Farming and faith

A fellow faith leader (also a farmer) from Iowa shared:

Here’s a simple way to move farmers from climate change skeptics to climate action super heroes. This is the messaging that has come out of our conversations with farmers. Don’t start with this in the meetings. See how we do the meetings below. Using the responses from farmers in our meetings, we’ve shaped this message. Farmers need to start the discussion with honest, unfiltered answers to the questions. Trust the process. Trust the farmers. See what you come up with in your state. Maybe it’s this same message. Maybe it changes this message. Whatever you end up with needs to be seen as a message farmers own themselves.

Why do we need to act? Climate change is the biggest problem facing all of humanity. If we fail to act, all of the progress we’ve achieved through the millennia is at risk: food security, public health and life expectancy, empowering women, increasing equity, expanding peace. We’re not only talking about stalling these advancements, we are on course to dramatically reverse these advancements as our human systems struggle to deal with a radically changing climate.

Who can save us? American farmers. We have the most advanced agricultural systems with the most public policy support of any farmers on the planet. We also have the best public agricultural research institutions in the world.

How can American farmers save the world? Make it profitable for American farmers to help solve the climate crisis. Cut them a check. America needs to invest in our farmers to lead and innovate so they can develop the agricultural systems that will reduce emissions, capture carbon, and help stabilize the climate. And we’ll improve the economics of our farms and rural communities and heal the environment at the same time.

These are the five practice areas of innovation farmers will use to maintain their productivity of commodities and to develop the environmental services the world desperately needs:

Conservation tillage—no till is an example

Integrating livestock—rotational grazing is an example

Permaculture—cover crops and woody vegetation are two examples of keeping roots in the ground all year

Extending crop rotations—expanding crops on a whole farm basis drawing on 10,000 years of genetics rather than relying on only a narrowing set of crops

Generating energy— on the farm solar, wind, and methane digesters are examples

Just like we continued to innovate through the Green Revolution while depending on fossil fuels, there is easily decades of innovations farmers will need to make on their farms as they develop strategies within each of these practice areas and more importantly combine these practice areas on their farms. For example: Reduced tillage in a five-year-four crop rotation (corn, beans, oats, alfalfa, alfalfa), using livestock to graze back cover crops, and strategically installing solar with pollinator habitat on acres with low productivity.

Transitioning into the Green Revolution didn’t require farmers to tear down their farms and start over. It was a natural evolution where farmers made annual investments and innovated on their own farms. When we invite farmers to see the role farmers will play in the next great agricultural revolution, they start to see themselves and their farms in that future. When we ask them to define the policies needed for them to succeed in this future, they do what they do best—they look for solutions.

How we do our work?

  • Identify farmers who are already practicing conservation on their farms.
  • Invite them into small group discussions in safe places—churches. We’ve found 4 to 8 farms with 6 to 14 people is a great target size for a group discussion.
  • Only invite farmers ready to talk about climate action. This is no place for a debate. This is about farmers talking to each other about the climate crisis on their own terms. They define the problem. They define the solutions. It may be hard to find them initially. But we’ve found many Iowa farmers want to have these conversations, they just haven’t been invited to do so.
  • Invite everyone from the farm that wants to come, spouses, children, employees. It’s very important that this is not just a group of all male farmers.
  • Do this over a meal. We’ve used both lunch and dinner. Haven’t done breakfast but in the right situation it could work.
  • Keep the meeting to 2 hours. Start eating when they get there. Then pray and do the discussion. Once everyone or most everyone has arrived.
  • Focus on broad questions and let the farmers shape the discussion.
  • Follow up “action” is who is interested in talking with candidates, elected officials, and media.

Four basic questions we ask:

How does God/your faith call you in your vocation as a farmer? Will likely talk about feeding people and stewarding the land. We focus on the stewardship question.

How is God/your faith calling you to help solve the climate crisis? Last century one of the biggest problems facing the world was a need for a big increase in agricultural production to feed a growing population. This century the biggest problem facing the world is finding solutions to the climate crisis.

What economic conditions would need to exist for you to respond to a call to climate action as a farmer? This is about rethinking the subsidies, risk management, markets, policies, etc. that shape the agriculture we have today. Once they’ve said they’d like to do it, this is the question about what needs to change so they can.

What are some ways farmers can help promote the economic conditions to encourage agricultural solutions to the climate crisis? This gets to the empowering question of what can they do as a farmer to make that economic change.

