AoR 108: No Farms, No Food -- Don Stuart & Addie Candib on Farmland Conservation

Don Stuart is the author of a new book "No Farms, No Food: Uniting Farmers and Environmentalists to Transform American Agriculture", a history of American Farmland Trust and the origins of national-scale efforts to bring to America's attention the loss of farmland and the need for conservation effort. Don is a former commercial fisherman, lawyer, and Pacific Northwest regional director for American Farmland Trust. Addie Candib is the current PNW regional director for AFT. Addie and Don have been effective advocates for farming and liaisons between farmers and environmental interests for decades.


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>> Welcome to the Art of Range, a podcast focused on rangelands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson, range and livestock specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at

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Welcome back to The Art of Range. My guests today are Don Stuart and Addie Candib. Addie is the Pacific Northwest Regional Director for the American Farmland Trust, and Don held that position from 2000 to 2011. Don has been a salmon fisherman, the Executive Director for the Trade Association Salmon for Washington; and he holds a law degree from University of Washington. I have to say that I aspire to be a person who doesn't easily fit into other people's boxes, and you definitely have succeeded in avoiding easy boxes. And, in doing a bit of research on this, you both seem to stand solidly in what Richard Knight calls the radical middle. And I like that. I'm pleased to have you both on today. Don and Addie, welcome.

>> Thank you. Glad to be here.

>> Thank you.

>> Addie, I know less about you, and I'd like to rectify that. So why don't you introduce yourself first, and then Don can tell us who he is in his own terms.

>> Well, as you said, I'm currently Pacific Northwest Regional Director for American Farmland Trust. I've been in this role for about three and a half years. But I've sort of had one foot in sustainable agriculture and one foot in the nonprofit sector here in Washington State since about 2010. I first got involved with American Farmland Trust back in 2015 when I had the opportunity to serve on an advisory council for the Pacific Northwest office. And I really got my start in farmland protection working for a very small community based Farmland Trust down in the Olympia area and ever since then have known that that's where I wanted to be working. So really thrilled to be here today. Don is just a real hero of mine, and I've really enjoyed collaborating with him and getting to know him over the last couple of years. So I'm excited for this conversation.

>> Great. Thank you. Don, if you were describing yourself and not just the things that go on the top of a resume, how would you describe yourself?

>> Well, maybe you already did. I -- I'm -- basically started out as a lawyer. I spent probably ten years doing that and was not thrilled. So that led to building a commercial fishing boat, going commercial fishing, coming back and working for the fishing industry as a advocate, nonprofit advocate and lobbyist. And then that -- those kinds of lobbying type skills led me to taking a job with the conservation districts back in 1997. I think I was -- I was the Washington director for WACD here, and then that ultimately led to American Farmland Trust. So you could -- you could say that was a history of someone that was in the radical middle. You could also maybe say it was someone who couldn't really keep a job. I don't -- I would have to say a good part of it was avoiding have to -- having to go back to practicing law, which I truly did not enjoy. So that's a thumbnail. I also, in response to Addie's -- who's just a delight, by the way, she has done just astounding things as regional director of this organization, which I am so impressed with. So I'm also pretty pleased to join her for this.

