A Green New Deal for Family Farms and Rural Communities

The "Green New Deal"[i] has been systematically demonized by corporate propaganda targeting rural America. Rural people have been led to believe that the Green New Deal would take away the property rights of family farmers and destroy the economic foundation of their communities. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the principles outlined in the Green New Deal were implemented, it would create new opportunities for more family farmers and give people in rural communities the economic sovereignty they need to protect themselves from the corporate exploitation that relentlessly diminishes their quality of life and threatens their economic survival.


Contrary to the corporatist propaganda, the congressional resolution states that the Green New Deal…“will work collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector…— (i) by supporting family farming; (ii) by investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health; and (iii) by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food…, [also by] restoring natural ecosystems through proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage…[and] by restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems through locally appropriate and science-based projects that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency.”


Family farming, sustainable land use, sustainable food systems, universal access to healthy food, low-tech carbon sequestration, regenerative natural ecosystems, and greater biological diversity. These are the promises of the Green New Deal. Those who oppose the Green New Deal have benefited economically by displacing independent family farms, adopting unsustainable land use practices, depleting soil organic matter, producing cheap junk foods, degrading natural ecosystems, and destroying biological diversity. This isn’t some evil conspiracy. Ecologically and socially responsible farming practices simply get in the way of maximizing short-run profits.


The Green New Deal would empower authentic family farmers and people in rural communities to protect themselves from corporate exploitation by “ensuring a commercial environment where every businessperson is free from unfair competition and domination by domestic or international monopolies.” Its programs would be “developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities…” through projects that “(A)… ensure that the public receives appropriate ownership stakes and returns on investment, adequate capital,… technical expertise, supporting policies, and other forms of assistance;… (B) … take into account the complete environmental and social costs and impacts of emissions through— (i ) existing laws; (ii) new policies and programs; and (iii) ensuring that frontline and vulnerable communities shall not be adversely affected.”


The Green New Deal is simply a U.S. House of Representatives resolution that likely will never be approved by the U.S. Senate. However, it has received widespread political attention since it was proposed in 2019, and its basic concepts were supported by all of the major Democratic candidates running for president in 2020, including President Biden. This is the first time in my memory that the farm policies propping up the failed industrial approach to farming have been seriously challenged politically.


U.S. farm policies of the past 50 to 60 years, under both Democratic and Republication administrations, are largely responsible for the demise of family farming and the economic and social decay of rural communities. The Green New Deal provides a conceptual foundation for a fundamentally different agenda for farm and rural policies for the future. Perhaps most important, the programs to carry it out would be “developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities…” including those in economically depressed farming communities.

The future of the American democracy may well depend upon the willingness and ability of the U.S. government to address the very real and continuing problems of people in rural areas. They have been systematically exploited and marginalized by the industrialization and corporatization of American agriculture. Building public policies upon the conceptual foundation of the Green New Deal seems the best, and perhaps last, real hope for garnering sufficient political power to bring about a fundamental change in farm, food, and rural policies.


I addressed the policy implications of the Green New Deal in more depth in a 2019 column in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2019.091.008 . A farm policy agenda based on the basic principles of the Green New Deal is available at: https://www.dataforprogress.org/memos/regenerative-agriculture-and-the-green-new-deal .


John Ikerd


End Note: [i]116th Congress. (2019). 1st Session. H. Res. 109. Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal. Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hres109/BILLS-116hres109ih.pdf