Greetings,

Here is an update on our work moving farmers into climate action heroes. We appreciate your work in helping farmers become leaders.

Here are two new important press stories covering our work. A more complete list is below. We continue to connect farmers with media. Last week CNN had a crew in the basement of Hopkins Grove UMC outside of Madrid to capture the conversation farmers had with each other about innovation and conservation on their farms that can help solve the climate crisis.

How Climate Change in Iowa is Changing U.S. Politics. Time Magazine, Justin Worland, September 24, 2019 covers how farmers are shaping the climate change message in the Democratic caucus campaigns in Iowa.

Empowering rural communities in climate action. The Catholic Messenger, the Catholic Newspaper of the Diocese of Davenport, September 19, 2019 by Barb Arland-Fye. When it comes to stewardship of the earth, farmers and rural America are hungry for hope and empowerment. That’s the message Matt Russell, executive director of Iowa Interfaith Power and Light (Iowa IPL), shared during a meeting last month with Bishop Thomas Zinkula and Diocesan Social Action Director Kent Ferris.

Farmers and rural Americans are hungry for hope and empowerment. Thanks to those who are incorporating this simple message into your work.

Farmers need economic incentives to innovate including helping them manage risk when they do. And they need paid when they deliver the services the world is demanding.

We’ve turned that into a very clear value proposition that cuts across political ideologies.

  • Why? Because climate change is a truly horrific problem.
  • Who? American farmers. We have the most advanced agricultural systems with the most public policy support of any farmers on the planet.
  • How? Put farmers in a leadership position and reward us when we deliver. Pay farmers for climate services.

Thank you for the work you do. Our democracy depends on people like you making commitments to this work. Thank you for believing in our democracy. See links below to more national media coverage of our work helping farmers lead on climate action.

Matt Russell

Executive Director
Iowa Interfaith Power & Light
505 5th Ave. Suite 333
Des Moines, IA 50309
515-689-1112

Director@IowaIPL.org

www.IowaIPL.org

Here is a list of some publications where we took this message to print in opinion editorials. There are also examples of our farmers speaking up for climate action. We also have examples of the press recording how presidential candidates are shaping their agriculture and rural policies around our message that farmers can help solve climate change.

Op-Eds

 

Pay Farmers for Environmental ServicesDes Moines Register. August 5, 2019.  By Matt Russell and Robert Leonard. “A voluntary solution to a number of global crises is right in front of us if we have the courage to embrace it.”

What if we paid farmers to fight global warming? New York Times, June 24, 2019, by Robert Leonard and Matt Russell. “A common denominator for many of these crises is in how we use the land, and that is where we will find the solution. A simple, cheap and relatively quick fix is to pay farmers and ranchers for environmental services.”

What Democrats Need to Know to Win in Rural America New York Times, March 18, 2019, by Robert Leonard and Matt Russell. “Policy that stabilizes the farm economy costs pennies per meal; so would compensating farmers for environmental services. This would help all farmers, as well as improve our air, water and soil quality. At a recent Sunday meeting at a Presbyterian church nearby, farmers complained that current farm policies favor those who skip conservation and punish those who do the right thing.”

Small farms in the Midwest can heal the environment and prosper with ‘Green New Deal’ Kansas City Star, Feb 4, 2019, by Robert Leonard and Matt Russell. “As Democrats try to build a “Green New Deal,” and as many Republicans are beginning to recognize the reality of climate change, farming is part of the solution. American farmers can lead the way by innovating on their farms and leveraging their political power to reward success. And when they do, the act of saving their farms in these difficult times can also help save the world.”

Farmers speaking up

 

Scientists say farmers could grow their way out of the climate crisis I spent CNN, August 8, 2019. I spent 2 hours with Bill Weir of CNN at my farm on Sunday the 4th. Two of our farmers were in Weir’s CNN’s coverage of the IPCC report. Our work will likely be featured in a CNN documentary this fall. We also expect CNN will include agriculture in the Climate Crisis town hall next month and that our message will be prominent in the questioning and the candidates answers. Here is the longer version that aired on the same day: https://newsvideo.su/video/11206635 and here is the Facebook Watch video with nearly 3/4 of a million views. https://www.facebook.com/cnn/videos/923736201297305/

One Man Is Trying to Fight Climate Change By Mobilizing an Unlikely Team: Iowa’s FarmersMother Jones, July/August 2019, by Brian Barth. “But the biggest obstacle to taking action may not be partisan politics. “What is missing, in your experience, from getting farmers to be more leaders on engaging with the problem?” Russell asked the crowd at the church. “Financial reward,” blurted out the farmer in suspenders, to nods and grunts of agreement.”

