Disclaimer: This 3-part web series only scratches the surface on how racism and white supremacy is embedded in every aspect of our current food and farm system. While not all-encompassing, this blog and webinar series serves as a starting point and provides some clarity regarding how our call for a better food & farm system is deeply intertwined with ongoing calls for racial justice. As a majority white-led organization, this is just one way we are using our power and platform to fight back against white supremacy, exploitation, and erasure in our food system. We will continue to fight for our vision for a more racially-just food system in collaboration with our Black, Indigenous, Latinx and allies of color who have been at the forefront of this fight forever.

This post was written by Keisha Perkins and Abigail Landhuis.

Missed Part 1 of the series? Check it out here.


Our modern food and farm system changed dramatically with the industrialization of the mid-20th century, but its reliance on the exploitation of Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color remained. 

Colonialism took on a different form with the rise of globalization —spreading U.S. influence and power internationally. Market forces shaped who did and did not have power, and agriculture played a central role in escalating and maintaining the dominance the U.S. had built on years of stolen land and labor. 

The policies that shifted the balance of power in our food and farm system disproportionately impacted Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other farmers and workers of color and continued to exploit them for their knowledge, labor, and land.

“Get big or get out”

The 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act resulted in a three-pronged supply management strategy for farms. Price floors were created for certain crops, the federal government was able to purchase excess grains to stabilize the price of crops, and farmers were paid to set aside land for conservation. Together, these programs ensured farmers were given a living wage for their goods, while preventing overproduction and environmental harm.  In short, these programs supported a food system controlled by many independent family farmers.

These policies began to be rolled back before the 1970s, but it was President Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, that led the charge for completely dismantling the parity agriculture system in favor of one that prioritized profit over everything else.

 Butz told farmers to “get big or get out” thus creating the concept of Big Ag. He prioritized increasing production and decreasing commodity prices over all else, including farmers’ livelihoods, the success of rural communities, and the health and safety of consumers and the environment. He got rid of supply management policies that had stabilized food prices, while encouraging farmers to plant fence row to fence row, relying on export markets to get rid of surplus. 

He was aided by the story that US farmers “feed the world” — a narrative that made it easier to sacrifice the health of the land, kick indigenous and traditional farming practices to the margins, and ramp up production to never-before-seen levels. 

At the same time this was happening, the U.S. eased up on the oversight of mergers and acquisitions in all industries. This set off a domino effect, allowing numerous waves of consolidation in the food and agricultural sectors, and it virtually eliminated small and independent companies. This decision resulted in collapsing commodity prices and a massive transfer of wealth and power to Big Ag, exploiting family farmers, workers, consumers, and the environment.

Effect on family farmers

This push to “get big or get out” resulted in farmers having to take on more and more debt to buy land, bigger equipment, more fertilizers and pesticide.  They also had to produce  as much as they could, as fast as they could, for as cheap as possible. In addition to this, farmers were forced into exploitative contracts with large agriculture corporations, which resulted in corporations controlling the animals and the profits while family farmers bore the cost of production.

By calling on farmers to “feed the world,” Butz was able to eliminate any price supports, driving crop prices down. By the 1980s, due to the lack of supply management policies, farms were producing way more than the market could handle. Prices fell drastically and interest rates on the loans farmers had taken out in order to “get big” were devastating. Farmers buckled under the weight of the debt they’d taken on to expand their farms and tens of thousands of family farms were lost, hollowing out communities and leading to the increased consolidation of land in the hands of a few. As a result, between 2012 and 2017, 67,000 farmers went out of business. Now just over 5% of farms account for 75% in sales.

Disproportionate impacts on Black farmers

Corporate consolidation and the shift of power to Big Ag combined with a history of colonization and exploitation — rooted in racism and white supremacy — resulted in an immense loss of land and livelihood for Black families specifically. In 1920, Black farmers represented 14% of all U.S. farmers and owned a total of 15 million acres of land. Today, less than 1 percent of the nation’s farmers are Black, and they own and operate less than 2 percent of the farmland they did in 1920. 

This loss of land came about for numerous reasons, but the leading cause of involuntary land loss among Black families is due to exploitation of heirs property — property that was passed down to multiple family members without having documentation, like a will. The racism embedded in the U.S. court systems resulted in a lack of trust — so much that, even today, 76% of Black people do not have wills— making it very difficult to prove ownership of land. Combining that with other loopholes, Black families often had to watch as their land was auctioned on courthouse steps or forced into a sale against their will, stripping families of the land they’d accumulated.

