Commissioner Of Agriculture
WFAE asked candidates for North Carolina commissioner of agriculture questions about why they should be elected (or reelected). Here are the answers we've received so far from the candidates.
What is your top priority as commissioner of agriculture?
As Commissioner, my top priorities will be to care for our small farmers, to build resiliency into farm and community planning, to work to combat climate change head-on, to legalize cannabis on both a medicinal and recreational basis, and to fight for fair farm labor practices.
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture oversees food production in meat processing plants. These plants have become hot spots for COVID-19 cases. While the Department of Agriculture does not oversee labor, the state’s health director has said she would like to work more closely with the agency. How would you work with other state agencies in protecting workers and food supplies during the coronavirus pandemic?
As Commissioner, I would gladly work alongside other departments, including the Department of Labor, to safeguard both our workers and food supply—not just during this pandemic, but at any point in time. As a testament to my commitment to the working class, I am proudly endorsed by these labor unions: NC AFL-CIO, CWA, and the NC Association of Educators.
The silence on COVID hotspots in meat processing plants is a dereliction of duty on behalf of the Commissioner. We must do all we can to ensure workers in the agricultural and processing industries are regularly tested; have access to PPE and safe, sanitary work environments; and are treated with both the respect and dignity they deserve. I see it as a moral imperative to lead with humanity and empathy; whereas, my opponent has—time and time again—prioritized the corporate profit margins of his donors over the safety and welfare of the people who are doing the hard work to put food on our tables. Latinx farmworkers are the backbone of the agricultural industry. To safeguard our food supply, we must protect workers while strengthening local food systems that will be more resilient as we face future pandemics.
What is the greatest threat to North Carolina farmers and what would you do as commissioner of agriculture to help farmers?
Climate change is the greatest threat to farmers across North Carolina. Climate change causes unpredictable yields, as well as premature blossoming of crops; alters planting and harvesting dates; and increases the frequency of damage caused by weather events. These problems are not just going to go away. Storms will grow more frequent and intense in coming years. We must take bold action to safeguard the future of this industry and keep farmers farming for generations to come. The Commissioner should be at the forefront of this issue as the person responsible for ensuring farmers can produce an adequate supply of food and fiber for our population. Building resiliency into farm plans, educating farmers on ways to combat climate change, connecting industry members—including those in renewables, tech, agribusiness, development, education, and farming—to collaborate on sustainability and opportunities to build more resilient local food systems, and using grants to help farmers safeguard their operations are just a small sample of tools available to help protect our industry from this grave threat. It is also incumbent upon us to educate the next generation who will inherit the land, which is why I support putting gardens on every school ground.
Historically, Black farmers have faced difficulties in getting the same access to loans as white farmers. What do you think needs to remove such barriers and support Black farmers?
Black lives matter. Black farmers matter. Absolutely and without any caveats.
A century ago, 1 in 7 US farmers were Black. Now, only 1.5% of the nation’s farmers are Black. This is due to a history of discrimination from within the industry blocking access to loans or educational resources for Black farmers, as well as predatory lending practices on behalf of the Farm Service Agency. After the Civil War, laws were passed preventing Black folks from owning or inheriting land, preventing them from building generational wealth. Of the 46,000 farmers in NC, just over 2,000 are Black farmers.
Small farms—disproportionately Black-owned ones—are suffering massive land loss as large agribusiness grows. As Commissioner, I will work to strengthen revenues of Black-owned farms by enabling access to both the high returns of specialized crops, including cannabis—which I intend to work with the Legislature to legalize—and more markets in which to sell products.
I believe a person cannot effectively govern from within an echo chamber, surrounded by people whose voices and experiences mirror those of one’s own. Representation matters. I am committed to equity and inclusivity, and will include diverse stakeholders at the decision-making table.
What role should the Department of Agriculture play in protecting the environment in North Carolina?
Building a more sustainable future is both a moral and economic imperative. Despite climate change being the greatest threat to farmers, Commissioner Troxler refuses to accept its existence and acknowledges his greatest achievement in over 15 years in office is getting Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature to agree to cut relief checks to farmers in the wake of natural disasters. Farmers needed that money, but that was because the industry’s leader sat on his hands and did not act to mitigate the effects of climate change on farming. I believe writing a relief check cannot be our only solution to dealing with natural disasters. It is not only economically unsustainable, but it’s environmentally unsustainable to push conventional practices and support factory farming. We must support transitioning to best management practices—prioritizing conservation while fostering long term economic success. We should pursue regenerative, organic, vertical, and urban farming. We can move an industry largely left in the past into the future while creating greener jobs, building more resilient local food systems, educating children, tackling food insecurity, and supporting family farmers throughout the state. The world is changing; it is time for North Carolina to change with it.
Awaiting candidate's response.