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With just over 12 months until the 2020 election, the field is crowded with contenders. There are currently 24 declared presidential candidates, ranging from the well-known (Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren) to the lesser-known (Marianne Williamson, Wayne Messam), and even one candidate who doesn’t want to win (Mike Gravel). In mid-April, Republican William Weld became the first Republican challenger to President Trump; he was joined in the summer by fromer U.S. representative from Illinois Joe Walsh and former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford as three Republican challengers to President Trump.
Food and farming haven’t been high on the list of campaign priorities in recent decades, except maybe in Iowa. But this year, that appears to be shifting. With the pivotal role that rural voters played in the 2016 election firmly in mind, many presidential candidates are zooming in to address the challenges that abound in today’s farm country. And a number of them are connecting agriculture to other pressing issues—notably climate change, food insecurity, economic development, and more.
We first published this article on May 29, 2019; throughout the 2020 campaign, Civil Eats will be tracking how each candidate approaches food and farming, and we’ll update the information as their platforms develop. The newest information will be at the bottom of each candidate’s listing.
The first debates among Democratic candidates took place on June 26 and June 27; food and farming issues were largely absent from the discussion, although Cory Booker reiterated his call to freeze mergers of large agriculture companies, and Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttegieg each called for support for carbon farming practices and helping farmers sequester more carbon in the soil.
July 2019 saw the first narrowing of the race, as Rep. Eric Swalwell ended his campaign the day before Tom Steyer joined the race. We are collecting the former candidates at the bottom of this post. After the second round of Democratic debates, several candidates ended their campaigns in quick succession, with John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, and Seth Moulton all bowing out in mid-August.
In late August, a second Republican challenger to President Trump entered the campaign. Former U.S. Representative Joe Walsh (R-Illinois) launched his campaign on August 25 as an alternative to the president.
In mid-August, 10 of the top Democratic candidates took part in town-hall style forum focused entirely on climate change. The seven-hour event gave each candidate up to 40 minutes to present and answer questions from journalists, activists, and concerned Democratic voters. Civil Eats covered the event and summarized each candidate’s presentation how food and agriculture fit into their climate plans.
In early September, Republican Mark Sanford, a former U.S. Representative and former governor of South Carolina, announced his intention to launch a primary challenge against President Trump, the president’s third Republican challenger.
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During negotiations for the 2018 Farm Bill, Bennet used his seat on the Senate agriculture committee to push to maintain SNAP and legalize hemp as a commodity crop. Since the bill’s passage, he has advocated for water access rights for hemp growers, an issue he proposed to resolve with legislation in 2017. He has also been highly critical of Trump’s trade wars for hurting farmers.
In 2018, Bennet proposed legislation related to conservation practices on farms, another farm bill hot topic. His COVER Act would modify the federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) program to provide payments for conservation practices that improve soil health and sequester carbon, as well as create a pilot program aimed at measuring cover crop benefits and increasing farm income. His Carbon Utilization Act would authorize the USDA to provide additional funds for carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration. He is also co-sponsoring a bill to modernize agricultural transportation.
Bennet was a member of the 2013 “Gang of Eight,” which drafted the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2011. The Act, which passed only in the Senate, would have expanded the visa program for agricultural workers as part of a larger, comprehensive immigration proposal. He is also a co-sponsor of Sen. Diane Feinstein’s Agricultural Worker Program Act, alongside fellow candidates Harris, Booker, Gillibrand, Sanders, Bennet, and Klobuchar.
In late May, he unveiled a plan to tackle climate change with a focus on slashing emissions from farming and ranching and conserving nearly a third of U.S. lands. The senator says his climate plan is the only one to focus on agriculture and conserving land to sequester carbon dioxide while also seeking emissions cuts from power plants, transportation, and heavy industry.
In late July, Bennet released a wide-ranging rural health care plan that would offer “Medicare X” public health insurance plans in every county, while offering incentives for health care professionals to open and work in underserved rural regions, and investing tens of billions of dollars in improving rural broadband service and addressing the opioid crisis.
“We must have a smart and tough trade policy that levels the playing field for farmers in the global economy,” Biden said during a 2007 Iowa stop. “That means we have to fight for fair agreements, to keep markets open—and review and enforce the trade agreements we have. In my administration trade officials will ensure enforcement is a priority.”
As vice president, his farm policy moves caught some flak. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition heavily criticized Biden’s negotiations for the 2013 Farm Bill extension, which provided $5 billion for commodity subsidies at the expense of smaller reform and aid programs. In 2014, Corn Belt biofuel growers were infuriated when they suspected Biden influenced the EPA’s lowering of the renewable fuel standard, although Biden’s aides rejected those claims, according to Politico.
