The Green New Deal: A Soil-Based Path Forward

Released today:

FDR’s New Deal was a massive and transformative package of legislation that is still benefiting the United States despite decades of erosion by short-sighted politicians. Here are just a few of the most important things that came out of the original New Deal from 1933 to 1939:

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons – All Americans rely on the insurance provided by social security and other New Deal Programs.

Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act (incentivized farmers to build soil health)

Soil Conservation Service (addressed soil degradation and still supports farmers – now called the National Resource Conservation Service or NRCS)

Social Security Administration (helps millions of disabled and elderly Americans)

Conservation Corps (employ large segments of the population in greening the country, especially youth)

Works Progress Administration (employed huge numbers of people in improving infrastructure)

Glass-Steagall Act (created the FDIC to insure public bank accounts)

Federal Securities Act (increased corporate transparency)

Rural Electrification Administration (brought affordable power to isolated people)

Fair Labor Standards Act (established an hourly minimum wage to protect workers)

The New Deal of the 1930’s came about because we truly were a nation in crisis. Years of drought exacerbated the effects of irresponsible farming practices across the Great Plains. The land was physically eroding, crop yields were low, and farmers were in trouble. At the same time, corporate fraud, irrational investing, and uninsured banks forced Americans (along with the rest of the world) into the Great Depression.

Largely, it was the economic stimulus of World War II that eventually re-stoked the engine of capitalism and pulled the U.S out of the Great Depression, but it was New Deal programs and agencies that would leave a lasting – peaceful – mark on the American landscape.

So far, in 2019, we’re lucky to not be in a second Great Depression. However, many economists warn of its coming. Government oversight around banking, investing, and corporate monopoly has significantly dwindled in recent years as protectionist policies isolate the U.S. economy through sharp tariffs, threats of trade agreement dissolution, and alienation of our global allies.

Likewise, extreme weather events and vulnerable agricultural practices threaten the security of American farmers and food production.

In this way, we could wait for a repeat of the 1930s and then count on World War III to reboot the illusion of prosperity as we did in 1941.

OR, we could quickly adopt the most important package of proposed legislation since FDR’s New Deal and prevent another economic, agricultural, and societal collapse.

Family farms have significantly declined in recent decades. Incentivizing soil building practices and small-scale farmers will help American agriculture become more resilient.

The Green New Deal is a comprehensive and robust legislative agenda championed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York’s 14th Congressional District.

It outlines a path forward. A path that avoids the repetitious collapse of the U.S economy, the impoverishment of millions, the complete collapse of our soil resources, and the total destruction of America’s self-image as a world leader. Further, it outlines a path toward climate stabilization in order to staunch the rising tides already swallowing communities and hope from sea to shining sea.

The Green New Deal includes many ideas and plans from the original. It focuses on job creation, conservation, decreasing corporate welfare, and power generation. Its goal is to make the United States a spirited leader in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through both the transition to renewable energy and the very necessary movement toward local, regenerative agriculture.

Regenerative farming practices incorporate perennial plants with long roots, which send carbon deep down into the soil profile.

How does the Green New Deal propose to pay for these programs and transitions?

…with the recognition that a large majority of our military budget is spent protecting vulnerable fossil fuel reserves around the globe. And by acknowledging the 1000 pound cow in the room: corporate welfare to industrial agriculture is a huge drain on the U.S economy!

By transitioning to clean, renewable power, we create American jobs while building self-sufficiency, reducing the need for a massive global military presence, and improving the health of our communities.

By incentivizing local, regenerative agriculture instead of massively subsidizing global, industrial agri-business, we can grow our food and eat it too! Most agricultural subsidies in the U.S go to already wealthy people with income in the millions, many of whom aren’t even farmers by trade. Commodity crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat receive much of the federal subsidy money. These crops are transported around the globe to feed beef cattle, make fuel, and do a lot of other things that will never touch a plate. Those subsidies would be much better spent subsidizing local, adaptive farmers who are growing food for their region. And this is exactly what the Green New Deal proposes to do!

Small scale, regenerative agriculture will restore millions of farm families, revitalize rural areas, and protect our soil and water resources.

This legislation is so comprehensive because it recognizes the inextricable link between writer Satish Kumar’s trinity: Soil, Soul, and Society. Everyday, scientists are finding new connections between what we eat and almost everything else about our (and our planet’s) wellbeing. Our health starts in the soil because that’s where nearly all of our food comes from! As the soul is removed from agriculture in favor of industrial agri-business so too are the vital building blocks of our bodies due to the degradation of soil and its critical ecosystem of plant-symbiotic microorganisms.

As health and topsoil decline, society has little hope of maintaining the status quo. Indeed, conflict and migration in many regions are tied with the loss of viable farmland. Further, the degradation of soil leads to more air and water pollution and less ability of the soil to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

For example, cattle raised in confined animal feeding operation (most meat you’ll find in the grocery store and in restaurants) are fed animal by-products and corn. Cattle are not supposed to eat those things! They’re supposed to eat grass. When cattle are fed this “cheap” diet in confinement, their gut microbes fundamentally change and they produce more methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. Their manure is concentrated in toxic lagoons and their food is shipped in from far away. The animals are objectively unhealthy and usually kept alive with added growth hormones and antibiotics. We are fools if we think this state of dis-ease is not passed onto us as consumers of animal protein. Additionally, these massive farms are owned by one farmer or one corporation and worked by innumerable low-wage workers who have barely any protection under the law.

In contrast, when raised entirely on pasture, cows eat grass all day and their methane production is lower because of a different set of digesting microbes. They disturb and manure the soil in a way that has evolved for millennia and their food re-grows on-site. What’s more, when farmers and ranchers graze their cattle responsibly by rotating them on smaller paddocks, the cattle actually BUILD healthy soil! Healthy soil is rich in carbon absorbed from the atmosphere. Carbon rich soils have more microbial biomass supporting plant nutrition so the cows are healthier and the benefits travel up the food chain. These farms take much more hands-on, skilled labor and could provide a good living to millions more aspiring farmers and ranchers.

Photo courtesy of NRCS/flickr – Demonstrates the soil re-growth potential of holistic grazing.

This is literally the definition of a win-win-win scenario.

There are three things farmers need to raise animals in this humane way: access to land, financial incentives, and technical training. There are already lots of people working on the training and it’s paying off! But the food system will never change if the government keeps subsidizing commodity corn and soy producers and big-Ag. We desperately need a transition of funds to farmers who are growing to support the health of soil and society.

Similar to the 1930s, we are in a period of massive instability. We can either wait for everything to get worse, or we can be proactive and act now! The Green New Deal is a path forward. It’s our best hope to restore the American middle class, halt the damaging impacts of climate change, re-grow our nation’s soil, and truly make America great.

Tell your representatives to support the Green New Deal, share about it on social media, spread the word within your community. This is our chance!

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