A Real Voice for Georgia
Agriculture is Georgia’s #1 industry, yet our agricultural communities are some of our poorest. Over the past several decades, Big Agriculture interests have been pushing out small farmers, destroying what was once the economic backbone of small town life, all while abusing workers and polluting our communities. 70% of farmers make less than $40,000 per year, while 1 in 10 make over $500,000 per year. Meanwhile, local grocers are going out of business and leaving whole counties without a place to buy a jug of milk. I am running to be our next Commissioner of Agriculture to change that - to make sure that agriculture, like our government, works for everyone.
Like many industries in America, big business is driving out the small farmers who are the foundation of the communities they live in. That’s why I will fight to increase access to capital and access to markets for small farmers, so they can protect and expand their businesses. I will also be the strongest possible advocate for our Georgia Grown program, promoting Georgia Grown products in local markets, as well as around the world. I will also make sure that Georgia farmers are not subject to the whims of Washington. Right now, 90% of farming subsidies go to big agribusiness that produces our largest cash crops, like corn, wheat and cotton. I will fight to redistribute these funds to the farmers who need it most. And I will stand against Trump’s senseless trade war with China, which has harmed Georgia farmers both big and small. I believe that Washington should solve its own problems, not force them off onto hardworking Georgia farmers. Finally, I will be a strong advocate for urban agriculture as a way to revitalized blighted areas without causing gentrification.
Increasing food access goes hand-in-hand with protecting small farms. Small farmers need local markets to sell to, and small markets often cannot buy enough goods to purchase from major suppliers. One in seven Georgians is food insecure, and many of our communities are food deserts, meaning that they do not have a local place to buy fresh produce and meats. Food insecurity leads to poor nutrition and disease, so your health is often determined by your zip code. That is unacceptable. I will fight for a local grocer in every community across Georgia. I will work to create tax abatement zones to bring in small grocers who will sell locally sourced, nutritious food at fair prices. I will also fight for more pop-up farmers markets, and to make our state-run farmers’ markets stalls more affordable. And I will work to establish private partnerships with organizations employing innovative methods (like co-ops and food redistribution services) who are already working in these communities to increase food access.
When our small farms are dying, and local grocers are closing, it is not hard to imagine that our rural communities are struggling as well. Big Agriculture sucks money out of communities by underpaying workers and shipping the profits off to some distant headquarters to be spent by CEOs. More small farms mean more rural economic growth. And when farmers have local markets they can sell to, that means residents can do their grocery shopping locally, keeping even more money locally. That will help to create a broader tax base to bring in new businesses, better schools, and more rural hospitals. This is the big piece our current Commissioner is missing – we can’t have rural economic vitality if we aren’t protecting small farms and local markets.
I will be the strongest possible ally for the welfare of our farm and companion animals here in Georgia. For too long, the Georgia Department of Agriculture has treated animal welfare as a non-issue, and I am going to change that by raising animal welfare standards, hiring more inspectors, and making sure that we are actually carrying out the proper number of inspections. Currently, the Department of Agriculture often calls ahead of inspections; under my administration, there will be random inspections to ensure the proper treatment of all animals in Georgia. I will also shut down puppy mills and problematic breeders, and work to end high-kill shelters.
Though many of our farmers treat their workers with dignity and respect, worker abuses are still unfortunately all too common in many larger farms. Migrant workers especially are often subject to long hours and unsafe working conditions. Poultry workers, on average, are over 50 times more likely to contract parasites than the average person. With rampant rural hospital closures, unsafe conditions are all the more hazardous. I will make sure our inspectors are paying close attention to safety standards, and ensure that all workplace regulations are being carefully followed. I will also be the strongest possible advocate for workers’ right to organize, and for better pay, benefits and healthcare access.
Protecting our natural resources is vital not only for our health and environment, but also for the continued success of our farmers. I will fight for investments in methods that protect the health of our soil, ground water, and air. We are making great strides in innovation and affordability with sustainable agriculture, and I will fight for Georgia farmers to have every possible opportunity in this burgeoning field. I will be a champion for organics, hydroponics, aeroponics, and other state-of-the-art growing methods. I will crack down on improper disposal of waste, and overuse or incorrect use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. And I will fight for overall stricter regulations and vetting for the products we are using to ensure safety for our food and for the communities that grow it.
Cannabis and industrial hemp are excellent investments for the future of Georgia farmers and consumers. Nationwide, we have seen huge return on investment in places that have been allowed to cultivate these crops. Our textile industry, as well as many others, would benefit greatly from in-state cultivation of hemp. And every day, we are finding more medical uses for cannabis that are helpful for a myriad of diseases. Additionally, cannabis can be an excellent remedy to the growing opioid epidemic that is overtaking many of our rural communities, especially since so many lack access to basic health and addiction treatment services.
Farming, particularly farm ownership, has been for far too long primarily white, male, and middle aged. Currently, only 6% of farm owners are people of color, and only 15% are women. The average age of farmers in Georgia is 60. I believe that there is a place for every kind of farmer in Georgia agriculture. I will fight for programs that incentivize more female farmers, LGBTQ farmers, young farmers, farmers of color, immigrant farmers, and farmers with disabilities. As a person with autism, I have seen firsthand how therapeutic farming can be for people like me. Many autistic people enjoy quiet, solitary work that agriculture can provide, giving them a path to a meaningful career in rural communities that usually don’t even have a doctor who specializes in their condition. And while promoting diversity in farming, I will also make sure that we are providing proper protections for these new kinds of farmers, and to fight discrimination and workplace abuses, so that anyone in Georgia who wants to be a farmer can be a farmer.