Earlier in his congressional career, Biden three times introduced a bill to prohibit distribution of food to foreign countries under the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act unless all domestic food assistance programs were adequately provided for that year. In 2008, he and two colleagues urged President Bush to add an additional $200 million to a $350 million request for emergency food aid funding to Iraq.
In May, Biden raised hackles when Reuters reported that he was crafting a “middle ground” climate policy. In June, Biden introduced a climate plan that proposes $1.7 trillion in spending and a tax or fee on pollution with the aim of eliminating the nation’s net carbon emissions by 2050, with environmental targets similar to the goals of the Green New Deal.
In mid-July, Biden unveiled a plan for rural America through “investments in agriculture, rural economies and infrastructure.” The plan also aims to achieve a net-zero emissions agriculture industry by expanding carbon farming efforts and encouraging farmers to participate in carbon markets.
Since announcing his candidacy, Booker has regularly spoken about food and farming. In March, he sent a video to a Family Farm Action rally in Iowa in support of the Farmer’s Bill of Rights. Senator Booker and Senator Elizabeth Warren last year introduced a bill to ban “no-poaching” policies, used especially by fast-food franchisors to keep workers stuck in low-paying jobs. In 2017, he pushed the FDA to strengthen lead limits in baby food and fruit juice. In 2018, he proposed a merger moratorium for large farm and food companies. Another bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Warren would increase transparency and accountability for commodity checkoff dollars. Booker has been talking farm policy with Family Farm Action President and Founder Joe Maxwell since 2015.
As mayor of Newark, Booker in 2012 put a spotlight on food insecurity when he chose to live on New Jersey food stamps recipients’ $30 weekly grocery budget for seven days. “My goals for the #SNAPChallenge are to raise awareness and understanding of food insecurity; reduce the stigma of SNAP participation; elevate innovative local and national food justice initiatives and food policy; and, amplify compassion for individuals and communities in need of assistance,” he wrote on his LinkedIn page at the time.
In early August, Booker unveiled The Climate Stewardship Act, an attempt to engage farmers in climate change mitigation at an unprecedented scale, by increasing incentives for conservation practices such as cover crops and rotational grazing, funding grants to expand renewable energy production on farms, investing in programs that bolster local food systems, and funding urban farms and community gardens in low-income communities. Read more in Civil Eats’ coverage of the Act.
The two-term Democratic governor of Montana announced his candidacy in mid-May, and his campaign website—and platform—are still fledgling. His signature issue is taking on “Big Money” and overturning the Citizens United campaign-finance ruling from the Supreme Court, but coming from a rural, farm- and ranch-intensive state, it’s a safe bet that Bullock will eventually stake a position on more than just the rural-urban divide.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg famously uses South Bend, Indiana, as model for what the U.S. could look like under his leadership. Under his mayoral influence, South Bend has “revitalized” its economy and infrastructure, though not every resident is pleased; many of South Bend’s poorer residents say they have not seen much change in their neighborhoods.
Buttigieg in April stood with striking employees of grocery chain Stop & Shop in Boston, following similar visits in previous days from Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. He has also backed the Green New Deal and connected climate change with agricultural devastation. In a March interview, Buttigieg rebuked regulatory capture in agribusiness—a recent hot topic among campaigners—although he did not propose any solutions.
Garnering more media attention, perhaps, were his comments on fast-food company Chik-Fil-A; he said on The Breakfast Club podcast he did not like their anti-LGBTQ politics, but did like their chicken, and joked about brokering a “peace deal.”
In mid-August, Buttegieg released a rural economy plan that would invest in entrepreneurship, technological infrastructure, a $15-per-hour minimum wage, and higher salaries and student debt forgiveness for rural teachers.
Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Castro has made a point of visiting often-underserved rural communities on the campaign trail.
“I mean, you all can tell, I’m a city boy … these issues are not the things I was most familiar with. But I’m committed to listening and to learning and, if I’m president, not forgetting about rural communities,” he said at a March campaign event in Iowa. His platform is largely built around a “people first” plan for immigration reform. Castro would strengthen protection for guest workers through Sen. Feinstein’s Agricultural Worker Program Act.
At the Heartland Forum in Storm Lake, Iowa, Castro pointed to the value of immigrants for revitalizing rural communities, something the meatpacking town proudly exemplifies. He also spoke about protecting rural air and water, which would start with boosting environmental protection funds and appointing environmentalists in the EPA. In the past, he’s expressed support for the Green New Deal and the Paris Climate agreement as frameworks for fighting climate change. He said in Iowa in January that ethanol “has a role to play” in transitioning to sustainable energy, according to the Des Moines Register.