>> Yeah. Thank you. I do think that people with wide interests tend to be good in this kind of -- in this space. And it's interesting. I feel like Washington state is a place that avoids boxes where there's a lot of -- we have, you know, probably the -- perhaps the widest variety of ecosystem types and people types and everything in the lower 48. You know, this is a rangelands podcast, and rangelands based livestock production tends to defy those boxes as well. You know, are they -- are they wildlands? Are they farms? It may not look exactly like either, and I think that's part of what makes it interesting. You know, geographically, sociologically, climatically, there's a lot of variety. And that tends to be useful. I think there was a book titled range that I've maybe mentioned a couple times here by David Epstein. And, of course, the title has nothing to do with rangeland. It's referring to breadth. And he makes the case that it's really important in situations with wicked problems to have breadth even more than depth and that that allows you to make good decisions and operate with other people and not get stuck. And I see some of that here. Well, you just published a book with an awesome, provocative title, No Farms, No Food. And I have to say this is now the only bumper sticker that I'm rocking on my 1998 Chevy pickup, by the way, which just turned over 300,000 miles. I don't know if that means it's a small carbon footprint because I've had the same vehicle for 25 years or larger. But the title is provocative because it states the obvious and because it, I think, suddenly throws this massive civilizational truth back on the reader of that phrase and asked the question, What do you think about that? What are you doing about that? And it explodes into a thousand subtopics that are involved in having food to eat, you know, from land use policy to federal economic agricultural incentives to farmers markets to the price of chicken. So why did you write this book, and how did you come up with that great title?

>> Well, I love the title as well. I -- and, you know, in some ways, when you talk about agriculture, frankly, when you talk about any industry, you tend to forget that everything we do has a footprint, including eating. So if you don't focus on the bottom line, if you don't focus on the fact that you need to drive a car and you need to live in a house and you need all this other stuff, like eating, you kind of miss the point. The point is really about having a sustainable society across the board that works collectively and together to accomplish all the things that need to be accomplished so that human beings can survive and be successful on this planet. And so that's -- I also, I'll have to admit, I like the fact that it's a bumper sticker. And it's also the only bumper sticker I have ever put on my car. I actually recently did it. But, anyway, what -- the reason I wrote it is really pretty straightforward. It's a book about an organization that faced a problem that most other organizations never have to face and came up with an amazing solution to it. If you're starting a nonprofit, say you're starting the, you know, American Savior of Wetlands Organization, you know exactly who your constituency is. You know who you're working for. You know who's going to contribute. You know what legislators are going to support what you want to get done. If you're the American Association of RV Manufacturers, very similarly, you know, who your constituency is and who the people are that are going to be members of your organization. But if you're the American Farmland Trust, who the heck are you really? And if you walk into a legislators office and you say, Look. I want to protect farmland. Our farms are going away. Legislators going to ask you, Well, where are the farmers on this proposal? And if you don't have a good answer, if the farmers aren't there, you're kind of history.

>> And what does protect mean. Yeah.

>> Exactly. Exactly right. And then, conversely, if you are talking about protecting farmland, you might walk into another legislators office because you don't want it to develop, and that other legislator's going to, Well, where are they -- they're going to say, Where are the environmentalists on this? And, likewise, you need an answer to that. And AFT faced up to that real early on. And they realized they had to work for both, and they had to -- you can't just work for both and tell one story and the other another story. You've got to have -- you've got to have the same message for both. And that led to a whole kind of new approach to some of this. And that -- and that's really what the book is about. It's about how an organization not only solved that problem but did so incredibly successfully and ended up adopting, passing, achieving some really astounding stuff, stuff that I -- actually, when I was working for the Conservation District back in the late '90s, I was actually not aware of AFT at all. I had no idea what the organization -- I'd never even heard of them. Yet, I was working with a lot of the programs as working with the conservation districts that American Farmland Trust had actually been responsible for creating or seriously involved in.

>> And American Farmland Trust started in 1980; is that right?

>> Right, right.

>> What was the -- you've talked around it a bit. What was the -- some of the major players in the history of the beginnings of American Farmland Trust? Because I think they're still probably 800-pound gorilla in the world of -- I mean, there's a lot of different land trusts now. But I sense that American Farmland Trust is a little bit more than just a larger version of a local land trust that holds conservation easements. What was the history behind the formation of American Farmland Trust?

