Nonprofit Groups Award $2.2 Million to Equip Frontline and BIPOC-led Organizations to Engage in Food and Farm Bill Debates

With 15 Organizations Collaborating to Select 28 Grantees Across the Country, the Effort is Among Largest Participatory Grantmaking in Food and Farming to Date

Published Dec 18, 2023

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As Congress continues to negotiate the next food and farm bill, a group of organizations with expertise in agriculture, labor, climate change, food security, and nutrition have announced a first of its kind effort to uplift the voices of food and farmworkers, marginalized farmers, and frontline communities in the farm bill process. Through a participatory grantmaking process, the groups awarded $2.235 million in grants to support 28 grassroots groups. The grants will support capacity building, organizing and advocacy efforts around the food and farm bill.

“For decades, federal farm policy has been geared first and foremost to the interests of large-scale industrial farming, giant agribusinesses, and mostly White landowners. That must now change,” said Dr. Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which brought together funders and nonprofit organizations to raise and distribute the funds. “To transform the food and farm bill so that it serves all of us, the communities that have been the most marginalized by the status quo must be centered in policy debates and play an active role in those conversations.”

A grantmaking advisory committee—made up of majority Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders from grassroots and national coalitions representing farmers, workers, and impacted communities— received $8 million in requests from 54 organizations, showing widespread interest among frontline organizations in engaging in federal policy debates. The committee, which had a fraction of that amount to allocate, ultimately recommended funding 28 organizations, 91% of which are BIPOC led. All grantees represent BIPOC communities.

“The current status quo farm bill is benefiting corporate agribusiness at the expense of the wellbeing of farmers, workers, and everyone who eats. As the climate crisis intensifies, we need a food and farm bill that invests in agriculture as a solution to the climate crisis and honors the climate leadership of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color farmers,” said Shantell Bingham, the organizing director for the Climate Justice Alliance, a member of the grantmaking committee.

Grant awards range from $25,000 to $130,000 with an average grant size of $80,000. The funding reaches 21 states and Washington, D.C., two territories (Mariana Islands and Virgin Islands), the Navajo Nation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and the Nez Perce Tribe.

Grantee organizations represent farmers, workers, communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis, and low-income individuals supported by SNAP. Funding may be used to educate members of Congress on the needs of these communities. Several grantees are hiring policy staff to increase their capacity to engage in federal policy. Others are sending farmers to Capitol Hill or to meet with members of Congress in their districts.

One grantee, the Hand, Heart, and Soul Project serves predominantly Black and brown families in Clayton county, the least resourced county in the metro Atlanta area, where a high proportion of the population receives food assistance and secure and stable housing continues to be a challenge. The organization has been engaged in federal policy for many years but has lacked the capacity to fully engage in both education and farm bill conversations. “We are able to hire a policy director only because of this opportunity,” said executive director Wande Okunoren-Meadows. “Now we will finally have the resources to influence the farm bill policies that directly affect us and our community members here in Atlanta and beyond, every day.”

The Midwest Farmers of Color Collective has already used funds to mobilize member farmers to discuss key challenges with elected and appointed officials. The group hosted a farm bill training with more than 50 BIPOC farmers in attendance, then invited members of Congress to attend an agricultural listening session at the November 4 Emerging Farmers Conference. Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture Thom Petersen participated, along with Whitney Place, the executive director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency Minnesota office, and staff from the offices of Governor Tim Waltz, Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, and Representative Angie Craig.

The grantmaking committee included leaders from the Climate Justice Alliance, First Nations Development Institute, Food Chain Workers Alliance, Good Food for All, HEAL Food Alliance, La Semilla Food Center, Midwest Farmers of Color Collective, National Black Food & Justice Alliance, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Young Farmers Coalition, Rural Coalition, Union of Concerned Scientists, and United Food & Commercial Workers Union. Funding for this effort came from a combination of private foundation and individual donations. The committee will continue to raise funds to support farm bill engagement by historically underrepresented groups.

UCS and partners launched the transformational farm bill campaign in September 2022 with 170 groups calling on President Biden to ensure a farm bill that aligns with his administration’s values and centers farmers, workers and communities over agribusiness interests. Over the last year, the campaign has also called for including food and farmworker protections in the farm bill, hosted a historic congressional briefing, and identified 34 marker bills that if included in the farm bill would transform our food system for the better. This grantmaking represents the next step in this effort, investing in the capacity of underrepresented organizations to engage on the farm bill around these critical issues and share their frontline expertise with policymakers.

“Extreme factions in Congress have prevented the timely reauthorization of the food and farm bill,” said Salvador. “But the recent extension gives our grantees and other partners more time to press for a new approach, one that does much more to create an equitable and resilient food system by centering racial equity, addressing the climate crisis, increasing access to nutritious foods, protecting food and farmworkers, and fighting corporate consolidation.”

Grantees and their locations: