Land Without Bread

The Green New Deal forsakes America’s countryside

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Days after the heart-stopping Notre-Dame Cathedral fire in April, Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg trained her eyes on the United Kingdom’s parliament and chastised its meager response to climate change. “I want you to panic,” the baby-faced sixteen-year-old quietly instructed the adults in the room. “Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.” For those who don’t get the reference, Notre-Dame’s cornerstone was laid in 1163. The magnificent Gothic structure was not completed until 1345, a work of cross-generational faith, common purpose, and, undoubtedly, obedience. This was, after all, the Middle Ages.

The loosely defined proposal for a Green New Deal hits the panic button, American-style, but it does not exactly lay a cornerstone. Which is to say that it avoids prickly issues of land use—generally reserved for states and localities that regularly do battle with sacrosanct private property rights. Yet the choices we make about our land are foundational to any future we construct, low-carbon or otherwise. It has always been so. Just ask the pre-Columbian indigenous peoples, the slaveholders and their human property, the “settlers,” the railroad barons, and the policy architects of postwar suburbanization and urban disinvestment. And consider the fact that sprawling suburban development devoured nearly 31 million acres of agricultural land—cropland, woodlands, pasture, and range land—between 1992 and 2012 alone, according to a 2018 report by American Farmland Trust (AFT). That is an area almost as large as New York State. More than a third of that conversion, 11 million acres, took place on prime farmland blessed with the world’s richest soil. That is an area roughly the size of California’s Central Valley. Protecting such land, and doing so in an equitable manner, is critical not only to our future food supply but also to mitigating and adapting to climate change.

A few others have pointed out the land-use blind spot in the Green New Deal, but they have focused almost entirely on urban land use, practices promoted by the New Urbanist and Smart Growth movements in the 1990s that aim for greater urban density, compact mixed-use, transit-oriented development, and walkability as antidotes to greenhouse-gas-pluming, car-centered suburban expansion. These urbanist measures are important in offering up an alternative to sprawl, of course, and are very much au courant in view of our newfound love affair with cities. But somehow, the inverse—protecting agricultural lands from development—has receded from public discourse in recent years, a casualty, perhaps, of the growing urban-rural divide that birthed the 2016 presidential election results. So has use of the word sprawl itself, that thing going on out there past the decrepit, empty shopping malls, far from the thrum of the metropolis.

As I was told more than once when my book Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World was published in 2012, “sprawl” had become a “dirty word” among nonprofit funders and policymakers. Once smart growth policies gained traction, “sprawl” was viewed as “polarizing,” code for “negative” judgment of suburban dwellers, especially after the 2010 congressional Tea Party triumph that scared the wits out of sustainability-minded liberals. And it wasn’t just the conspiracy-drunk anti-Agenda 21-crowd they risked antagonizing. There were also thousands of first-time, moderate-income homebuyers, many black and Latinx, who were beneficiaries of the shaky subprime mortgages and other financial instruments that underwrote oceans of sprawl until the housing market crashed in 2007, setting in motion the Great Recession. Talk of “sprawl” had become bad publicity. Better, then, to vanquish “sprawl” from our policy vocabulary, focus on the “positive,” and promote “resilient cities” and “healthy communities”—the Sierra Club’s 2005 replacement name for its Challenge to Sprawl Campaign.

The Green New Deal Resolution, while avoiding mention of urban land use, is not entirely mum about agriculture. It calls for “working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible.” The stress is on “supporting family farming,” “investing in sustainable farming and land use [meaning cultivation] practices that increase soil health,” and “building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.” But missing altogether is language for protecting rural land, the very land that supports the “healthy communities” the Green New Deal aims to cultivate.

The Coming Land Grab

Of course, galloping land development is not only taking place in the United States. A 2019 World Resources Institute study sounds the alarm that cities in developing countries are growing both upward and outward, particularly in the Global South where urban populations are exploding, with rampant land speculation and weak governance structures making growth management all the more difficult. While much of the study focuses on the inequitable results, “the adverse environmental impacts that result from unmanaged urban expansion are far-reaching,” it warns. “Increasing urban expansion consumes prime agricultural land and water, which impacts food production, habitats, and biodiversity. . . . The loss of agricultural land to indiscriminate urban expansion will assume increasing urgency as the global population grows and climate change impacts intensify.”