In May, Castro became one of two candidates, along with Bernie Sanders, to endorse free, universal school lunch for all students.
Huffington Post reported in mid-August that Castro is one of five Democratic candidates who have announced support for a ban on new factory farms in Iowa. The proposal is part of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement’s candidate survey, and five of nine candidates who filled out the survey supported the ban.
In August, Castro released a wide-ranging animal welfare plan, which would not only reverse some of the Trump administration’s rollbacks of the Endangered Species Act, but also strengthen animal welfare rules for large-scale farming operations.
The first to declare his candidacy for president, Delaney has already visited all 99 Iowa counties, including Buena Vista, where he attended the Heartland Forum in March. At the event, he spoke about his “Heartland Fair Deal,” a set of policy proposals to support rural America, which includes student loan forgiveness, increased venture capital, and incentives for building zero- and negative-emissions technologies in rural regions.
Delaney’s plans for supporting agriculture include reentering the Trans-Pacific Partnership to expand U.S. food exports to Asia, investing in bio-based manufacturing research for climate resilience, and expanding conservation program funding. He also wants to redesign anti-trust regulations to address big ag monopolies, but he told the Des Moines Register he would not break up existing companies.
“I believe in the rule of law, and I think that we just have to make sure we’re enforcing the antitrust laws (in) this country and making sure that they’re updated for what’s going on in the world,” he said.
As a U.S. Representative, Delaney has historically supported SNAP and sponsored two bills on medical nutrition equity.
Gabbard has made food and farming a central issue of her campaign and advocates for self-sufficiency as crucially important for food security, especially in her home state of Hawaii, which imports 85 to 90 percent of its food. Her policy proposals include a farmer-friendly framework that includes food hubs, educational programs and agri-tourism, as well as tax breaks and incentives for small producers.
Gabbard also supports organic and sustainable farming practices. Her campaign focuses on GMO labeling as a top issue and highlights her legislative efforts to reduce antibiotic use and promote organic agriculture. In her four terms in Congress, she has also proposed a number of bills on agricultural research to advance methods including integrated pest management (an alternative to commonly used pesticides).
Early in 2019, Gabbard criticized Trump’s trade wars for hurting farmers, stating on social media that they had caused record bankruptcy in farmers and that median farm income was -$1,548 in 2018. However, Politifact revealed that bankruptcy declarations were not at record levels and that her provided dollar amount omitted off-farm income, which brought the median farm household income to $76,598 in 2018.
Huffington Post reported in mid-August that Gabbard is one of five Democratic candidates who have announced support for a ban on new factory farms in Iowa. The proposal is part of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement’s candidate survey, and five of nine candidates who filled out the survey supported the ban.
Mike Gravel has pledged to use any surplus donations to his presidential campaign to support Flint’s water crisis recovery efforts; he is running not to win, but to push the field leftward during the debates.
As Senator from Alaska from 1969 to 1981, Gravel was an early leader in environmental legislation, including fishery protection and management. Early in his first term, he cut short Pentagon nuclear testing under the North Pacific seabed, out of concern that nuclear waste might spill from caverns under the sea floor and contaminate a major food chain.
In terms of agriculture, Gravel opposes growing corn for ethanol (he told NPR it was a “terrible national policy … that was going to destroy farming, and makes no sense at all”) but supports growing cannabis; he’s directed a company that sells cannabis products since 2014.
Harris’s support for farmworkers over the years has earned her the endorsement of Dolores Huerta, a civil rights activist who co-founded and led the United Farm Workers union with César Chávez and Larry Itliong.
In February, she reintroduced the Fairness for Farm Workers Act to require overtime pay for labor on farms and in related industries and remove exemptions for minimum wage requirements. Booker, Warren, Sanders, and Klobuchar all co-sponsored the bill. “It is absolutely unconscionable that many farmworkers—people who often work over 12 hours a day in the hot sun—do not receive overtime pay for the hard work they do to put food on the tables of American families,” Harris said in announcing the legislation.
She has also co-sponsored with Diane Feinstein the Agricultural Worker Program Act, which would give farm workers who meet certain requirements temporary protected status and a path toward citizenship. As a senator, Kamala Harris has co-sponsored a handful of food and agriculture proposals, including Gillibrand’s SNAP for Kids ACT and the Equitable Nutrition Assistance for the Territories Act.
At the end of July, in advance of the second round of Democratic debates, Sen. Harris introduced climate equity legislation aimed at making sure the government would assess any new environmental laws or rules on how they would affect low-income communities.
At the Heartland Forum in March, Sen. Klobuchar called on her experience on the Senate Ag Committee and anti-trust subcommittee, proposing ideas for tackling consolidated power in agriculture and across the board. Klobuchar also expressed empathy for farmers hurt by Trump’s trade wars, connecting financial strain to high rates of farmer suicide.