>> Well, it -- that's a great story. To start with, it really begins with Peggy Rockefeller, right? She's the wife -- it's 1980, and she's the wife of David Rockefeller, who was sort of Bill Gates of his day. And so you'd think, oh, you know, this incredibly wealthy woman, you know, how could she really be serious about anything? Turns out she was a very serious agriculturalist. She -- they -- of course, you know, they owned multiple farms all over the place but mostly kind of in the New England area. And I think they were on the Connecticut River Valley, if I recall correctly, at least one of their places. And they were being overcome by development. So here's -- she wanted to do something about it. And, of course, you know, she was a woman who was capable of doing that. And she -- she was on the board of American Farmland -- or of, sorry, the Nature Conservancy. And she wanted them to take this on. And they told her -- she was a board member. And they told her no, which I would suspect wasn't that easy to do for a larger nonprofit with someone of her kind of, you know, credential.

>> Caliber. Yeah.

>> And money. But they told her no, they couldn't do it. And, frankly, they tried out organizations that might want to take on this business of protecting farmland. At the time, it was really focused on farmland and sprawl, which has, by the way, changed quite a bit over the years or expanded considerably. But they all told her no. And so they just -- they had to create a new organization, and that's really where AFT got started. They got together some people that were knowledgeable about agriculture who were farmers, ranchers, dairyman, and also who were very familiar with environmental concerns and land use concerns. And they did something about it, and then actually was kind of an amazingly successful organization, too, from -- right off the reel. And I would have to say that was not because it had strong, you know, financial support from Peggy Rockefeller. It was because the organization really did find an answer to that difficult question of how you support -- how you support something that needs support from varied interests.

>> Right. And you mentioned in the book some general principles for building that kind of a broad coalition, you know, where if it succeeds you potentially have everybody on board. And, if it doesn't, then you have everybody against you. You know, what were some of the lessons learned in -- I realize you weren't necessarily involved in that, but describe some of those general principles that you lay out in the book for trying to put together a coalition that is intentionally quite broad.

>> Well, I suspect some of this is stuff that Addie knows because I know she's got this strong background in mediation and collaboration. But it basically is stuff that is pretty natural. You don't represent somebody, work for somebody, work with somebody unless you genuinely respect them and their position and the situation that they're in. So that's really where it starts, right? You -- if you look at this from an environmentalist perspective, the problem that we all face is a planet with 8 billion people. And I might add that we went 300,000 years, humans, not all that terrifically successfully. I think we were at around 400,000 or 400 million, which was -- had grown dramatically. In terms of population back in -- I think it was 600 million in 1700. I may have that wrong, but I think that's about right. So, in a matter of three centuries, after 300,000 years, mostly unchanged as humans, we were -- we were mostly formed, suddenly, wham. And that went -- just in a few hundred years, that went from like a few hundred million to the 8 billion we have today. So that right there is pretty suggestive of what the environmental community is concerned about. They see this whole thing as existential for the human race. And I think they're pretty much right. It's pretty scary.

>> And we were feeling those things in the 1970s.

>> Absolutely.

>> Those are all the sociological things that were leading up to the formation of AFT, where I think you mentioned in the talk that you guys gave at the Seattle town hall meeting that, you know, all this whole raft of environmental legislation was put in place in the 1970s, and it was in reaction to some very real problems. I mean, you've got the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act and the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Environmental Policy Act, the list goes on and on of all -- but, at that time, you had rivers catching on fire and some pretty major problems that were being responded to.

>> Yeah. I mean, it was an amazing time, and nothing like that has happened since. The 1970s were absolutely the decade of environmental legislation. There are probably a dozen major federal bills that passed plus a bunch of stuff around the country. So this huge response to environmental needs. But, at the same time, if you're in business and if you're a business that occupies some of that half, fully half of the total landscape, the total land area of the United States that's in agriculture, and you're hoping to stay in business, this has got to be scary. And it was. I mean, I'm sure it was. And, similarly, so you've got -- while you're respecting, you know, the sense of urgency on the one side, again, the book is No Farms, No Food. You've got to face up to the fact that we've got a bunch of farmers out there that are saving are -- keeping us alive, making it possible for us to eat, and we have to continue that. In fact, all of those people that are being born and showing up, we've added a billion just since 2011. All of those people need also to eat and -- so we need a healthy, strong, viable, and successful agriculture industry or we're nowhere. However existential the environmental issues might seem to be, the business issues are exist equally existential. So you've got to -- you've got to genuinely appreciate and respect both. You've got to deliver the same -- you've got to have the same message for both. Both have to hear the urgency. It has to affect both. And I think that's why that was the remarkable thing. It still is, I think, about American Farmland Trust.