The drastic decrease in the number of Black farmers and farmland was also instigated by racial discrimination within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the loan officers responsible for deciding which farmers get support from USDA loan programs. These loan officers often approved only a fraction of Black farmers’ loan requests and most often denied farm equipment loans or disaster relief to Black farmers. This began a ripple effect that resulted in over 100,000 Black farmers joining together for a class action lawsuit against the USDA for the part they played in ensuring Black families wouldn’t make a successful living through farming.


The narratives of “get big or get out” and “we feed the world” pushed by Big Ag continued to reinforce the exploitative and oppressive systems embedded in our food and farm system. No matter how you look at it, whether it’s the dairy, hog, beef, or poultry industry, the trend is the same: the industrialization and monopolization of agriculture by a few massive corporations. Agribusiness corporations like Farm Bureau, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, DowDuPont, Smithfield, and Tyson Foods have exploited communities and displaced thousands upon thousands of family farmers, especially Black farmers. In the next installment of this series, we’ll look at the role and impact of this racist, oppressive system specifically in Iowa. Read Part 3 to learn more.

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Do you want a food and agriculture system that puts farmers, workers, eaters, and our environment before corporate profits? 

Join us Saturday morning, August 5, to lift up that vision for key decision makers like Gov. Reynolds, Senators Grassley and Ernst, new U.S. Secretary of Ag Sonny Purdue, and national press.

Why this Saturday?

That’s when Iowa’s self-appointed political kingmaker and corporate ag tycoon Bruce Rastetter will host his second “Corporate Ag” Summit in Des Moines. He’ll tout his vision of industrial agriculture and trade policy that puts profits before people and the land.

We need to be there to counter corporate ag’s narrative with our own vision!


Saturday, August 5 @ 7 AM—12 PM
RSVP here!


Meet at the Iowa CCI Headquarters

(2001 Forest Ave, Des Moines, 50311)


7:00 am  –  Meet at CCI headquarters

7:30 am  –  Load buses to Summit

7:45 am  –  Rally & Press event
(when we need the most people!)

9:30 am  –  Return to CCI for teach-ins
on our clean energy and clean water campaigns

RSVP today! A big turnout helps inject our vision and values into an event that is sure to get a lot of press coverage. Then share and like using the buttons below to enhance our online presence and spread the word.

Industry Attempts to Hide Iowa Water Quality & Land Use Data from Public Is Only Latest Example of Corporate Ag’s Lobbying for Secrecy 

In Iowa and across the country, battle lines are drawn between strong and effective public oversight and corporate ag secrecy as industry ramps up use of privacy laws in an attempt to shield the absentee landgrabbers and corporate hogs responsible for polluting our water from public view

An attempt to sneak language into an Iowa House ag budget bill that would prevent the public from accessing information about water quality and land use practices collected in projects funded with taxpayer dollars is only one example of how corporate ag lobbyists try to  use their political power to attempt to shield one of the country’s most polluting industries from even the most basic forms of public transparency and citizen oversight, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund (Iowa CCI Action Fund) members said Monday.

“We’re talking about giant, out of state corporations and absentee landgrabbers who use machines and low-wage migrant labor to work tens of thousands of acres,” said Lori Nelson, a CCI Action Fund member from Bayard whose rural homestead is surrounded by 5,000 corporate hogs.

“Giant, absentee landgrabbers and out-of-state, corporate hog factories are not subject to personal privacy laws and should not be shielded from basic transparency initiatives,” Nelson continued.

Iowa CCI Action Fund members say the secrecy provisions in the Iowa House ag budget bill, HF2458, scheduled to be debated this week, are only one example of how corporate ag attempts to keep vital information from the public:

  • Basic Clean Water Act inspection and manure spill records at some 8,500 factory farms across Iowa are not easily accessible to the public and almost impossible to track down because no centralized, online database of the information exists at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR);
  • Secret “stakeholder” meetings codified through executive order by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad that allows big money corporate interest groups to write draft rules with state regulators before the public has an opportunity to weigh-in;
  • Provisions in many state laws passed by the Iowa legislature that handcuff the DNR and prevent them from writing rules stronger than federal law, essentially imposing a “ceiling” on enforcing stronger environmental standards when the federal guidelines should actually be the “floor”.
  • The American Farm Bureau Federation sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after federal regulators released the most basic, sensible kinds information to national environmental groups about factory farm polluters across the country such as the location, size, manure produced, and ownership data for thousands of industrial animal factories;
  • Proposed amendments to the Farm Bill by Representative Steve King (R-IA) that would have banned state governments from passing laws dictating how food and livestock are raised and produced within that state for sale in other parts of the country;
  • Controversial “Right to Farm” bills introduced in state legislatures across the country to prevent adjacent property owners from filing “nuisance” lawsuits against nearby factory farm polluters;
  • So-called “Ag Gag” laws that make it more difficult for factory farm whistleblowers to expose animal abuse inside factory farms – the first of which was passed here in Iowa in 2012 and signed into law by Governor Branstad.

Iowa CCI Action Fund members say Governor Branstad has supported virtually all of these secrecy attempts by corporate ag, which further undermine his administration’s proclaimed commitment to transparency.

“There’s no question about it:  Governor Branstad is part of the problem and he regularly puts the interests of corporate ag before the interests of everyday people and the environment,” Nelson continued.  “Branstad has never met a factory farm he doesn’t like and the corporate agribusiness lobby is one of the most fundamental parts of his political base of support.” 

Success of Deal Will Ultimately Be Measured In The Number of New Operating Permits Actually Issued to Factory Farm Polluters

Iowa CCI members caution that Governor Branstad and the Iowa DNR cannot be trusted to implement work plan deal on their own

As all sides position themselves to claim credit for a far-reaching Clean Water Act work plan deal that, in reality, the state of Iowa had to be dragged kicking and screaming into signing, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members caution that the best deal on paper won’t mean much if the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) doesn’t properly implement the factory farm pollution accord over the next five years.

The deal reached between the Iowa DNR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency yesterday requires DNR field staff to perform comprehensive reviews of the 8,000 largest factory farms in Iowa – including on-site, boots-on-the-ground inspections for thousands of facilities.

“The deal is good on paper but if the DNR thinks they can just walk into these inspections with their blindfolds on, then we’re headed for a pretty bumpy ride,” said Barb Kalbach, a fourth-generation family farmer and CCI member from Dexter, Iowa.

“At the end of the day, the success of this deal will be judged solely by the number of Clean Water Act operating permits actually issued to factory farm polluters.”

The thousands of inspections and assessments DNR must conduct under the new agreement are intended to identify discharging facilities that require Clean Water Act permits.  DNR must complete 20 percent of the total inspections each year.  The work plan agreement also requires DNR to submit a status report in 90 days, 210 days, and annually thereafter.  DNR will file annual reports on its work plan progress, and EPA will continue to assess whether the state is moving towards compliance with the Clean Water Act.

Iowa CCI members say one loophole the DNR worked into the final agreement is a provision governing inspections that states the DNR may not have to perform on-site reviews of some large factory farms if an equivalent inspection has been completed since November 1 of 2011.

CCI members say it isn’t possible that any inspections since 2011 could possibly be adequate because a July 2012 report by EPA specifically found the DNR’s inspection program wasn’t up to par, and because the new inspection procedures were just finalized yesterday so the DNR has never been trained to conduct an inspection using the new criteria before.

“Any DNR Director under Governor Branstad’s leadership will continue to try and get out of as many of their obligations as they can unless the public continues to hold them accountable to the strongest possible interpretation of the law,” Kalbach said.

A second questionable provision in the work plan is language stating that medium-sized factory farms that have “had a significant release within the last 5 years, and the release presented a substantial threat of discharging pollutants to a water of the U.S.” will be bumped up in priority from a desktop assessment to an on-site inspection.  The problem, according to CCI members, is that there is no clear definition about what a “significant release” presenting a “substantial threat” to a waterway actually is.

“We have numerous examples of manure spills and other violations that posed extremely dangerous threats to our water quality which the DNR refused to take seriously based on their lack of enforcement,” Kalbach said.

Iowa CCI members also say they will continue to fight for more inspections and stronger permits – including a “three strikes and you’re out” policy – during an upcoming rulemaking process mandated by the final work plan agreement as well as during the 2014 legislative session beginning in January.

Iowa’s water quality has never been worse than now, with 628 polluted bodies of water, and manure and other fertilizer runoff so high that Des Moines Water Works ran the world’s most expensive nitrate removal system for nearly 90 days this spring and summer, costing 500,000 ratepayers in Central Iowa nearly $900,000.