What the study leaves out is that these conditions—the misery of living in impoverished informal economies, food and water scarcity, desertification, flooding, and rising sea levels—are already leading to climate migration. The degradation of farmland in Mexico and Central America, for example, has contributed to the movement of families north in search of relief. Yet the United Nations and other international bodies have not updated the 1951 Refugee Convention to include climate among the factors contributing to formal refugee status, or made significant efforts to plan for the orderly resettlement of the tens of millions of migrants who will find their homelands environmentally inhospitable due to climate disruption. As a 2018 European Parliament briefing tactfully put it, “So far, the national and international response to this challenge has been limited.”

The loosely defined proposal for a Green New Deal hits the panic button, American-style, but it does not exactly lay a cornerstone.

Much as experts may try to model where these refugees will land, and in what numbers, MIT’s Technology Review concludes that it’s all an “educated guess.” That’s not surprising. But we can be reasonably certain—with or without overly esteemed data modeling—of a few things. Climate migrants will be drawn to cooler temperatures and food and water sources—that is, northward, including the United States. And within the United States, the entire South will grow hotter and experience more boisterous “weather events.” Rising sea levels, mainly along the Eastern Seaboard through Virginia and in Florida and the Mississippi Delta, will lead to inland coastal migration. How far into the interior and on what time scale is open to debate. But most educated guesses see future destinations clustered around the Pacific Northwest, New England, and states near the Great Lakes, which comprise 20 percent of the world’s fresh water and where the soil is unusually rich. With millions of migrants, climate and otherwise, headed their way, expect a chaotic, speculative land grab to break out unless the Green New Deal makes farmland protection a priority of the highest order.

The stakes are especially high in smaller “post-industrial” metros that have not enjoyed the prosperity bestowed by global finance capital and the tech economy. The legacy cities that historically grounded these settlements have lost as much as half their populations—and even more—to both deindustrialization and what a 2003 Brookings Institution report called “sprawl without growth”: outward expansion of commercial and housing development without regional population growth to absorb it. Lead author Rolf Pendall zeroed in on “the Upstate Paradox” along the New York State Thruway, where sprawl had gone haywire, but the processes he describes apply across the Rust Belt. Compare, say, the Sun Belt city of Houston, where the urban footprint has kept closer pace with its explosive population growth, with Buffalo, where the same population in 1950 now occupies a geography three times its former size. Like Buffalo, most of these older Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwestern cities were sited along riverways and on prime farmland—both critical to early industry and commercial development and now to our prospects under climate change. Low-density sprawl in these places eats up essential, irreplaceable agricultural land. It is also fiscally reckless, leaving state and local taxpayers on the hook for infrastructure buildout—sewer and electricity lines, schools, roads, and emergency services—to support new development. And it starves the city’s tax base, already squeezed by population and job loss to the exurban frontier.

The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Inventory data, on which the 2018 American Farmland Trust report primarily relied, has since been updated through 2015 and now suggests that farmland loss has been somewhat tempered, giving protection advocates some reason to cheer. But there’s little occasion to assume that other trends in the data will abate: metropolitan counties have seen the most fruit and vegetable cultivation losses, along with poultry and dairy. Only in the United States, where commodity agriculture is king, can such life essentials be relegated to the technical status of “specialty crops,” as the USDA does. Moreover, a 2017 report by the Capital District Regional Planning Commission showed that while the combined populations of Albany, Troy, and Schenectady declined by 0.7 percent since 2010, the region’s suburbs grew by 1.5 percent, with most new multi-family units—a compact smart growth housing approach—also going up in the suburbs. And anecdotal evidence suggests that manufacturing sprawl, long a development spearhead, is still a concern. As I reported in these august pages several years ago, New York State proudly subsidized a microchip manufacturing “megaproject” to be plopped on prime farmland one-and-a-half times the size of Central Park between Buffalo and Rochester and not unlike the more notorious Foxconn project located between Racine and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As an added kick, those farms are now gone, and both projects have yet to see the promised construction or robust manufacturing employment figures.

Land, Begone!

Embraced by urban economists Edward Glaeser, Richard Florida, Enrico Moretti, and others bedazzled by “star” global cities and the inevitable march of digital innovation, conventional wisdom has long held that the prospects of cities like Buffalo, Rochester, and Racine are dismal. With the flight of manufacturing, the intensification of industrial agriculture, and the dread “brain drain” sucking out “talent,” “market forces” are unlikely to smile benevolently upon such places for the foreseeable future—if ever again. Paul Krugman recently joined the gang with a New York Times op-ed in which he asked insolently, “What, in the modern economy, are small cities even for?” His answer is that the location of these places was always somewhat arbitrary, supported by an agricultural base we no longer need thanks to industrial farming and land concentration. As we enter the era of climate change, Krugman assumes that things won’t change, that global market conditions will continue to dictate the terms, that coastal megacities threatened with rising sea levels and mega-industrial farms owned by large real-estate equity firms will continue to expand, that the exodus of the so-called best and brightest will continue draining away. Above all, he assumes that the land doesn’t matter. “The modern economy,” Krugman argues, “has cut loose from the land,” and as a result “any particular small city exists only because of historical contingency that sooner or later loses its relevance.” The political parallel to this dumb economistic dismissal of small cities and towns is making the rounds in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. The Washington Post puts it this way: “Should Democrats bother reaching out to rural America?”

In writing off entire communities and productive activities, such musings reflect the folly of modern economic thought. Unlike their twentieth-century successors, laissez-faire political economists Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill viewed land as a third factor in production, along with capital and labor, but one with distinct qualities: it was fixed and immobile, it was scarce, and it could not be produced or reproduced. According to this line of thinking, land eluded laws of supply and demand, leading to monopoly, and therefore required different treatment by the state, including some form of taxation to ensure that wealthy landowners, fattened by inflated land values, did not inhibit economic development and the production of essential agricultural goods. By the twentieth century, such careful parsing was lost. In effect, later neoclassical capital theory folded land value into what economist Josh Ryan-Collins describes as “an all-encompassing ‘fund’ of ‘pure capital’ that is homogeneous across land, labor and capital goods.”

The disappearance of land from ruling economic theory may account for why the collapse of smaller heartland communities is greeted with a shrug by writers for the New York Times and the Washington Post. It also helps to explain its absence from the Green New Deal, for all its social-democratic, capitalist-critical leanings. But rural communities cannot “cut loose from the land” quite so cavalierly. For them, land is all too real, as is its loss. And some who lean conservative are pushing back.

A hand holding a ball of bright vegetation is juxtaposed over a washed out apartment building block.
© Michael J. Hentz

The Crazy Growth Economy

Chuck Marohn is one of those people who is loath to use the word sprawl. Not because it doesn’t exist or isn’t cause for concern, but because it is a “symptom of a larger problem,” what he calls the unprecedented “suburban experiment,” which has ravaged both the countryside and the city since the mid-twentieth century. As the leading light of the swiftly growing Strong Towns movement, he insists on getting to the complex root causes of sprawl and, as he says in a phone interview, “giving people room intellectually to explore things that the dominant paradigms don’t allow” across the political spectrum. Although he has much in common with the more design-centered New Urbanist movement, he says that Strong Towns asks a different set of questions centered more on the “human habitat” than on the “built environment.” “I don’t have the visceral and caustic reaction to the form and aesthetics of ‘sprawl’ that many of you have,” he explains in a 2016 entry on the Strong Towns website. “My entry into this conversation was through the door of finance.”

The choices we make about our land are foundational to any future we construct, low-carbon or otherwise.

Marohn says that he didn’t set out to create a “big tent” or even an organization with Strong Towns, which over the past year had 1.4 million unique website visitors. Rather, he launched the project in 2008 as a blog while working as a civil engineer and planner. Having grown up on an eighty-acre farm in Brainerd, Minnesota, forty-six-year-old Marohn spent years building and writing permits for frontage roads, cul-de-sacs, and other suburban development features, and he grew increasingly aghast at the short-sighted fiscal recklessness of municipal leaders. Initially writing in the wake of the housing market crash and the onset of the Great Recession, Marohn concluded that the suburban experiment was a “Growth Ponzi Scheme” in which cities and towns, at low up-front cost supplemented by state and federal subsidies, sponsor infrastructure buildout for new development but are left responsible for long-term public maintenance that future tax revenue cannot support. They are thus induced to sponsor yet more subsidized growth and use the quick cash to cover previous debt obligations and maintenance costs along with the new ones. After three or so of these cycles, the sewer line or road must be replaced—at an enormous cost covering both previous debt and replacement. If this sounds eye-glazingly abstract, here’s a brief case study:

A small town received support to build a sewer system from the federal government back in the 1960s as part of a community investment program. Additional support was given in the 1980s to rehabilitate the system. Today, the system needs complete replacement at a cost of $3.3 million. This is roughly $27,000 per family, which is also the median household income. Without massive public subsidy, this city cannot maintain their basic infrastructure. It is, essentially, a ward of the state.

The suburban experiment has two other features critical to Strong Town intervention in this fiscal death spiral: new growth takes place at a large scale and construction is completed in a finished state, with no further growth anticipated on the site. (As Christopher Leinberger shows in The Option of Urbanism, these are the “standard real estate products” favored by the private finance industry upon which developers rely—and which largely explains why suburban development looks the same everywhere.) Far from disorganized, as the term sprawl implies, it is hyper-orderly thanks to top-down arrangements seeking efficiencies of scale and high returns on investment.

In contrast to the “traditional development pattern,” Marohn argues, the suburban experiment is neither efficient nor prudent. And it has bred a culture that uncritically mythologizes the American Dream of single-family home ownership. It also lacks the open-mindedness and humility—a term Marohn often drops—required of local civic debate. Harkening back to traditional urban form, which existed for thousands of years before the sixty-year suburban “experiment” was tried and found wanting, Marohn schools his blog’s followers in how it worked. Cities and towns spread out, as needed to meet the needs of population growth and economic development, first in low-density form, and then with incremental development. The true measure of value is productivity, he argues, which reflects accurate land value in a “chaotic” process of continual, incremental adaptation informed by market feedback loops that only local economic actors have the acumen to provide.

It is from this perspective, what might be called communitarian fiscal conservatism, that Marohn and other Strong Towners critique the Green New Deal. “It aims at the right goals,” says Marohn, “but it doesn’t address the crazy economics that underlie it.” By ignoring land use in its transition to a low-carbon economy, the Green New Deal signals a commitment to current monetary policy: it will pour more liquidity into the system by taking on more debt and thus continue to pursue growth at the cost of stability, undermining local efforts to extract productive value from the land—both agricultural and urban.

However persuasive the Strong Towns argument for turning off the growth spigot on urban land development, it may not be sufficient to protect farmland in the face of future climate migration—again, a mere educated guess—to places like Minnesota. Marohn argues that there’s plenty of space to accommodate population growth within today’s suburbanized urban footprint, especially in shrinking Rust Belt cities where sprawl without growth has run amok, as long as inward development is unhindered by rigid zoning ordinances. And once farmland prices are not artificially inflated by nearby development subsidies, landowners will be less inclined to sell. “If we hadn’t stepped in with a goalie save in 2008,” Marohn tells me, referring to the Wall Street bailout, “farmland wouldn’t have been eaten up after the recovery.” Still, he says that he has found common ground with “land trust people” who agree with his analysis but argue that “in the real world,” halting the destruction of farmland requires heroic efforts and safeguards, this being an exception to the rule of market discipline, since once it is paved over—destroyed—it can never come back into agricultural use. Protecting agricultural land through permanent land trusts and conservation easements, which reduce farmers’ costs if their land is kept in agriculture, may be one big subsidy worth defending and expanding. But Marohn won’t go there. “Compared with the ‘real-world’ people,” he acknowledges, “I am an idealist.”

Bringing Out the Pitchforks

Farmers, ranchers, and their advocates, and even Congress, are going there, and most do not blush at the term sprawl. Capturing the mood in May, the pay television channel RFD-TV, which caters to rural audiences and interests, released what it promoted as “an urban sprawl documentary” called Losing Ground—the first in over ten years, and the first ever to tell the story entirely from farmers’ and ranchers’ point of view. Produced by Angus Media for a film series about Angus cattle ranchers—all funded by the American Angus Association—the documentary makes a sweeping case for agricultural land protection. As the film explains, when land is in the path of development, “you have to pay a developer’s price for it. . . . You pay for a value you are not receiving” from the goods produced on the land. This serves to boost farmers’ retirement and incentivizes them to sell, but it also makes it difficult for younger farmers to replace those who are aging out of a vocation where the average age is nearly sixty. Big developers who build large-scale projects to a finished state, as Marohn puts it, are particularly fond of the best, flattest farmland because grading costs are kept to a minimum.

Mournful and plaintive throughout, the film also explores the cultural consequences of the decline in U.S. agricultural employment from 16 percent in 1945 to just 1 percent today. “Farms need other farms around them,” says one guy, farms that can support supply and feed stores and processing operations. Without these small, decentralized supporting businesses, input prices go up and a sense of town-centered “camaraderie” diminishes. And with so few people in farming and ranching, far from populous urban centers, he says, lack of knowledge leads to “stereotyping.” Well, yes. Just ask the Democratic Party strategists who, in the words of the Washington Post, don’t want to “bother reaching out to rural America.” Or scroll for yourself through the RFD-TV website while sipping a latte, and try not to squint quizzically at features such as “Corn Warriors” and “Classic Tractor Fever.” Or try not to write them all off as racists and misogynists after stumbling across Paula Deen’s new cooking show or “Cowboy Church.” And how could large beef producers and petroleum-drenched commodity growers possibly be relied upon to fight climate change, anyway?

Yet it may be partly due to pressure from these quarters that the 2018 Farm Bill, passed with rare bipartisan support in December, increased funding for the primary federal farmland protection vehicle, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. And in May, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held its first hearing on “climate change and the agricultural sector” since 2009. At the hearing, farmland protection took a back seat to tech-enhanced “precision agriculture,” providing carbon credits for emissions capture by fields and forests, soil health, and wresting research and patents from private, price-jacking corporations. And there was much indignant pushback against the claim the beef industry contributes inordinately to greenhouse gas emissions. The underlying tension, however, was over whether these measures, none of which were incompatible with farmland protection, should remain “voluntary” or “required by government.” As ranking committee member Democrat Debbie Stabenow observed, “no farmer wants anyone to tell them how to farm their land.” But by implication, “keeping farmers on the land” is also important—and is a central mission of American Farmland Trust, which is shifting from its trademarked No Farms No Food campaign (insert Prius bumper-sticker joke here) to an aggressive new Farmers Combat Climate Change initiative.

However persuasive the Strong Towns argument for turning off the growth spigot on urban land development, it may not be sufficient to protect farmland in the face of future climate migration.

AFT, established in 1980 when the USDA published its first National Agricultural Lands Study, has been at this work for a long time. It was instrumental in merging farmland protection and environmental organizations into a Conservation Coalition soon after its founding, an unprecedented move that stressed the importance of both land and soil “conservation” practices—initiated by Dust Bowl-era Agriculture Secretary Henry A. Wallace—to air and water quality and higher-yield food production. For decades now, AFT has served as a state, regional, and federal policy development umbrella organization, with a richly populated Farmland Information Center available on its website. It also claims to be the only agricultural land trust with national scale.

But not everyone in the Conservation Coalition is pleased with the Farm Bill’s compromises. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, for example, viewed the 2018 Farm Bill as a “mixed bag” because it didn’t include funding increases for organic farming and didn’t oppose CAFOs—concentrated animal feeding operations—that treat livestock and poultry as mere widgets on an assembly line. It also leaves commodity farming undisturbed. What’s more, President Donald Trump forked over an additional $16 billion in subsidies to compensate these farmers for revenue lost to his hare-brained, single-handed tariff battles, which alone dwarf the $4 billion for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (with required matching funds) over ten years in the 2018 Farm Bill. Imagine the volume of “co-benefits” in climate mitigation and adaptation that could be achieved if even a tiny fraction of that funding were made available for permanent farmland protection.

