A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Community Farm Alliance: Defeated Farm bill failed to provide safety net, immigration solution

By Laura Peot Stevens and Bree Pearsall

On May 29, the U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, the House’s version of the Farm Bill. Community Farm Alliance does not support H.R. 2 because it fails basic responsibilities of providing a safety net for farmers and the food insecure.

Stevens (left) and Pearsall

Ironically, the bill failed not because it was fundamentally flawed, but because of disagreements about how to handle immigration policy. Ironic? Yes, because our agriculture and food systems are heavily dependent upon immigrants and migrant labor to ensure that Americans have food on their table every day.

For over a generation now, American farmers have been facing a labor crisis. Mechanization has helped the 1% of Americans feed the other 99 percent, but the crisis has persisted. Many crops, especially fruits and vegetables, and food processing still require skilled human hands. Federal programs, such as the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers, have helped provide this labor. Even with the promise of an H-2A overhaul, the Trump Administration’s immigration policies and current H-2A quotas have only made the situation worse.

Pearsall said, “We turned to the H2-A guest worker program for the first time this year and now have a group of guys from Mexico working alongside us growing vegetables on our farm. They are mostly our age, with kids back home the same ages as our kids. More than ever, I see, daily, how our food system depends on people like them that sacrifice so much”.

Farming is long, hard, and dirty work. For generations, one of the goals of farm families has been to provide the opportunity for farm children to have a “better life” that is not farming. One of the untold successes of tobacco farming is how many farm kids it put through college.

Immigrants have flocked to America because of the promise that if you work hard your children will have a better life. While America has exploited this promise as a source of cheap labor, explicitly through indentured servitude and slavery, it has also provided new immigrants a foothold to achieving the “American Dream.” Each new wave of immigrants over the past 400 hundred years has faced discrimination and exploitation. However, immigrant families have endured and overcome difficult circumstances to create a country that is economically, culturally, and socially rich.

Agriculture and Immigration policy should be inextricably linked, but not in the way Congress did in H.R. 2. America still needs “(the) tired, (the) poor, (the) huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. Congress has the opportunity and the responsibility to pass both a Farm Bill and an immigration bill that support our basic national values in creating “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.

For more information on the Community Farm Alliance, click here.

Laura Stevens, CFA Board Chair, is the Program Director for Common Earth Gardens and Common Table in Louisville. Bree Pearsall, CFA Board Member, and her husband, Ben Abell, run Rootbound Farm in Oldham County where they raise certified organic vegetables and grass-fed lamb.

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