“It’s not just earning a living,” she said at the event. “It’s your whole life.… That’s why I feel so strongly that this rural agenda has to include understanding the people that make our agricultural system run.”
During a tour of an Iowa ethanol plant in April, Klobuchar promised to protect the renewable fuels industry if elected. Her $1 trillion infrastructure plan would in part increase access to healthcare and high-speed internet in rural areas.
In May, she released a plan to help farmers impacted by the current trade war and recent natural disasters by raising the debt limit on farm bankruptcies and increasing access to government loan programs. Klobuchar also pushed Farm Bill conservation programs and introduced legislation to increase reporting on government conservation data for producers’ benefit. She’s a co-sponsor of the recently introduced Farmer Family Relief Act, which would allow more farmers into a debt-relief program.
Anti-GMO activists criticized Klobuchar in 2016 for voting to advance the “DARK Act,” which would limit states’ ability to set GMO labeling standards. Later, she opposed considering the bill in the Senate and voted instead for GMO labeling requirements. She also caught flak in 2011 for supporting legislation allowing the pizza sauce on school cafeteria pizza to count as a vegetable serving under the USDA rating system. She has since expressed remorse.
On July 25, Klobuchar released a plan to address the nation’s housing and affordability crisis. The plan includes efforts to improve access to rental assistance and mortgage programs in rural regions.
On August 7, she released a farm policy plan that would expand existing farm support programs. As a part of a wider initiative designed to create job growth in rural America, Klobuchar calls for tying farmers’ subsidies to their cost of production (which would likely increase the amount of money they receive), expanding antitrust enforcement, boosting funding for disaster aid, and supporting programs that encourage farmers to adopt environmental conservation programs.
Messam, mayor of Miramar, Florida, grew up in a farm town as the son of a Jamaican sugarcane cutter. His campaign focuses on “the American Dream,” and proposes direct climate action, a one-time cancellation of all existing student loan debt, encouraging entrepreneurship among young Americans and comprehensive immigration reform. Messam says he is proud of Miramar’s living wage enforcement and growing economy.
Civil Eats was unable to locate information on Messam’s food policy platform, and his campaign did not return requests for comment.
O’Rourke’s $5 trillion plan for fighting climate change includes proposals for the agriculture sector, including increasing farmers’ and ranchers’ access to emissions-reduction technology and incentives for climate-friendly practices, as well as expanding crop insurance. In April, O’Rourke directly tied farming to fighting climate change in Marshalltown, Iowa.
“If we allow farmers to earn a profit in what they grow, if we allow them to contribute their fair share in combating climate change by growing cover crops, allowing the technologies that invest in precision tilling and farming, capturing more of that carbon out of the air is another way in which they can make a profit,” he said at an April campaign stop in Iowa.
Along with Booker, O’Rourke video-called into the Farmers Bill of Rights Rally preceding the Heartland Forum to support family farmers. In late April, he sparked debate by calling for farm-to-table restaurants in every community as a solution to poor nutrition, as tweeted by the Washington Post’s Annie Linskey.
During last year Senate bid, O’Rourke laid out a thorough agriculture platform that addressed a wide range of farmers’ needs. He called for a stronger crop insurance “safety net,” “robust rural infrastructure,” and immigration reform to protect migrant workers.
As a U.S. Representative, O’Rourke also criticized current trade wars, noting the importance of stable foreign markets for U.S. farmers. In 2015, he voted to repeal country of origin labeling requirements for meat products; he also voted against the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (known by some as the DARK Act), which prevented states from passing GMO labeling laws.
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan hopes to run as “the food candidate,” keeping food policy front and center in his agenda. Civil Eats featured Ryan in 2015 after he wrote, Real Food Revolution, Healthy Eating, Green Groceries, and the Return of the American Family Farm, which offered his take on the modern food system and strategies to help turn it around.
Health and wellness are central to Ryan’s food platform. Ryan notes that the country’s rising rates of diseases such as diabetes have motivated his calls for more awareness of the connections between food policy and health outcomes, enriched nutrition curricula for medical students and more salad bars in schools.
Ryan wants to reduce subsidies for commodity crops, and instead give more of support to farmers growing fruit and vegetables. Ryan told Civil Eats that his presidency would be a “huge improvement” for farmers, with a robust agenda around regenerative agriculture to promote regional and sustainable methods, sequester carbon and provide high-quality food for communities. “I will be engaging the farmers of America, and they will be at the table with me to help me figure this all out,” he said.