There have been more than 800 documented manure spill since 1995, according to DNR records.

Whose Side is EPA Director Gina McCarthy On?  Corporate Ag or Everyday Iowans?


EPA chief’s public appearance at the Iowa Farm Bureau’s state fair picnic shelter tomorrow promoting failed policy of voluntary compliance comes less than three months after Governor Branstad demands McCarthy come to Iowa and capitulate to the factory farm lobby on Clean Water Act enforcement


Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members on Wednesday blasted Gina McCarthy, newly confirmed Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for her planned visit to the Iowa State Fair tomorrow to participate in an event promoting the failed policy of voluntary compliance organized by Governor Branstad, Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp.

“It’s pretty telling that Gina McCarthy is going to the Iowa State Fair to participate in Governor Branstad’s ‘environmental award’ ceremony at the Farm Bureau Picnic shelter – at the same time that Branstad and the Farm Bureau are working overtime to block Clean Water Act enforcement in Iowa,” said Barb Kalbach, a fourth-generation family farmer and CCI member from Dexter.  “Whose side is McCarthy on? Corporate ag polluters or everyday people and the environment?”

“Voluntary individual conservation efforts may be exemplary,” said Kalbach, “but Iowa’s 628 polluted waterways and rising tell the true tale. McCarthy needs to stand up to this bad policy – voluntary compliance doesn’t work.  We need strong and effective public oversight, exactly what Governor Branstad and the Farm Bureau are fighting so hard to prevent.”

McCarthy is scheduled to speak with Farm Bureau representatives at the Iowa Farm Environmental Leaders Awards ceremony at noon Thursday at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s fair picnic shelter.  According to the press release her office circulated:  “During her visit, McCarthy will also meet with farmers and other members of the agricultural community,” code for more closed door, backroom meetings with the big-moneyed corporate agribusiness lobby.

On May 20, Governor Branstad sent a letter to McCarthy demanding she come to Iowa, meet with factory farm industry representatives, and cave to their corporate profits agenda to block meaningful Clean Water Act enforcement of factory farm pollution.

Another top Obama appointee from Washington DC named Nancy Stoner, EPA’s Acting Administrator of Water, will meet with Iowa CCI members at their statewide headquarters in Des Moines at 2pm Thursday, but CCI members say the otherwise high-profile meeting with Stoner is just EPA’s way of providing cover for McCarthy’s likely meetings with Governor Branstad, the Farm Bureau, and other livestock commodity groups around the same time.

The DNR, EPA, and corporate ag lobby representatives will also meet in Des Moines on Friday to negotiate draft new Standard Operating Procedure manuals governing how factory farm inspections will be conducted.  Iowa CCI members say all signs point to EPA making big concessions to the corporate ag roundtable that could exempt hundreds, if not thousands, of factory farms from inspections.

A coalition of community and environmental groups weeks ago outed Branstad’s lobbying efforts opposing Clean Water Act enforcement, and exposed his efforts to bring the corporate ag lobby and other livestock commodity groups directly into the negotiations between the EPA and DNR.

The Iowa DNR and U.S. EPA have been negotiating a work plan agreement to bring the state of Iowa into compliance with the Clean Water Act after EPA released a scathing report on July 12, 2012 finding the DNR’s factory farm enforcement program does not meet federal requirements.  The July 12, 2012 EPA Report said DNR:

  • Has failed to issue permits to factory farms when required,
  • Does not have an adequate factory farm inspection program,
  • Frequently fails to act in response to manure spills and other environmental violations,
  • Does not assess adequate fines and penalties when violations occur.

The EPA intervention was a response to a 2007 de-delegation petition filed by Iowa CCI members, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Iowa Sierra Club.  The petition called on EPA to strip the Iowa DNR of its regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act for its failure to enforce federal law against factory farm polluters.

Iowa’s water quality has never been worse than now, with 628 polluted bodies of water, and manure and other fertilizer runoff so high that Des Moines Water Works ran the world’s most expensive nitrate removal system for nearly 90 days this spring and summer, costing 500,000 ratepayers in Central Iowa as much as $7,000 per day – for a grand cost near $700,000.

Iowa CCI is a statewide people’s action group that uses community organizing to build grassroots power and win public policy that puts communities before corporations and people before profits, politics, and polluters.


