Georgia can’t really be the first in agriculture until we start putting our family farmers first. Currently, over 70% of Georgia farmers make less than $40,000 a year, while 1 in 10 farmers make over half a million per year. And black farmers – who have been systematically driven off their land for generations through the loss of heirs’ property, bad loan practices, and much more – now represent a very small percentage of Georgia farm owners. I will lead the fight for legislation that supports existing farms while also bringing new farmers into the Agriculture community. Family farms have always been the backbones of their communities, and investing in them can help stop the rural “brain drain” by improving the quality of life in rural areas, and encouraging more of our talented young folk to stay in their local communities. I will be a strong voice for equity and inclusion in Agriculture, fighting to ensure fair lending practices, and working with Congress and Georgia leaders to fully fund and protect our 1890 land grant institutions.
The pandemic has highlighted the tightrope most Americans walk when facing food insecurity. This crisis is most heavily felt in low income communities across the state for whom this is NOT a new situation. Many people living in low-income areas do not even have access to healthy, fresh foods because there are no grocery stores in their communities; instead, gas stations, discount stores, and fast food restaurants are on every corner providing low nutrient, highly processed food products This is absolutely unacceptable in a state where agriculture is our #1 industry. People like to talk about “food deserts,” but let’s be honest – deserts are naturally occurring, and these are not. What this is really is food apartheid. These areas, mostly in black and brown communities, are man-made; they are the result of poor policy choices and a lack of oversight and follow through. Georgia currently has at least nine counties without supermarkets, most of which are rural, agricultural counties that also happen to be majority black counties. As grocery stores are overseen by the Dept. of Agriculture, one of my top priorities is to ensure access to fresh, healthy, affordable food for everyone in Georgia. I will also focus on expanding our farm to school programs, ensuring that the districts with the most need get first priority.
Industrial hemp is a versatile and resilient crop that has over 55,000 known uses, including paper, clothing, food and fuel. Plus, hemp helps to regenerate the soil and purify the air, which is extremely beneficial to other agricultural and environmental practices. This crop can be a huge boon to Georgia, but current laws and regulations are holding farmers and consumers back, when we should be leading the way. As our next Agriculture Commissioner, I will continue to work with activists, business leaders and legislators to eliminate barriers to entry, including decreasing fees and eliminating biased regulations that discourage competition, while increasing protections for consumers of hemp products.
Like over 55% of Georgians, I support fully legalizing marijuana. Yet our leadership has failed to act. This plant has numerous potential benefits that Georgians deserve the freedom to access. That’s why I will continue to be a fierce advocate not only for legalization, but just as importantly, I will ensure that new cannabis laws protect small farmers and consumers. Like with hemp, I will prioritize the removal of artificial barriers to entry so that anyone who wants to participate in this industry can. I will also use the power of my office to fight for legislation focused on restorative justice for people who have been convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses.
Farm workers are some of the hardest-working, yet most exploited laborers in Georgia . As many are undocumented, they are frequently subjected to inhumane working conditions and threats from employers, with almost no way to protect themselves. Just in the last year, almost a dozen people have died in chicken processing plants in Gainesville due to unsafe working conditions, and a “modern-day slavery” ring was uncovered on an onion farm in South Georgia. We must demand accountability from these big corporations. I will create a dedicated desk that will accept tips on labor violations anonymously, and work with other agencies, nonprofits & law enforcement to ensure justice is seen. With the help of the legislature, I will strive to create more protections for farm workers, particularly in regards to issues like heat protection and access to potable water. Our #1 industry must also be #1 for workers’ rights.
Farmers can be, and often are, our best partners in sustainability. Unfortunately, under the guise of “progress,” some unsustainable practices have managed to slip through the cracks. Many industrialized agriculture practices contribute heavily to climate change via greenhouse gas emissions. Microplastics and runoff from pesticides and solid waste have been found contaminating our water, air and soil. We can do better. In agriculture, we know that an investment in sustainability has long-term rewards for not only our planet, but also for our farmers. What our family farmers need is the help to transition their practices. My administration will create strategic partnerships with forward-thinking farmers, agriculture educators and researchers to explore ways to improve our sustainability efforts. Georgia farmers will have access to training programs and boot camps to reduce their footprint and increase their bottom line.
Safeguarding the welfare of Georgia’s pets and farm animals has been one of the most overlooked and disregarded responsibilities of the Department of Agriculture. Current leadership has allowed abusive puppy mills to flourish, and for inhumane farming practices to go unchecked due to cuts in the number of inspectors. I will increase staffing and fully fund our inspection program, and make sure that all abuses are thoroughly and immediately investigated. I will also work with our legislators to strengthen our animal welfare laws, making Georgia a safe place for animals, and not animal abusers.