The Green New Deal, House Resolution 109, proposed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, was unanimously rejected by a vote of 57-0 on March 26.
Senate Democratic lawmakers seemed to distance themselves from the GND (four voted against it and the rest registered as “present” to abstain from voting) and Republicans all voted nay. But this doesn’t mean Ocasio-Cortez and others are done proposing similar programs.
Billed as an economic stimulus program to improve the environment, decrease unemployment and bring “social justice,” the GND, according to Ocasio-Cortez’s website, would affect agriculture through measures including:
• “to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.
• “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources, including upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification.
• “working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible.
• “supporting family farming.
• “investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health.
• “by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.
• “overhauling transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure.”
All of this would take place by 2030.
Proposals such as this are “a little unrealistic” to farmers like John Williams, partner at Williams Farms, in Marion, New York.
Williams’ operation spans 1,200 acres, including fields growing vegetable and root crops, along with one of the largest packing and distribution hubs in the Northeast. He receives shipments of potatoes and other crops from farms nationwide. His son, Michael, operates Williams Registered Cattle, a beef farm raising 350 head. They also grow 350 acres of soybeans, corn and hay.
“I don’t think it could happen,” Williams said of such sweeping legislation. “I understand where the people are coming from, but some of it is a little unrealistic for today’s age. Those things take time to change.”
GND and also the platform of the Green Party, which find considerable commonality, emphasize making agriculture hyper localized and eliminating interstate commerce for agriculture to minimize carbon impact. They also promote small, organic farms to provide food locally.
“To farm and make a living farming, it takes a lot of ground and you have to move a lot of goods,” Williams said. “You need efficient equipment. The way that lady is talking, it would take it away from you.”
He added that while he understands the attraction in the trend of buying locally, that’s not practical for certain goods, such as bananas, nor for most produce during winter months in the North.
As for transforming the face of agriculture into only small local farms, Williams expressed concern over food shortages.
“There’s not enough of those small farms to feed America and to feed the world,” Williams said. “It’s not the way it is in this country.”
The GND and many proposals like it also want farms switch to organic growing practices. According to Pew Research Center, in 2016, only 5 million acres are certified organic, which is fewer than 1 percent of the nation’s 911 million farmed acres. Organic certification takes seven years for produce farms and three for dairies. During that time period, farmers must pay for organic higher inputs while not receiving premium prices for their goods.
Williams highlighted the improvements farmers have made in conventional management.
“The stuff we use today, the chemicals and fertilizers, are way safer and more efficient than we used 40 years ago,” Williams said. “It’s been tested. It’s crazy what companies have to go through to get things to pass.
“They really work hard at keeping the environment safe. Most people don’t realize what that entails. It’s a lengthy process to get things that work and are safe at the same time. Especially in the U.S., we’re watched over pretty darn close with our food safety plans.”
Steve Ammerman, spokesman for New York Farm Bureau, also lauded farmers who “continuously led the way in improving their environmental stewardship including producing more food with fewer resources.”
Ammerman added that New York Farm Bureau supports programs including the New York State Climate Resilient Farming Program and supports funding for more research on land stewardship, including through the state’s land grant university, Cornell, to study the issue and find ways to improve stewardship.
“Whatever solutions that are offered up, they must be grounded in sound science,” Ammerman said.
Organic farmers, such as Elizabeth Henderson, board member with Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York and operator of Peacework Organic CSA in Newark, New York, support the idea of legislating more environmental stewardship.
“At our most recent conference, we passed several policy resolutions related to this,” Henderson said. “In World War II, we were encouraged to grow ‘victory gardens’ but we need to grow ‘carbon gardens’ using carbon farming methods.”
She said that legislation such as GND would provide farms with tax incentives for using renewable sources of energy.
Henderson added that enacting many of these green ideals would result in increased prices for goods, “but not as much as you might think,” Henderson said. “What it will do is allow farmers to stop over-producing. When prices are low, they grow more to cover costs.”
Henderson acknowledged that wide sweeping changes like GND are very complicated, but she said NOFA-NY would like to see some type of emergency program to encourage farmers to go organic.
“There needs to be a period of transition and technical assistance,” Henderson said. “It’s crucial we don’t lose any farmers at all — no matter the kind of farming — and that everyone gets supported in using the best practices for the planet.”
Williams acknowledged that many farmers don’t act as big advocates of their industry, but with good reason.
“Farmers just want to go to work and do their thing and not be bothered,” he said. “They’re trying to do a good job, to grow what they’re growing. They’re in their own world.”
Noting the district Ocasio-Cortez represents, which includes The Bronx and Queens, Williams said that many people today don’t understand how food is grown.
“It would be a full-time job for a lot of people in order to educate them,” Williams said.
Ocasio-Cortez’s office did not respond to a request for an interview.