>> I want to talk some more about that. But, before we leave the book, what is your hope for the book? Are you hoping that readers will come away with something specific, changes in beliefs, inclinations, possible actions that they should take?

>> Yeah. In specific terms, I really want -- I really hope people will come to appreciate conservation agriculture and appreciate what it can accomplish. And one of the -- for me, one of the single advantages is the climate issue, which is a terrifically heated issue, from outright denial to outright there's nothing else that matters. And you -- the bottom line is there are solutions to that problem that agriculture can play a major role in. And, still, it can -- it can actually help agriculture as a business help farmers specifically succeed in their business enterprise. Here's a -- here's an opportunity that just -- it's just astounding. Another field of this is clean water. We've got this Clean Water Act, and we've got to get -- we've got to protect the clean waters of this nation. But -- and a lot of that, absolutely agriculture is involved in it. It's inevitable. They operate half the land, and they do on that land stuff that dramatically affects it. So it's natural that they'd be involved in it. But the solutions are solutions that actually work for everybody and working -- specifically work for the working farmers that operate that land. Again, the -- it's -- here's a -- there are some terrific win-win solutions here that we just somehow it's -- somehow it's just easier to see the world as bifurcated politically and not to see those astounding opportunities that are out there. And that's really, for me, what I -- what's meaningful. Along with that, obviously, I really like the idea just generally of people with quite diverse perspectives finding ways to collaborate. But the specifics of what AFT stands for are really, really significant from my point of view.

>> Yeah. I do see those things coming together. In another previous project from a few years ago, we called these things no regrets strategies in terms of management practices on rangeland that livestock producers could use. And the reason for the -- that title is that these are things that are good ecologically and good for somebody's bottom line, whether the climate is changing or not. You know, at a minimum, we know that, at least in the Western United States, that climate has been highly variable, probably more variable than we have accommodated, you know, with our flexibility and management, but, you know, assume for the moment that the climate is not changing, if that were the case, these things are a good idea. And if that is the case, and there seems to be some evidence there, then it's also a good idea. And I -- I suspect many of those same things are true with regard to, you know, straight up crop farming, which I'm a little bit less familiar with. But even in that, I think we see some of these -- some of these tensions that go back further than I realized. I've just been reading a book that I think the most recent book by Charles Mann who wrote 1491, but the book is called, The Wizard and the Prophet. And it's about this tension between the early version of the conservation movement and represented by the prophet. He's calling -- he's using that term to refer to William Vogt, who was arguing -- he was concerned about sort of planetary scale ecosystem processes and messing those up in ways that could be bad for humans. And contrasting that with one of the guys who's behind the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug, who was a plant breeder and largely funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, which I did not know. And he was specifically doing work in Mexico because they were growing -- they're trying to grow wheat that was being infected by rust. And it had low yield, and it bore grain sporadically. But, in the book, he's describing this tension between saving the planet from humans or scientifically farming the planet using, you know, modern science and more sophisticated methods and plant breeding and chemistry, et cetera, et cetera. And, to a large degree, we see that tension still -- still here. But I -- my sense, as you're describing and what's going on with the American Farmland Trust and efforts to conserve, if not preserve farmland is some of those things coming together, you know, to produce -- to farm in ways that both sustain soil -- sustain soil and maybe provide habitat on the margins. And -- and even to get away a bit from the preservationist mindset of wildlands and recognizing that, for nearly all of the history of the planet, you know, recently people have been managing that in specific ways, and not touching it may not be the best solution. But, you know, both of those can get polarized. And I see people moving toward the middle from both of those poles, both scientifically and politically and socially and then with regard to policies that we have both toward farm lands and toward places that historically would have been called, you know, set aside.