Ryan has applauded the tiniest farm bill programs, those without baseline funding, which he said “punch above their weight,” and he has supported conservation practices and programs, pushing legislation to employ farmers in fighting nutrient pollution in the Great Lakes. As president, he said he’d push for a Farm Bill resembling Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s Food and Farm Act.
Ryan has worked to improve food access as well, twice introducing a bill to eradicate food deserts with incentives for food service providers and helping bring funds for increasing healthy SNAP purchases to his legislative district, among other moves.
As a senator, Sanders has stood by food service workers as a strong union supporter and advocated for a path to citizenship to discourage the exploitation of undocumented laborers. With his 2020 campaign, he is promising to fight Big Ag on behalf of family farmers.
In May, Sanders released his “Revitalizing Rural America” plan, which includes a number of proposals to undo corporate consolidation in agriculture, promote climate-friendly farming and regenerative agriculture, and invest in rural communities.
“The time is long overdue for the U.S. government to stand with family farmers and that is exactly what Bernie Sanders will do,” a Sanders spokesperson told Civil Eats.
In a recent op-ed for the Des Moines Register, Sanders promised to strengthen anti-trust laws to defend farmers and consumers from powerful corporate middlemen. Other pledges include reforming subsidies so more go to small- to mid-size producers, keeping people in rural communities with a federal jobs guarantee and protecting farmers and natural resources with the Green New Deal.
Similar anti-corporate rhetoric informs Sanders’ support for GMO labeling. In the past, Sanders has sponsored bills promoting community-supported agriculture and economic stability for dairy farmers. He is also the primary sponsor of a bill to extend SNAP participation into U.S. territories, co-sponsored by several of his 2020 competitors, and has promoted food access and nutrition throughout his career.
In May, Sanders became one of two candidates, along with Julián Castro, to endorse free, universal school lunch for all students.
In early July, Sanders joined with Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez to introduce a joint resolution declaring a climate emergency, and to call for an urgent Green New Deal program, which would include multiple food and farming proposals.
In late July, Sanders visited the Iowa Farmers Union summer picnic, where he outlined his policy platforms to support small family farmers over factory farms and address rural development and water pollution.
Huffington Post reported in mid-August that Sanders is one of five Democratic candidates who have announced support for a ban on new factory farms in Iowa. The proposal is part of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement’s candidate survey, and five of nine candidates who filled out the survey supported the ban.
On August 22, Sanders unveiled a $16 trillion climate plan, which would set the country on a path to zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Among the many details of the plan is a commitment to “supporting small family farms by investing in ecologically regenerative and sustainable agriculture.” The plan also places an emphasis on supporting sustainable, local foods, and breaking “the corporate stranglehold on farmers and ranchers.”
On October 2, Senator Bernie Sanders experienced a heart attack on the campaign trail; he later announced he would be scaling back his campaign as a result, though as of a week later it’s still unclear what form that scaling back will take.
On October 15, just in advance of the fourth Democratic candidate debate, Sanders announced that he was introducing a bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), that would provide free school meals to all U.S. schoolchildren, while also eliminating families’ existing school meal debt and increasing the amount that school districts are reimbursed for each meal they prepare.
At the time of his campaign announcement, Sanford’s 2020 platform is largely based on his fiscal conservative bonafides (and presenting himself as another anti-Trump candidate). Sanford does acknowledge the importance of conservation of natural resources—particularly as fitting in with “the biblical concept of stewardship,” according to his campaign platform—and he acknowledges that climate change is real, though he largely punts on the issue of what to do to mitigate it, aside from making sure that China and India are held to the same emissions-reductions standards as the U.S. and Western Europe.
Mark Sanford has a long legislative record in Congress and in South Carolina’s capital, although his record on food and agriculture issues is much slimmer. As a member of Congress, Sanford was assigned to the House Budget Committee, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the Homeland Security Committee. Among his notable food and agriculture votes, Ballotpedia notes that Sanford voted against the 2018 Farm Bill both times it came up for a vote. As governor, Sanford made headlines in 2009 as the first to reject $700 million in federal stimulus dollars from the Obama administration, citing fiscal responsibility concerns. (The state legislature later overrode Sanford’s rejection and forced him to accept the the funds.) Earlier in his tenure, Sanford ruffled legislators’ feathers by bringing to the state Capitol two pigs—named “Pork” and “Barrel”—to protest what he saw as wasteful spending in the state’s 2004 budget. (State legislatures also overrode most of his vetoes to that spending bill.)
Despite supporting other candidates in the 2016 Republican primary campaign, in the end Sanford endorsed Donald Trump in the general election. A 2014 profile in the New York Times noted that, prior to running for office in the 1990s, Sanford managed the Coosaw Plantation, an “enviable slice of Southern landscape that Sanford’s family owns” on South Carolina’s southeastern coast.
