For more than 30 years, Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA) has worked with small and mid-sized farmers seeking to reverse the trend of farm loss and corporate consolidation in agriculture, and, starting in 2017, we added an emphasis on supporting historically marginalized farmers of color in the Southeast U.S.
In order to do this work authentically, we prioritize farmers’ lived experiences as the driver of our work. Our conversations with farmers take many forms, however, nothing is as vital to our work as the one-on-one conversations between staff and farmers that routinely happen. For instance, we rely on farmers pointing us to problems they encounter when accessing federal support and navigating U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations and offices. Our direct communications with farmers helps us to develop policy and advocacy priorities.
Working across agricultural sectors and through various coalitions, RAFI-USA combines on-the-ground practical services in tandem with policy advocacy to ensure farmers have access to the tools they need to make the right choices for their farm and families as well as for their communities and the environment.
RAFI-USA takes a whole system approach to change through our integrated program areas: Challenging Corporate Power, Come to the Table, Expanding Farmers Market Access, Farm Advocacy, Farmers of Color of Network, and Just Foods as well as policy priorities which emerge through those programs.
Challenging Corporate Power
The Challenging Corporate Power program fights the unchecked corporate control of our food system that affects each of us. This lack of accountability creates a dramatic imbalance of power between farmers and corporations that significantly contributes to the loss of independent farmers and rural economic vibrancy. Corporations have been given carte-blanche to pursue profits at the expense of farmers, workers, and rural communities. Rooted in our decades of advocacy with contract poultry growers, we work with a broad base of stakeholders to fight corporate power. Together farmers, workers, environmental activists, animal welfare groups, and others work together to build an equitable food system that is economically, racially, and ecologically just.
Come to the Table
Come to the Table is a multifaceted program that focuses on systemic solutions to food access that strengthen just and sustainable agriculture. The program works with faith communities, hunger relief advocates, and farmers to engage and mobilize them on issues of food access and justice in the food system. The program delivers conferences, events, technical assistance, and trainings, and fosters the development of collaborative networks and resources.
Expanding Farmers Market Access
Farmers markets and other direct-to-consumer markets are an invaluable component of strong local and regional food systems for both farmers and their surrounding community. The Expanding Farmers Market Access program supports the development of resilient, dependable, and accessible direct-to-consumer markets that lead to stronger farm viability and community food security. The program coordinates nutrition incentive programs across North Carolina and provides technical assistance to farmer collectives, farmers markets, and faith communities in the development of alternative local food marketplaces. The “Double Bucks” program, for instance, doubles the buying power for those using SNAP benefits at farmers markets, benefiting families as well as farmers.
RAFI-USA farmer advocates provide assistance, guidance, and administrative representation to save or strengthen farms. When farmers are in financial crisis we’re there to answer their call with our Farmer Crisis Hotline (866.586.6746). From representing farmers in USDA matters to navigating disasters, our work is grounded in the needs of each farmer. We provide expert knowledge on complex financial issues, combined with more than three decades of experience fighting to keep family farmers on their land. We serve diverse farms across the mid-Atlantic and Southeast, ranging from small, specialty operations to livestock and commodity operations on thousands of acres. Through our work, we have a number of tools and resources for farmers and advocates. Access RAFI-USA’s library of publications and farmer resources.
Farmers of Color Network
Farmers of color in the U.S. have long been disadvantaged by systemic and institutional racism, including discrimination in accessing credit, loans, resources, and markets. As a result, farmers of color comprise just 4% of all U.S. farmers. RAFI-USA founded the Farmers of Color Network in 2017 to support these farmers and grow their numbers. The Network provides farmer-led technical assistance, market connections, outreach, and funding opportunities, as well as farm tours, networking events, and gatherings to highlight ancestral traditions and knowledge.
From promoting meaningful standards for organic agriculture to pioneering new standards for social justice in the food system, Just Foods projects seek to make fair, sustainable farming a viable choice. Protecting agricultural genetic diversity is also essential to the viability of family farms. Just Foods advocates for funding for classical breeding programs and support of publicly held seeds and breeds.
In the course of our program work we learn about what factors are either contributing to the success of farmers’ businesses, or making it harder for them to make a living. When we see similar conditions impacting multiple farmers, they can often be traced back to policies that create or intensify those conditions.
Policy shapes the environment in which farms thrive or fail, and determines the rules we play by. Policy directs who receives financial support. Policy can build a system that continues to concentrate wealth and power with fewer and fewer people, or it can strive to make systems fair for individual farmers and communities. We believe that farmers, rural communities, and all those who labor in agriculture must also be at the table as policy is made. RAFI-USA works to bring the voices of farmers and rural communities into that process to pass, fund, and implement policies that support economically, racially, and ecologically just farm communities.
Join our email list to learn about how you can help us shape policies that benefit small- to mid-sized farmers and to receive our quarterly e-newsletter.