>> Yeah. You're -- you're -- that's absolutely right. I -- your reference earlier to rangelands and I think your description of it then -- and, by the way, I remember that book, The Wizard and the Prophet. Great book. And the -- upon rangelands in particular, here you've got lands that are essentially native, right. There's -- rangelands by and large, the impact of carefully done grazing on rangelands is negligible. I don't think you can probably deny that cattle substitute for some other creature, presumably, that might be out there. But for the most part, in terms of impact on the landscape, grazing cattle on rangelands done properly is, I don't know. The impact is quite minimal. And yet, at the same time, you're talking about lands that are -- that are really not going to be productive for humans in any other way. You're not going to be growing wheat out there. You probably are certainly not going to be growing some kind of row crop. Cattle are the only thing you'd ever do on those lands that could really be truly productive for human society. And, yet, you end up with this amazing product. And you can do all of that, essentially, without really significantly touching those lands adversely at all. And, to me, that's just one of the astounding opportunities right there in agriculture.

>> Uh-huh. I want to shift to talking about some of the other work that's being done with transfer development rights. You know, these things are pretty controversial, even though we now have a, you know, what, four decades of history with, you know, various versions of this. You know, you've got -- you've got agricultural trusts. You've got land trusts that mostly focus on preserving natural areas as opposed to farm land that's been cultivated for 150 years. But putting land in any kind of a trust tends to be controversial for a whole variety of reasons. How do you see -- how has American Farmland Trust gotten into that? And maybe on more of a personal level, when you're talking with somebody who is opposed to that, what are -- what are some of the useful discussion points? And I'm not sure that I'm taking a position. I'm just aware that, you know, what -- before I came to Washington State University, I worked for the Washington Cattlemen's Association. And, as you mentioned earlier, if you're -- if you represent RV dealers, you have a pretty narrow range of subjects that you're politically active on. But, by the nature of the work, livestock producers, especially cow calf producers, are touching on a really, really wide range of topics and oftentimes have the difference between, you know, one operation and another can be really large. And people have oftentimes different opinions about what ought to be done in terms of policy. And so that can be difficult to advocate for. And this is certainly one of the topics about which farmers, ranchers, and even conservationists disagree about how it should be handled. And it's getting at, you know, pretty large underlying principles in terms of how we as a society view property rights and, you know, the whole nine yards. And I know you're aware of that. How do you wade into that?