Joe Sestak is a retired three-star Admiral in the U.S. Navy, and was the highest-ranking military official ever elected to the U.S. Congress. During his time in Congress, Sestak received a 96 percent approval rating from the League of Conservation Voters in recognition for his pro-environmental votes, including those to address harmful algae blooms (“red tides”), public lands grazing, and for reforming farm subsidies in the 2008 Farm Bill. Sestak’s campaign announcement included a call to action on climate change, and has come out in favor of a ban on fracking in Pennsylvania, a controversial position in the fracking-intensive state.
In mid-July, Sestak released a wide-ranging agriculture plan that would support country of origin labeling laws, require the federal government to buy all U.S.-grown food, support right to repair laws for farmers and others, increase protections for migrant farmworkers and farmers of color, and conduct a “thorough scientific survey of the safety and efficacy of GMOs” and the chemicals associated with them, including glyphosate, dicamba, atrazine, chlorpyrifos, and others.
Tom Steyer is a billionaire philanthropist and retired hedge-fund manager, who earlier this year announced he would not run for president. Steyer is most known for his support for climate action and vocal support for impeaching President Trump, calls for both of which he will bring to the presidential campaign trail. In his campaing announcement, Steyer said he would focus on “solving two major crises—reforming our broken political system and saving our planet from the ravages of climate change,” according to The Hill. In addition to being an active philanthropist on climate change, Steyer with his wife, Kat Taylor, own and operate the 1,800 TomKat Ranch in Pescadero, California, which is focused on regenerative agriculture, carbon farming, and local food sourcing. (The TomKat Foundation is a financial supporter of Civil Eats.)
In late July, Steyer unveiled a “Justice-Centered Climate Plan,” which aims to achieve a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2045.
Since taking office in 2017, President Trump’s agenda and accomplishments have changed the landscape for food and farming. Among the highest-profile effects of the Trump administration has been his trade wars with China, Mexico, and others, which has resulted in $28 billion in aid payouts to U.S. farmers unable to sell their harvests internationally. Still, many farmers have shown they’re willing to continue to support Trump.
The president has followed through on his campaign promises to try to slow or stop undocumented migrants entering and working in the U.S.; the drop in immigration, as well as fear among undocumented workers already in the U.S., has also made it harder for some farmers to hire enough workers for their fields.
Trump’s USDA chief and his first EPA administrator (as well as his second) have taken action to undo or weaken regulations governing water pollution, protections for small farmers, farmland conservation funding, and more. The administration has also chosen not to ban chlorpyrifos, and recently reaffirmed the safety of glyphosate.
The second Republican challenger to President Trump, Joe Walsh entered the campaign on August 25. A vocal conservative, Walsh was elected to Congress as part of the Tea Party wave of 2010. He lost his reelection bid in 2012, and has worked as a radio and television commentator. As of one day after his announcement, Walsh’s campaign website has no issue pages; and his record on food and agriculture issues during his Congressional career are minimal. During his announcement, which Walsh made during George Stephanopoulos’s Sunday political talk show “This Week” on ABC, Walsh was asked about his past history of racist language, including racist attacks against President Obama and Senator Kamala Harris. Walsh, whose campaign is focused on being an alternative to President Trump, expressed regret for those statements and for his role in helping to “create Trump.”
Like Sanders, Sen. Warren has focused her 2020 agriculture platform on fighting corporate consolidation.
“Washington has consistently favored the interests of giant multinational corporations over the interests of family farmers,” Warren said in a statement to Civil Eats. “I’m fighting for big, structural change to put power back in the hands of people and communities. That is how we will build an economy that works for everyone.”
In March and at the Iowa Heartland Forum, Warren promised to review and reverse large corporate mergers such as Bayer-Monsanto and break up vertically integrated agribusinesses. She expressed support for “right-to-repair” laws for farm equipment, voluntary checkoff programs, and country-of-origin beef labelling, while denouncing contract farming in livestock. She has also said she wants to extend Iowa’s ban on foreign farmland ownership nationwide.
Since 2013, Warren has co-sponsored many bills to improve food access programs, including the Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives Act and Sanders’ bill to expand SNAP to territories. She and colleagues Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) requested in 2017 and released in Jan. 2019 a report from the Government Accountability Office formally recognizing widespread food insecurity on U.S. college campuses.
On June 4, Warren unveiled a $2 trillion green manufacturing plan, including clean energy transition research and development. While the plan does not specifically mention farming or food, it expands on Warren’s support of the Green New Deal, which does specifically focus on agriculture and climate.
On July 17, Warren introduced in Congress the College Student Hunger Act of 2019, which would make low-income college students eligible for SNAP benefits.
