2021 Legislative Session Wrap-Up: Good News for Soil Health, Local Foods, Emerging Farmers — Bad News for Healthcare

Thousands of Land Stewardship Project members and supporters from across Minnesota came together during the 2021 session of the state Legislature and organized around our shared values. Together, we mobilized around a collective vision that includes a just food and farm system, a healthy landscape, thriving small and mid-sized farms, just and prosperous communities, and a flourishing democracy. In advancing this vision, we asserted our collective power and transformed conversations at the Capitol, in community spaces, and even around our own kitchen tables. Whether that was by elevating the need for soil health legislation, winning more dollars for the Farm-to-School Program, or helping our neighbors connect with their elected officials to make their voices heard, LSP demonstrated what a value-driven agenda for all Minnesotans looks like in action.

Below is a summary of what happened at the Legislature this year as well as an invitation to continue building this momentum alongside us — the work continues.

Image Soil-Healthy Farming

By investing in the health of our soil, Minnesota's countryside can be transformed with sustainable and regenerative practices, our farmers can build economic and environmental resiliency, and our communities can thrive. After crafting, introducing, and advancing the "100% Soil-Healthy Farming Bill," parts of which were included in House budget proposals, we won $5.35 million to get more soil-healthy farming practices onto the landscape:

  • $1.35 million for the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) to administer a cost-share program for implementing farming practices that build soil health and improve water quality. Moving forward, this program will have funding automatically built into future state budgets.
  • $4 million through the Clean Water Fund to incentivize farmers who own and rent land to implement cover crops on the landscape.

Although we did not pass the full 100% Soil-Healthy Farming bill or the compromise "30% soil-healthy farming by 2030" goal, we have had a significant impact in less than a year. Just one year ago, soil health was not even on the Minnesota Legislature's agenda. Not only did we make soil health a top issue in 2021, but we also won a significant amount of money to build upon. For details on the soil health and climate campaign, read our recent blog here.

ImageLocal Foods

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the desperate need to invest in local meat processing to ensure farmers can get access to such facilities while fueling local economies and provide training and job opportunities for Minnesotans. The final budget for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) included $1.5 million for livestock processing grants, $220,000 for additional meat and poultry inspection, $2.8 million for livestock investment grants, and $300,000 for Central Lakes College to design and implement a course for butchery and meat cutting.

The state's Farm-to-School Program received $800,000, a significant increase in its current funding. This support can help create more markets for local farmers while providing schools with the resources they need to provide fresh, healthy, local produce, dairy, grains, and meat to kids. This session, LSP members testified in support of increasing funding for the program and held a powerful virtual in-district meeting with the bill’s author, Sen. Mike Goggin (R–Red Wing), to hold him accountable in ensuring this funding went through to benefit farmers and families around the state.

As the session drew to a close, the Republican-controlled Senate proposed defunding a critically important program called Market Bucks (formally known as the Healthy Eating Here at Home Program). Market Bucks is a statewide program that allows people to use SNAP/EBT at farmers' markets to buy local foods and support our local farmers. Luckily, thanks to quick organizing by Land Stewardship Project members and allies, we were able to generate an outpouring of widespread public support for Market Bucks. It worked, and the final budget included dollars for this program. This is a clear example of how raising our voices makes a difference when the clock is ticking.

Image Emerging Farmers

Thanks to fantastic advocacy by Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Center), the Hmong American Farmers Association, and the Latino Economic Development Center, there was a major victory for getting more farmers onto the land. An Emerging Farmers Office, Emerging Farmers Account, and Emerging Farmer Outreach coordinator position were funded by the Legislature. Earlier this year, LSP member Dayna Burtness, a pastured hog farmer from Houston County, testified in support of this funding during a committee hearing. There was also an increase in the MDA's Farm Advocates Program to help farmers navigate their financial struggles and $100,000 for farmland access teams to provide technical assistance to potential beginning farmers.

Image Democracy

This session, the state Legislature was divided over the future of Minnesota’s elections. While the Republican-controlled Senate advocated for stricter voter ID requirements, provisional balloting, and other regulations, the DFL-controlled House and Governor Tim Walz sought to increase accessibility through expanded absentee voting and automatic voter registration, alongside other measures. Due to differing ideologies around election protections and expanding voter access, none of the introduced legislation passed or made it into final conference committee bills.

