I interviewed 30 people in a total of 20 interviews with the assistance of both a Spanish and Quechua translator. The following themes emerged through the interviews I conducted: rural development, indigenous knowledge, environmental degradation, market access and international development projects. The general report from the majority of farmers was that they enjoyed learning from members of their own community (not foreigners), that they needed both tools and knowledge to implement sustainable farming and animal husbandry techniques, and that community support and buy-in was critical to the continuation and growth of any form of sustainable farming program.

I have not yet coded my interviews and am not yet able to draw firm conclusions. With this in mind, my poster would demonstrate the research questions and general themes that emerged from the research. It would also show my expected results with the important caveat that the research has not yet been thoroughly analyzed.



Kirsten Franzen

ABSTRACT: For my research, I am examining the modern sugar economy of the Dominican Republic and Brazil.  I will compare and contrast these modern sugar economies with the colonial slave sugar economies as described by Sidney Mintz in his 1987 book “Sweetness and Power.” In his book, Mintz describes the production of sugar in the colonial Caribbean and as part of a global economic system that helped to create the modern capitalist system.  He describes the production of sugar within a colonial slave economy and the dynamics of production and exploitation. 

I will look at the more modern implications of the sugar economy in Brazil and the Dominican Republic. The time frame of this research is from the 20th to the 21st century.  I will look at domestic policies, agrarian land reform and land ownership, post-colonial race relations, agrarian labor conditions, and most recently, neoliberal policies and international trade agreements effect on sugar production, income, and labor conditions of agricultural laborers in Brazil and the Dominican Republic.

My poster will contain a map of Brazil and the Dominican Republic, outlining the most prominent areas for sugar farms and plantations.  It will contain a section for literature review and methods. It will also contain a section for results categorized by modern conditions categorized by landless labor, labor conditions, and migration; land ownership, reform, and redistribution; race, education and inequality; and economic policies, both domestic and international.

Food Sovereignty and Civil Society Action: How grassroots movements influence policy

Bethany Tietjen

ABSTRACT: This paper addresses how civil society and grassroots mobilization have played a role in food sovereignty movements around the world. Focusing specifically on Latin America, it examines areas that have had experience with agricultural legislation affecting local and indigenous people. There have been several cases throughout Latin America where grassroots mobilization led to the rejection or suspension of GMO laws that would have limited the food sovereignty of local people. Many of the policies that are opposed by these groups are provisions of trade agreements with the U.S. government. For indigenous communities in Latin America, land and agriculture are considered extensions of their culture, and the policies pushed by the U.S. government on behalf of Monsanto and other corporations are threatening that relationship.

The people that stand up against these policies are often part of the global Via Campesina network of individuals and organizations that are advocating for the right of food producers to regain control of the food system from the corporate sector. Though there are numerous examples of successful mobilization influencing the rejection of policy, it is unclear if small-scale movements are enough to fight against the current corporate food system. This paper examines past results of grassroots activism in response to food and agriculture policy and whether these movements can influence long-term, sustainable policy change. 


Hamzah Abu-Ragheb, master of science in sustainability management


ABSTRACT: The global food and agriculture systems face many challenges: scarcity, famine, environmental damage, social injustice, poverty and beyond. These problems are caused by the regional and global social, economic and political realities and are compounded by globalization and free markets. Creating sustainable and socially just food and agricultural systems within those realities seems to be very difficult for farmers and communities. It may be useful to look to communities that have intentionally and successfully isolated themselves from the influence of the mainstream social, political and economic rules for possible solutions. Certain intentional communities strive to be to some degree self-sufficient and engage in sustainable agriculture while some have succeeded in creating a more sustainable and impartial internal food and agricultural system. These can help us understand the social, economic and political contexts that allow for a more viable small scale sustainable and fair agricultural and food system. We take a look at what these intentional communities do differently that allow them to harbor such systems. We then assess if these communities could serve as models for the broader community to learn from and emulate. It is clear that intentional communities have created internal social, economic and political realities that allow them to engage in and sustain different food and agricultural systems from the mainstream and although intentional communities differ considerably within themselves, it seems that they could help enrich the sustainable agriculture discourse. Intentional communities may not present the full solution to the world’s food and agricultural problems, yet they are valuable as models for systems that are more conducive to sustainable agriculture.   



Leah Germer

ABSTRACT: Over the last decade, the production of beef, pork, poultry, and milk in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has grown by more than one third, far above the world average. An important driver of this growth has been the introduction of technologies and practices that restrict production to areas already designated for livestock, leading to intensified systems with increased meat and milk output per animal. This trend poses new challenges in LAC for the management of nutrient flows and greenhouse gas emissions from livestock manure. My research is based on an overview of the policies related to manure management in thirteen LAC countries and an interview-based case study of the Costa Rican pig sector, and was performed in conjunction with the Tropical Agricultural Research Center (CATIE) in Costa Rica. Our results show that many livestock producers do not consider nutrient flows or the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the cost-benefit analysis of production operations. This finding suggests that a good understanding among producers of the co-benefits between managing nutrient flows, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy investment in biogas, and farm-level profitability has not been achieved. I conclude by identifying opportunities and policy options to demonstrate and spread awareness of these co-benefits.

Community partnered action research on and for U.S. agricultural policy