On August 7, Warren released a sweeping farm policy plan that calls for aggressively breaking up big pesticide, seed, and meatpacking companies and strengthening anti-trust enforcement, as well as paying farmers fair prices and cutting down on overproduction. The plan also aims to create opportunities for small, beginning, and minority farmers and proposes to allocate $15 billion annually into a USDA program that pays farmers to adopt environmental conservation practices with the goal of decarbonizing agriculture.
Huffington Post reported in mid-August that Warren is one of five Democratic candidates who have announced support for a ban on new factory farms in Iowa. The proposal is part of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement’s candidate survey, and five of nine candidates who filled out the survey supported the ban.
On October 9, Warren’s campaign unveiled a detailed plan to address the impacts of environmental racism. The plan builds on her previously announced climate plan in a number of ways, including by requiring companies benefiting from her Green Manufacturing program to provide fair wages, benefits, and collective bargaining rights; increased training for fossil-fuel industry workers to get new jobs in clean energy; and boosting the USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program to $15 billion per year to limit agricultural runoff that harms water systems and groundwater supplies.
Bill Weld announced his run in the Republican primary against President Trump in mid-April. The party moderate, who was libertarian Gary Johnson’s 2016 running mate, has vocally criticized Trump and even called for his resignation.
He has said that Trump’s “stance on immigration is nothing short of shameful” and that he’d take an opposite approach as a “moral matter.” He also called for more work visas to support the agriculture and construction workforces in the western U.S. A passionate free trade supporter, Weld has also criticized Trump’s “huge unilateral tariffs,” which he sees as damaging to the world economy.
Food is a focus of author and political novice Marianne Williamson’s campaign. She has said that the FDA has failed as a “watchdog” and allowed corporations to “corrupt” our food system.
“Over the past century, the advent of modern farming techniques, the corporatization of agriculture, the use of petrochemical-based fertilizers, and the subsidizing and encouragement of the growth of genetically modified foods have collectively created a poisonous brew that is now affecting our health and well-being in critical ways,” Williamson has written.
Her proposals include supporting small family food producers, fighting against large agribusiness, supporting food stamp programs, and finding ways to treat animals with more respect. Her healthcare and climate change positions center around similar ideals.
Williamson is a lecturer and author, mainly of self-help books, including one on “spiritual lessons for surrendering your weight.” She also founded the non-profit Project Angel Food, which serves meals to homebound AIDS patients around Los Angeles.
Huffington Post reported in mid-August that Williamson is one of five Democratic candidates who have announced support for a ban on new factory farms in Iowa. The proposal is part of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement’s candidate survey, and five of nine candidates who filled out the survey supported the ban.
Driven by the advancement of technology, Andrew Yang has built a platform around his concept of the “Freedom Dividend.” He’d give every adult American citizen $1,000 each month to help them maintain a Universal Basic Income (UBI) as manufacturing, retail, and food-service jobs become automated. He believes this would improve life for all Americans, whether or not robots threaten their careers.
“You put even $1,000 a month into people’s hands, then what you see by the numbers is better children’s health nutrition, higher graduation rates, better mental health, lower domestic violence,” Yang said in an interview with CBS News.
Those already receiving over $1,000 monthly from government welfare programs would have a choice between participating in the Freedom Dividend program or continuing to receive those benefits. Yang proposes consolidating some of those programs to fund UBI, while others have proposed eliminating programs like Social Security, food stamps, Medicaid, and agricultural subsidies altogether.
Yang’s plans for the environment, immigration, student loans, and more could have major implications for farmers and farm workers, but at this time he has not explicitly mentioned those groups.
California Rep. Eric Swalwell spent his early years in rural Iowa, and he calls upon that connection often when campaigning in the state. In April, just after announcing his presidential run, he appealed to Iowa voters by proposing a plan to fight rural “brain drain.”
A key part of Swalwell’s campaign focuses on tackling student debt and reducing the cost of college. He recalled his own student debt of almost $100,000 and proposed other ideas as well, like zero-interest college loans and tax-free employer contributions to debt.
As a U.S. Representative, Swalwell has cosponsored several food and agriculture bills focused on hunger, nutrition education, and sugar policy modernization.
Swalwell ended his campaign on July 8, and will seek re-election to the House of Representatives.
John Hickenlooper is the first brewer to become a governor since Samuel Adams led Massachusetts in 1792. The former mayor of Denver opened 15 restaurants and brewpubs in Colorado and the Midwest, where he developed an appreciation for local food. As Colorado governor, he supported efforts to increase farm-to-table and slow food in his state.
