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)


-Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, Associate Professor, American University

This week, AU’s School of International Service and Global Environmental Politics program are hosting a two-day forum on the US Farm Bill—from the perspective of social and ecological justice.

Every five to seven years since the Dust Bowl the US Congress has approved a massive piece of legislation short-handed as ‘the Farm Bill.’ This omnibus, thousand-page law authorizes a range of programs that regulate and support US agricultural production and food consumption, including: subsidies for staple commodities, specialty crops and organic certification; soil conservation; forest management; nutrition assistance and food aid; agricultural research; farmers markets; food trade; and rural economic development—among many other related issues.

To analyze the striking national and international impact of this policy, American University’s School of International Service, led by the Global Environmental Politics program, hosted two dozen local Farm Bill experts for a dynamic, informative, multi-stakeholder symposium called US Farm Bill 2012: Policy & Potential

But the House and Senate were not able to reconcile their respective drafts, and at midnight of the New Year, a nine-month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill was passed. Last month, this extension expired, leaving a host of important agricultural policies and supports stranded and unfunded. It happened alongside the government shutdown, and so garnered little public attention, but GEP was able to host a prominent young grower and farm policy analyst (Andrew Pittz) for an insider discussion on the debates underway in congressional agricultural committee conferences. And I gave an overview of Farm Bill fault-lines at a public panel on Food Day (video here of Chefs As Catalysts for Change).

These fault-lines lead to gridlock, but they also have the potential to open up overdue conversations on direct payments and potential WTO lawsuits, commodity crop insurance caps, agrofuel quotas, conservation compliance, agribiotechnology, the lack of agroecology research, and agribusiness monopolies. However, the most intense Farm Bill debate centers around the Nutrition Title, which accounts for more than 2/3 of Department of Agriculture spending. Anti-hunger advocates decried the Senate’s 2013 Farm Bill proposal to cut $4.5 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP, formerly known as food-stamps) over the next decade. Then, the Senate proposed to cut $20 billion over the next decade, in large part by contracting eligibility for unemployed adults (in areas of high unemployment). Pediatricians warn of serious public health impacts from such cuts, since 25% of US youth and children depend upon SNAP benefits. This fierce Nutrition Title debate continues to divide Congress and stall the Farm Bill negotiations (as I discuss in this SIS Minute video and on WPFW 89.3 last week).

In 2013, the Global Environmental Politics program initiated and implemented an SIS Graduate Student Practicum to explore the US Farm Bill from the perspective of equity. Practicum team members worked with Rural Coalition and National Family Farm Coalition to conduct original, cutting edge research on key aspects of the Farm Bill—from land tenure to farmers markets. They produced a multi-media online toolkit (, complete with five documentaries, a series of researched reports, GIS maps, and compilations of resources on the subject.

In 2014, SIS builds upon this success with an expanded Farm Bill Practicum, led by SIS professor Adam Diamond.

Meanwhile, the School of International Service is hosting Rural Coalition’s annual Winter Forum this Thursday (December 5th) and Friday (December 6th). Rural Coalition is a grassroots alliance of farmers, farm-workers, indigenous groups, and immigrants working to bring justice and equity to food and farm policy. During the Winter Forum, all 60+ of their member groups will come to DC to strategize agricultural policy reforms with sustainability and social equity in mind. These member groups represent diverse communities of African American, American Indian, Latino, and Asian America and other family farmers and ranchers, and farm-workers in the US and Mexico. The two-day event is co-sponsored by AU’s Center for Food Studies and will include panels, workshops, breakout sessions, presentations, and a neo-agrarian campus tour. Winter Forum participants will be live tweeting throughout the event using #AURURALCO.

Alongside this Winter Forum, please join us for the inaugural School of International Service Agri-Food Research Symposium on Thursday December 5th night in the SIS Atrium from 5:30-6:30pm. Graduate and undergraduate students will be sharing their original research on a wide array of food and agricultural policy and politics. Topics range from food insecurity, soil erosion, food waste & recovery, international fisheries, and farm subsidies to intellectual property rights, land grabbing, water conservation, gender, labor--and much more. This symposium will be presented using multimedia and includes posters, documentaries, photo essays and digital infographics.

From 7-8:30pm, the 2013 and 2014 Practicum teams will share their research projects and plans over a gourmet dinner catered by Zenful Bites—a novel profit/nonprofit, worker-owned company that uses earnings for urban nutrition/food justice education in the District (co-founded by GEP alum).

Throughout this Forum, as Rural Coalition growers and community leaders debate and brainstorm strategies for reforming and transforming the Farm Bill, they will also be debating and brainstorming what research is needed in this ambitious endeavor. How can scholars help inform US agricultural policy: what needs to be known? At the end of the Forum, participants will reconvene on this question to come up with a working list of agricultural policy “participant-action-research-action-items.”

The intention of this Forum and Research Symposium is to provide a place for multi-dimensional, multi-stakeholder dialogue about the US Farm Bill—about what has worked, what is inadequate, and how it can be improved to best foster viable, bountiful, resilient, and just agri-food systems in the US and beyond. Throughout Thursday and Friday, students and scholars from AU and the surrounding academic communities will get the chance to meet, learn, and dialogue with a diverse array of growers, ranchers, and agricultural policy experts and advocates. Join us!


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