Candidates getting the message

 

How Climate Change in Iowa is Changing U.S. Politics. Time Magazine, Justin Worland, September 24, 2019 covers how farmers are shaping the climate change message in the Democratic caucus campaigns in Iowa.

Democratic candidates tap activists, farmers for policy advice. Agri-Pulse, Philip Brasher, August 14, 2019. “Earlier this summer, Beto O’Rourke made a pitch for making farmers a solution to climate change. The former Texas congressman said he wanted to ‘capture more carbon out of the air and keep more of it in the soil, paying farmers for the environmental services that they want to provide.’ The idea had its roots in Iowa, whose caucuses kick off the presidential primary season in February. A few days before that June debate, O’Rourke had toured a farm south of Des Moines run by Matt Russell, a fifth-generation farmer who runs a nonprofit called Iowa Interfaith Power and Light. Russell showed O’Rourke how farm practices such as longer crop rotations, conservation tillage and managed grazing could keep more carbon in the soil.”

The Newest Audience for Democrats’ Climate Change Plans: Iowa Farmers. Time Magazine, August 13, 2019. We shaped Justin Worland’s coverage in Time Magazine. We expect another piece from him from the farmers’ perspectives.

Democratic field brings ag into climate debatePolitico, By Helena Bottemiller Evich, August 8, 2019. “’Rural Americans can be part of the solution instead of being told they’re part of the problem,’ Buttigieg said. ‘With the right kind of soil management and other kinds of investments, rural America could be a huge part of how we get this done.’ A bubbling trend? Now, as candidates roll out their climate plans and grind through more gladiator-style debates, it seems like agriculture is starting to break through as a piece of the environmental puzzle.”

Positive Climate Perspective: Iowans Educate Democrats on Solutions Farmers, Biofuels Offer on Climate ChangeProgressive Farmer, July 29, 2019, by Chris Clayton. “Farmers are so well positioned,” Russell told DTN. “Nobody is as well positioned to do this as American agriculture. And it is ours to lose. As a person of faith, that is a great moral failure to have all of those gifts in our wheelhouse to be able to help solve the most pressing problem potentially in the history of humanity, to have the ability to have such a potential impact on an equitable, science-based democratic solution.”

It’s the most practical way to solve big environmental problems.Storm Lake Times, June 19, 2019, by Art Cullen. “Talk of paying farmers to suck carbon out of the air is gaining cachet in Iowa as presidential candidates hear tales of hardship wrought by years of wacky weather and tanking commodities markets.”

Religious Press

Empowering rural communities in climate action. The Catholic Messenger, the Catholic Newspaper of the Diocese of Davenport, September 19, 2019 by Barb Arland-Fye. When it comes to stewardship of the earth, farmers and rural America are hungry for hope and empowerment. That’s the message Matt Russell, executive director of Iowa Interfaith Power and Light (Iowa IPL), shared during a meeting last month with Bishop Thomas Zinkula and Diocesan Social Action Director Kent Ferris.

Podcasts

 

National Young Farmers Coalition, podcast. Matt Russell speaks about the opportunities for farmers to be on the forefront of climate innovation and mitigation.

Conservation Chat, podcast. Matt Russell talks with host, Jacqueline Comito from ISU’s Iowa Learning Farm, about the purpose of the IPL’s “Faith, Farms, and Climate” effort.

House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis

I took our farmers’ message to the congress in May when I testified for American Agriculture at the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. The minority members were ready to go full cow fart on me but ended up asking none of the questions they’d prepared. Because using the language of real farmers, ready for climate action, the narrative had been changed. Republicans and Democrats alike were suddenly ready to think about farmers as an important solution to climate change.

House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
“We must start believing in American farmers. We can solve global warming by unleashing the power of American farmers to solve problems.” – Matt Russell, executive director of Iowa Interfaith Power and Light testifying on May 23, 2019 in Washington, DC.

American farmers, managing natural systems to solve human problems. Developing ways of farming that can capture carbon and hold onto the value of those solutions for their farms and rural communities.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s