Take Action

Will you call Gina McCarthy’s office in Washington DC at 202.564.4700 right now and demand she meet with CCI members when she’s in Iowa tomorrow?  Here’s a sample script:

  • Say your name, where you’re from, that you’re a proud Iowa CCI member, and then ask to speak to Gina McCarthy.
  • When the secretary asks to take a message, tell her you are angry that McCarthy is coming to Iowa to meet with corporate ag lobbyists and factory farm polluters, but she won’t meet with real citizens.
  • Demand Gina McCarthy meet with Iowa CCI members tomorrow.
  • The secretary will try to pass you off to McCarthy’s scheduler.  Refuse to be transferred and demand the secretary make a note of your call and pass it up the chain of command.
  • Contact us to let us know how your call went. It’s important to track how many calls. go in.

Join the Fight!


LIKE or TWEET below to share this news.


An ad-hoc coalition of community organizations, including Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Occupy Ames, Occupy Des Moines, Food and Water Watch, and the ISU Sustainable Agriculture Student Association have organized a series of events October 13-20 as part of the “Occupy the World Food Prize” week of action.

The goals are simple:

  • to educate the public about how and why the corporate control of our food supply is bad for the environment and the public health,
  • to expose the corporate ag agenda behind the World Food Prize,
  • and, at least for Iowa CCI members, to win some concrete victories like –
    1) a total ban on the application of liquid manure on ground going into soybeans
    2) progressive reforms to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR’s) factory farm enforcement program.

Each event, panel discussion, public hearing, direct action, and meeting with top decision-makers will appeal to different groups of people at different times for different reasons, but taken as a whole, the “Occupy World Food Prize” week of action will be much greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Iowa CCI members are focusing on two specific events during the larger week of action:

  • The second is a meeting between Iowa CCI members, our allies at the Environmental Integrity Project and the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club, and Karl Brooks, the Region 7 Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on Thursday, October 18 to discuss a new DNR work plan to bring Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.



Dates and times for all events are below:


Saturday, October 13

• Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Training, 8am-noon

Iowa CCI statewide headquarters, 2001 Forest Avenue, Des Moines

Sunday, October 14

• An afternoon with the Korean Women’s Peasant Association, 2-4pm

Winner of the 2012 Food Sovereignty Prize

Featuring Beomok Bok and Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau

Iowa City Public Library, Meeting Room A

Monday, October 15

• An afternoon with the Korean Women’s Peasant Association, 1-2pm

First Unitarian Church, 1800 Bell, in Des Moines.

• An evening with the Korean Women’s Peasant Association, 6-7:30pm

Sun Room, Memorial Union Building, Iowa State University

Tuesday, October 16

Ban the Spreading of Liquid Manure on Soybeans, 9am-1pm

Environmental Protection Commission Meeting, 7900 Hickman Road, Windsor Heights

Meet at Iowa CCI statewide headquarters at 9am, 2001 Forest Avenue, Des Moines

Contact us if you can attend. TAKE ACTION: Tell the EPC to enact the full ban here.

• Panel Discussion:”What is corporate agriculture and why is it wrong for the planet and the human race?”

6-8pm, Des Moines Public Library, 1000 Grand Ave.

Panel Participants:  Denise O’Brien—National Family Farm Coalition; Francis Thicke—author, “A New Vision for Iowa Food and Agriculture”; CCI member George Naylor—Iowa Farm Unity Coalition, CCI member; Barbara Kalbach—4th generation family farmer, CCI member.

Wednesday, October 17

• Direct Action Civil Disobedience- World Food Prize building, 100 Locust Street

Rockefeller Foundation endowed award, 4pm

Thursday, October 18

• Iowa CCI meeting with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks

7-9pm, State Historical Building, 600 East Locust Street

Contact us if you can attend. TAKE ACTION: Tell the EPA to push the DNR to crack down on factory farms here.

• Direct Action Civil Disobedience before the World Food Prize Award Ceremony

Iowa State Capitol, 6pm

Friday, October 19

• “The Food Sovereignty Prize – What is it? Why we need to promote it.”,

7pm, 1st Unitarian Church, 1800 Bell Ave, Des Moines

Saturday, October 20

• Occupy the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute held at DuPont/Pioneer

Headquarters, 8am-3:30pm, 7000 NW 62nd Avenue. Johnston, Iowa


 Learn more

Join the fight


Click LIKE and TWEET to invite your friends to join you for all or part of this “week of action”.