>> Well, the problem of land loss is different wherever you are, right? So if you're on the edge of some large city, it might be a two-and-a-half acre farm that is selling direct to the public, and people are really concerned about it. And probably the total converse of that is out in cattle country and everything in between. For me in -- for mainstream agriculture, for me, it's mostly a problem of fragmentation of land. And the land, frankly, that is most vulnerable is rangeland. And I'm sure you know, as you know, the Washington and Oregon Cattlemen's Association worked together with a -- there is a Washington Rangelands Trust and that that protects these lands. And rangelands are particularly vulnerable, as I'm sure many of your listeners are quite aware, on the edge of all the public lands. So you've got a big chunk of property, say, that's owned by the Bureau of Labor Man -- or by BLM and -- or maybe it's a national forest or whatever it is. Those ranchers that surround that public land need access to that public land. But what happens is from a perspective of some buyer, some recreational buyer, somebody with an RV and maybe a horse trailer or, you know, a couple of motorcycles to be able to own five acres that borders on the national park or a national forest or BLM land, that's -- that's fantastic. That's -- and they don't need water. They can bring their own water, bring their RV, park it, and have a great vacation. But that five acre parcel bordering on those public lands, is a horrible barrier for the ranchers that need access to those lands. And that's a, that right there is one of the biggies in rangeland. But just keep in mind, you know, if you're -- if you're on the urban edge, you only need two and a half acres, no sweat. But if you're out there in cattle country and you need thousands and thousands of acres in order to make this thing work, you should -- you need to be concerned about fragmentation. I know it's a problem in central Washington in the areas -- and we do not have -- we can talk zoning and all the rest of that, but those -- that just doesn't ever get to the problem at the level that farmers really need it to get to. And so that's the policy side. But there's just from the farmers' side of this, I know people don't like tying up land in permanent easements. But I've got to ask you, 50 years from now, what problem do you think we're really going to face? Do you think we're going to face a problem 50 years from now that -- that you want to build a home, you want to have a two-acre parcel to build a home on. You won't be able to find it. I mean, I think that's absurd. Honest to God, I just don't think that's going to ever be a problem. What, however, will be a problem and is increasingly becoming a problem is if you need 10,000 acres. Or let's -- let's make it smaller, maybe, you know, 5000 to have a wheat farm, maybe just the room for maybe, say, three circles of irrigation agriculture. If you want to find that in the form of a contiguous piece of land to conduct agriculture, 50 years from now, that might become a problem. It's already a problem. And so the protection of those lands from fragmentation is really, really important. And I might add that, however permanent an agricultural easement might seem to be, and they aren't, actually. If they become completely impractical, they can be removed. But however permanent that might seem, there's nothing more permanent than fragmentation. Nothing. Once these -- once a bunch of land has been divided up into a bunch of little parcels owned by a bunch of different people, each with their own lives and intents and purposes, that isn't every going back. It never goes back. So that is permanent. So whatever we do or don't do is going to be permanent. The only question is, what can we do to make it fair, reasonable, and from -- when I've talked to farmers and -- that are questioning this, you just look at it and think about it from the perspective of the farmer who owns the land today and wants to sell an easement for its market value, keeps the fee ownership of the rest of the land, all that easement does is protect it for agriculture for the future, that farmer gets fully compensated. All voluntary. He gets paid the full fair market value of that easement, the difference between the land with it and without it. So he's -- he's in good shape. So that farmer, when that land sells, of course, it sells at a price that's closer to its agricultural value because it can no longer be developed into a bunch of little pieces. That farmer got paid for that. And so that farm sells. Now somebody buys it at that reduced price. So that landowner is also happy because that landowner bought that property at a much reduced price and is now able to go into the business of agriculture, which is no doubt what they had in mind, and not have to carry this huge debt burden or investment burden that otherwise would have been needed if they were trying to support the ownership of a piece of land that's worth some massive extra amount because it could somehow be fragmented up, subdivided and developed. So that farmer, the new owner, is also happy, as are each owner -- each of the owners that comes after because all of those subsequent owners pay that greatly reduced price. So it is not like anybody had anything taken away from them. All the people involved are not only happy to do this, but they have been treated fairly. And so you end up addressing a policy or a problem, a public policy problem, the fragmentation of land, and you end up doing it in a way that really doesn't -- is not that harmful. It is not harmful to any of the people that are immediately involved in it. So, to me, that is one huge amount better than coming along and just zoning it.

>> Yeah. One common objection is that establishing a conservation easement constrains the options of future generations. But when the quarter section on the edge of a big family farm gets turned into 480 house tracks, it's all the way gone. There are no options for any future generations in that scenario.

>> Yeah. Absolutely. And that's -- and it does. Of course it does. They both do. I would argue that the 400-and-some house tracks are way more permanent than any conservation easement's ever going to be.

>> Right. Well, we don't see that going back unless civilization collapses and nature takes over.

>> Yeah, yeah.

