GREENVALE TOWNSHIP, MN — President Joe Biden visited Minnesota for a second time this year, this time to tout his achievements for rural farmers.
Biden spoke at Dutch Creek Farms, an 81-acre farm that raises pigs, corn and soybeans, in rural Dakota County’s Greenvale Township, about four miles north of Northfield. Biden’s visit comes at a crossroads: Voters are mixed about his performance as he faces reelection next year. Additionally, the pandemic and corporate consolidation are affecting the food supply and aspiring farmers, while climate change threatens our existence and that of the food we need to sustain ourselves.
Polls conducted by Reuters, Gallup and the Center for Rural Strategies, a Kentucky and Tennessee rural-focused policy think tank, show Biden faces low approval ratings in rural communities across America. The Center for Rural Strategies survey, however, found just over one-third of rural voters may be amenable to voting one way or another if candidates address affordable housing, the high cost of food and fuel, and corporate profits.
“People are feeling the economic pinch,” said Center for Rural Strategies President Dee Davis. “Rural Americans are pretty angry at the corporations. They’re mad about price-gouging, about the cost of gasoline, the cost of insulin. They want government out of their way, but at the same time they want government to intervene.”
Angela Dawson, who owns a hemp farm in Pine County in northern Minnesota and does nursery seeds and starts, agrees that the government should do something to address corporate control of our food supply. “The pandemic showed us that corporations controlling all of the food system really leaves us vulnerable to shortages,” said Dawson.
Indeed, the Biden administration is working to address the corporate monopoly of the food system. To ensure small family farms have a fighting chance, while addressing climate change and fostering local food economies, the Inflation Reduction Act provides $20 billion to invest in smart agriculture and cover crops to manage soil erosion, soil quality, water and biodiversity.
Biden says this gives farmers the ability to grow and participate in local food systems without having to depend on large corporations that have essentially controlled the market due to deregulation. “Instead of doing whatever they have to do now, depending on one income stream, being at the mercy of the commodity markets and the big corporations, farmers can diversify and earn additional income just [by] selling into the local markets,” said Biden.
Biden also invested $1 billion through the American Rescue Plan to support small and medium-sized meat processing plants. The investment addressed how only a few corporations own a majority of the nation’s meat processing plants.
“If one of those processing plants goes offline, that can cause massive supply chain disruptions, slowing production, cost farmers big,” said Biden. He talked about the plight of the owner of Dutch Creek Farms, Brad Kluver, who had to sell his products on social media to make ends meet when the meat processing plants shut down earlier during the pandemic.
The investment is showing results for some farms in Minnesota. Paul Benson received $1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build a small cattle and hog processing plant, commercial kitchen and butcher shop on the White Earth Reservation that will open next year. “We’re hoping to create that opportunity for people [who] want to be a direct marketer [of their products], if you will,” said Benson.
Biden added that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act also invests heavily on rural roads, broadband, electricity and water infrastructure. As of September, Minnesota has received $2.1 billion to fix its roads and bridges, $651.8 million to improve rural internet access, $118.7 million in clean energy investments, and $241 million to provide clean and safe drinking water, including $81.2 million to replace lead pipes. Biden said about 10 percent of Minnesota households, about 231,000 households, are receiving discounted internet through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).
Some farmers at the event believe Biden isn’t doing enough to increase the diversity of farmers who are best positioned to save the food system as farmers get older and begin to retire. “Who’s going to be the next generation of farmers in this country?” asked Rodrigo Cala,
Cala, who fosters Latino farmers at the Latino Economic Development Center, pointed out, “The average age of farmers is 58 years old.” He added that his organization received funding from the USDA to foster access to land, capital and markets for Latino farmers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas starting next year.
Other farmers believe they need to have regulations to follow that are tailored to their operation, particularly around groundwater and wastewater. “We’re going to make sure we’re not regulated out of the program,” said Benson.
“I’m just looking for fairness. [Processing] 30 beef a week versus a 5,000-beef-a-week [operation] are two different operations, two different regulatory needs.”
Though farmers who were at Biden’s event generally liked what Biden is doing to improve rural farming, they are still looking into their options as the presidential campaigns kick into high gear. Dawson, who said she’s considered one other candidate, is presently leaning toward Biden.
“I’m not for disrupting what we have so far,” she said. “I need someone that really understands the issues that we’re up against and can help us make more progress from where we’ve gotten so far.”