For urbanites who know more about bus fares than hog futures: conservation easements are the most commonly used tool for agricultural land protection. In brief, these are voluntary agreements (or land donations) private landowners enter into with another entity, usually a nonprofit land trust but also some government agencies, to keep the property in permanent conservation use for agriculture or wildlife habitat, in exchange for tax deductions and lower estate taxes. Over the years, these arrangements have become more flexible, allowing landowners to put only part of their land into easement or to build working structures on it. The land must have conservation value with rich soil or forested habitat, as approved and monitored by the trust, and it remains in conservancy in perpetuity—passed on to future farmers for rent or purchase at a cost cheaper than the “developer’s price” through the land title. Farmers and ranchers are drawn to conservation easements because they are voluntary and flexible, offer financial benefits, and tee up the next generation of farmers. Since 1990, the land in state and local conservation easements alone grew from one million to more than 15 million acres.

“I would not say that farmers as a class are more concerned about sprawl,” says John Piotti in a phone interview, “but they have grown more comfortable with permanent protection of their land.” When he began work in the field twenty years ago with the Maine Farmland Trust, most farmers saw these arrangements as “communist,” says Piotti, who is interviewed extensively in Losing Ground. “There’s less pushback now, and more recognition of the advantages.”

Betting the Farm

But sprawl isn’t the only factor jacking up the cost of agricultural land and eroding the social bonds of rural culture: so, too, are large commodity operations awash in federal subsidies that inflate land prices and are increasingly owned by distant non-operators—individual owners, corporations, and real-estate investment funds—who demand climbing profits. More than 30 percent of U.S. farmland falls under such ownership arrangements. These encroachments and inflated prices turn the problem into a triple threat, making it more urgent to protect the land for food production grown by future farmers. The statewide Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, established in 2015, has protected more than four hundred acres of farmland as of July 2018, much of it in the path of development near Des Moines and Iowa City. It’s a drop in the bucket in this big agribusiness state, but it’s a start, one that a Green New Deal could help expand.

Although AFT has been involved in climate change advocacy in the past—it pressed for passage of the ill-fated Waxman-Markey climate bill in 2009—its new Farmers Combat Climate Change initiative, rolled out in 2018, puts new framing emphasis on the work. The first agricultural organization invited to participate in the U.S. Climate Alliance, a partnership of twenty-five state governors committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement in the absence of federal support, AFT overhauled its website and hired a dedicated staff member with expertise in soil health to helm the initiative. If that sounds weird, you don’t know much about soil: only healthy soil, cultivated through no-till practices, the planting of cover crops, and rotational cropping and grazing, rather than with herbicides and petro-fertilizers, can act as a carbon sink for greenhouse gas emissions—called regenerative agriculture—while also deepening plant roots that control erosion and purify water. The same is true of forested areas on or near farmland. Piotti calls these the “co-benefits” of farmland preservation, and expresses “fear that before we lose more food farmland, we will lose land with these co-benefits,” land needed for rotational practices without which farmers are under additional pressure to increase their yields through artificial means. Meanwhile, AFT also presses for siting clean energy solar arrays and compact development on land of marginal soil value, and will continue to research agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, which now stand at about 9 percent of the U.S. total. Not surprisingly, in our world of “smart” data-centered everything, AFT now calls its agenda “climate smart.”

However a Green New Deal frames guidance on state and local policy, farmland protection must be central—foundational—to its goals and funding priorities.

If a Green New Deal were to be serious about agricultural land preservation, it would undoubtedly require both carrots and sticks, incentives and penalty-laden requirements, along with strong local zoning that keeps farmland in food production. It’s been done. In 1980, Montgomery County, Maryland, adjacent to Washington, D.C., put nearly one third of its land in agricultural reserve, resulting in a thriving local food industry that was favorably covered in Losing Ground—sponsored, remember, by the American Angus Association. Today, other states are leading the way. California, which has lost more than one million acres of farmland in the three decades leading up to 2012, has tied land and soil protection programs directly to climate change policy, funding them partly with proceeds from its cap-and-trade program to the tune of $116 million to date. New York State has also been aggressive in investing $18 million in its Farmland Protection Program and $4.5 million in its Climate Resilient Farming Grant Program in the 2020 fiscal year budget alone.

However a Green New Deal frames guidance on state and local policy, farmland protection must be central—foundational—to its long-term goals and funding priorities. It’s not only sensible, it’s fair. “We already expect a lot from farmers, from feeding the world to feeding ourselves on perilously slim margins, and they are now asked to save the planet,” says AFT’s Piotti. “Don’t ask farmers to do anything they are not compensated for.”

Catherine Tumber is a contributing editor of The Baffler.

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