Farmers Discuss Land Access, Local Markets & Climate Change Issues with Sen. Smith

Meeting Takes Place at Twin Cities Area Incubator Farm

MARINE ON ST. CROIX, Minn. — During a walking tour of an incubator farm Sunday, farmer-leaders relayed to Minnesota U.S. Senator Tina Smith the importance of creating and supporting food and farm policy that prioritizes people and public investment in the health and wellbeing of communities and the land. Several farmers on the tour are associated with Big River Farms, a 150-acre incubator operation run by The Food Group that offers education in organic agriculture for farmers who have historically been underrepresented in farm ownership, including BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color), women and New American farmers. Other participants in the tour are farmer-leaders with the Land Stewardship Project (LSP), a Minnesota-based sustainable agriculture and family farm organization.

Tour participants made it clear that federal and state programs designed to help farmers must be made more accessible to beginning farmers, especially those that historically haven’t been able to take advantage of such programs, such as people of color and those who are undertaking practices that are considered “unconventional” by lenders and others.

“I’m a first-generation farmer and am starting with nothing, because my family came here with nothing,” said Naima Dhore, a vegetable producer who started out at Big River Farms and who is now chair of the Somali American Farmers Association. “Access to land is a big issue if farmers like me are going to play an important role in our local food system. How do we make that transition easier for immigrants who are interested in agriculture?”

Moses Momanyi, who operates Dawn2Dusk Farm in Cambridge, Minn., said that there are many new immigrants who are interested in raising food for local markets, and they can serve an important role in providing healthy food to a diversity of communities while contributing to the local economy.

“I think it’s a connection right from the farm to the table,” he said.

Federal legislation such as the current COVID-19 stimulus proposal, along with the fast-approaching 2023 Farm Bill, provides opportunities to shape our food and farm system in significant ways, said the farmers. Continued conversations with Congressional Agriculture Committee leaders like Senator Smith will be key to building the more just and resilient farm system we need, said LSP member Hannah Bernhardt, who raises pasture-raised livestock in Minnesota’s Pine County.

“Policy makers like you need to recognize that the kind of regenerative practices farmers like us are using do everything from mitigate climate change to produce cleaner water. We’re making a healthier environment for everyone, which filters down to less healthcare costs,” Bernhardt told Senator Smith. “We need to place an economic value on these services so that more farmers have an incentive to try these innovative practices.”

Senator Smith said that she’s excited to hear how the innovative practices these farmers are using can build resiliency in our food system and communities, especially at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is showing just how vulnerable the infrastructure actually is.

“On Sunday, I got to meet with some passionate, energetic, and younger Minnesotans at Big River Farms trying to break into farming,” said Smith. “They told me about their hard work and their struggles trying to get access to the land and capital they need to succeed. What I heard from them will reinforce my efforts to ensure that the federal farm programs support these smaller producers working in Minnesota, as well as they support larger farmers growing big commodity crops on thousands of acres. It’s inspiring to see them growing healthy food for local markets using innovative, sustainable practices.”