Hickenlooper has said little about food or farming yet on the campaign trail, but in April he released an economic plan that criticized Trump’s trade wars by citing devastation to farmers; he proposed open trade, with emissions standards in trade agreements, as an alternative. His anti-trust plan would encourage competition and re-establish a farmer’s “right to repair.”
In his backyard at the Governor’s Mansion, non-profits and volunteers maintained the First Family’s Giving Gardens, which donated vegetables to a support center for women, children and transgender individuals in need. During those years, he signed several anti-hunger bills. In 2011, he was the only U.S. governor to sign an executive order resolving to end child hunger.
Hickenlooper, a Green New Deal skeptic and fracking supporter, often promotes “collaboration” as the key to sustainable agriculture. Last year, he spoke at a World Food Prize symposium about his work encouraging both organic and commercial farmer to promote soil health with regenerative practices like cover crops.
“Government can play an active role in getting both sides to the table and a neutral environment where you can begin to rebuild that trust that has been broken down,” he said.
Hickenlooper ended his presidential campaign on August 15, but left open the possibility of running for a Senate seat in Colorado.
Jay Inslee’s platform is centered on climate change, an issue many see as inextricably connected to food production and security. He includes agriculture as an important area to target for accelerating the transition to clean energy and net-zero greenhouse gas pollution, but provides no specific strategic proposals for that industry.
As the governor of Washington state, Inslee signed the nation’s first bill banning nonstick chemicals in food packaging and has urged the Trump administration to maintain state-level flexibility for SNAP eligibility. Inslee also supports the state’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant, which makes it easier for SNAP participants to afford fruits and vegetables, proposing $2.3 million to continue the program in his 2019-20 state budget, and he signed the bill creating the Breakfast After the Bell program in high-poverty schools, which will take effect this fall. Additionally, Inslee has signed and supported Washington’s phase-out of marine salmon aquaculture, saying the risks to native salmon runs are too high.
His goals for growing agriculture in the state include “harnessing emerging opportunities” in organic, sustainable, and local food, eliminating regulatory barriers and protecting and managing “scarce resources” ranging from water to credit.
As a Washington state representative in the 1990s and 2000s, Inslee cosponsored many bills related to nutrition and food access. In 2009, he proposed an act to authorize the secretary of agriculture to make grants for establishing and operating community gardens.
At the end of July, in advance of the second round of Democratic debates in Detroit, Inslee unveiled a new “Community Climate Justice” plan that would focus on environmental justice, crack down on corporate polluters, and create an Office of Environmental Justice within the U.S. Department of Justice.
Inslee ended his campaign for president on August 21, 2019, and instead will focus on running for a third term as governor of Washington state.
U.S. Representative (D-Massachusetts), 2015 – present
Moulton is a former Marine and an outspoken critic of the current Democratic party.
In 2017, he introduced the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, bipartisan legislation that would create a national grant program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to support the training and education of the nation’s next generation of commercial fishermen.
Moulton backed efforts to include the Local Agriculture Markets Program in the 2018 Farm Bill, which would support small-scale farmers and increase access to local food. His startup, Eastern Healthcare Partners, which aimed to address obesity issues in the U.S. and the Middle East, is now defunct and owes $340,000 to the state of Delaware.
He included in his March campaign announcement a call to support carbon farming as an essential element of the Green New Deal, noting that “Congress should give them a subsidy to plant cover crops and not till their fields, which would reduce carbon emissions and also protect farmers’ soil.”
In April, Gillibrand announced the Safe School Meals for Kids Act to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that has been linked to childhood neurodevelopmental disorders, from food in school cafeterias. She has also co-sponsored legislation to enact a federal ban on chlorpyrifos.
A sitting member of the Committee of Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, who previously served on the House Agriculture Committee, several of Gillibrand’s proposals were adopted in the final 2018 Farm Bill, including a refund for dairy farmers failed by insurers and investments, as well as an amendments focused on rural broadband and rural jobs.
Gillibrand wrote the legislation to build the Obama administration’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which was designed to improve healthy food access for communities with poor access to food, and she pushed for the program’s reauthorization in 2018. She also introduced the SNAP for Kids Act of 2018, co-sponsored by Booker, Sanders, Warren, and Harris, to expand SNAP benefits for children.
Gillibrand ended her presidential campaign on August 28.
In making his campaign announcement, De Blasio positioned himself as running on behalf of working people and against income inequality. He has championed the $15-per-hour minimum wage in the state and in New York City, and has supported the 2017 passage of the universal free school lunch program in the Big Apple. During his tenure as mayor, New York City’s urban agriculture has grown in prominence and impact, and city councilmembers and advocacy groups are working to expand the city’s support for urban farmers.
De Blasio failed to gain traction with the public, and ended his campaign on September 20.