But that doesn’t mean this fight won’t continue. Legislation similar to what members of the Republican majority in the Minnesota Senate introduced — restricting access to the polls and limiting whose vote counts (i.e. provisional balloting) — has passed in states around the country, and we’re seeing it gain momentum in Minnesota. This momentum, rooted in a place of fear and an expression of undemocratic values, will surely be present during the 2021-2022 redistricting process as corrupt politicians and their allies fight for lines that give them a partisan edge. LSP will continue monitoring what is sure to be a long and drawn-out redistricting process and will keep members updated on ways to take action so we can deliver fair maps for the voters of our state.

Image Funding our Futures

As a society, we know we have the resources we need to ensure all people and the land thrive. The money is there to invest in the systems we all rely on everyday — food and farming, healthcare, public education, and other forms of communal support. Simply put, there is enough to go around to fund our lives so that everyone can thrive — not just the wealthy few. And to make matters worse, these folks have only grown richer during the pandemic while the rest of us have to pencil out the numbers to put food on the table.

Instead of leveling the economic scales to help more of us stay above water, this year’s Minnesota state budget caves to the pressure of corporate interests and consolidation. The budget, which should serve as a moral document of investment for the people of our state, instead preserves the status quo and holds us back from funding the future we need and deserve. LSP and our allies will continue working together through the We Make Minnesota movement to fight for the resources we know we have in order to fund the solutions we need so that all people and the land can thrive, not just survive.

Disappointingly, the final tax bill also failed to include a provision passed by the DFL-controlled Minnesota House that would have modified Minnesota’s Beginning Farmer Tax Credit to increase the amount of the credit available for sale of land and agricultural assets to socially disadvantaged farmers. This missed opportunity once again holds us back from advancing economic justice as well as racial and gender equity, in part because land ownership is a critical vehicle for securing and passing on wealth in our society.

ImageEnergy

Transitioning to a clean, equitable energy future is key to having a sustainable future for people and the land. While Minnesota lawmakers pushed through critical funding and policy for clean energy and transportation, there is much work left to be done. Since it was opposed by the Republican majority in the state Senate, the "100% Clean Energy Bill" did not pass this legislative session.

And we must make sure that in the pursuit of clean energy, we do not rely on harmful alternatives such as factory farm methane. Moving away from fossil fuels should not be done in a way that uplifts agricultural systems that harm small and mid-sized livestock farmers, as well as our water, air, and communities. LSP members testified against the factory farm methane proposal — the Natural Gas Innovation Act — and brought a needed perspective to the Legislature in terms of how this would negatively impact rural communities. We continued the conversation with a virtual in-district meeting with Senator Jason Rarick (R-Pine City), who was a co-author on this bill. Unfortunately, a compromise version of the bill passed with support from multiple parties in both the House and Senate.

ImageHealthcare

As insurers rake in record profits and rural clinics and hospitals close, Minnesotans are facing skyrocketing deductibles and co-pays, resulting in high levels of medical debt. This threatens the viability of our fragile rural healthcare infrastructure, rural economies, and rural job opportunities. Regardless of zip code, Minnesotans deserve to have affordable and accessible healthcare.

Yet several initiatives to make healthcare truly affordable failed to move forward in the Republican controlled Senate this legislative session. Instead of allowing all Minnesotans to purchase a MinnesotaCare plan and funding a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to oversee skyrocketing drug costs, tax dollars are being given directly to private insurance companies. For example, the “Premium Security Plan” provides public dollars to private insurers in "hopes" that they will stabilize premiums in return.

Establishing a Healthcare Commission to oversee access to healthcare resources may be on the table during the 2022 legislative session, which would be a strong step forward in ensuring all Minnesotans have equitable access to care, regardless of zip code.

Moving Forward

The 2021 legislative session showed the power we have as organized people. The power we built around our collective values and vision helped us accomplish some key wins. But if we are going to make the whole of our shared vision a reality, we need to continue to build that power of organized people. Rural, urban, or suburban — we depend on each other to survive and thrive. Whether you’re in Saint Paul or Saint Peter, Lake Elmo or Lake City, Duluth or Dawson, our future depends on our decision-makers fulfilling our mandate for an economically just farm and food system that benefits rural communities and Greater Minnesota. Please join us in holding our decision-makers accountable so we can transform this vision into a reality.

The road to the 2022 legislative session and November elections starts today. Your voice and action, pulling together with other LSP members and supporters, is how we can build a Minnesota that puts people and the land first. Join us in this fight for our collective vision.

If you'd like to get involved, contact one of the LSP organizers listed in the right sidebar.