>> I wanted to mention a few things about resiliency and whether or not farm conservation is a national security issue. There was -- the term maybe gets overused, sort of like the term sustainability has become one of these buzzwords that begins to lose -- lose meaning. But I think resiliency is a good -- a good term. You know, ecologically, it refers to the ability to resist a large disturbance, you know, or something bad that happens that's of high magnitude and the ability to bounce back quickly from something like that, either to -- you know, to be changed and then to come back or to resist changing response to something big and bad that happens. You know, so with -- for example, with regard to food security, should we be -- as a societal question, should we be protecting or conserving whatever word we want to use farmland? You know, is it good public policy to incentivize the conservation of arable land. And I feel like we've seen some examples of low resiliency in our food system recently. The world is still pretty volatile politically, and it doesn't take much, you know, for the -- the movement of goods to get interrupted on a global scale. And, you know, nearly every grocery store in the country only has food for two or three days. You know, but if, if all of one particular good that we get comes from somewhere else in the world and then that stops. We don't have much ability to bounce back from that kind of a disturbance, you know, at a -- at a large collective scale. So I'm not sure it's overblown to say that preserving farmland by incentivizing policy structures, I guess, that allow it to be somewhat insulated from or make it more difficult to develop, I'm not so sure that's not a national security issue. Any thoughts on that?

>> I think you've cast it just about right. I wouldn't -- it's not like an imminent national security issue, right?

>> Sure.

>> But if you go back to the 1980s or the 1980 when AFT was formed, one of the things that was happening not long after that, around that timeframe was the oil embargo. And among the people that were affected by that were folks in the Northeast, surprisingly enough, people that had this incredibly long agricultural heritage and suddenly there was no -- there were no -- you know, there were grocery shortages on the shelves, and they were concerned about it. And I -- and, yeah. Those are things that can happen, that -- more recently we've seen all the interruptions that took place during COVID. And I do believe it is a national security issue. I don't think it's exactly imminent. On the other hand, you know, you never know when it might be. I -- I feel like --

>> Nothing's imminent until it is.

>> Right. I feel like this is among -- this is one of the -- there are many, many rationales for why it's really important to preserve agricultural land and to make sure that farmers can afford to continue farming on it. And this is one of those reasons. Some of those reasons, some of the -- some of this is about protecting agriculture and agricultural businesses and keeping them healthy and viable. Some of it is about other kinds of public policy concerns like environmental ones or like this one. And one of the things that we need to do here is we need to make sure that farmers are treated fairly, and many times -- and that their businesses stay viable. And many times doing that means that we've got to compensate them for stuff that we want to take away. So, for example, we want to ask a farmer to give up a conservation easement on their land with -- we've got to be prepared to pay for that. And that means that all of us in society, not just the farmers but this is something that's got to be spread. It's in the interests of everyone in our society to support this industry. And this is one of those things where other people other than farmers get it. And so I think it's fair game to argue this. I think it's a legitimate concern. However imminent it is or isn't, it's -- it's very real, and I think we should absolutely keep it in mind. And it's one of the things that justifies the public in realizing that they're getting something for their money. They're getting food security, and maybe that's something they should be worried about.

>> If I can jump in there for a minute, and I think absolutely protecting farmland is an issue of national security. But I think we also have to think more broadly than that. A significant percentage of agricultural acreage in this country is used for growing crops that are not consumable by humans. And it doesn't matter if Washington State can produce all of the wheat for the country. If we don't have ways to package and process and store that food to then deliver it to people in a form that they can consume. So there's this food system infrastructure piece that is also a piece of the national security issue if we're thinking about sustainable and resilient localized food systems where we can withstand the shocks of something like COVID. We need to invest in protecting the farmland, but we also have to invest in the infrastructure, the processing, the packaging, the storage, the transport that enable us to get food from where it's grown to the people who need it without relying on a globalized food system. And I think that piece is really easy to get lost. And we talk about it a lot in the sort of small-scale organic diversified vegetable space. But when we talk about bigger, more commodity crop systems, I think that's a piece that really gets lost. And the reality of a lot of that processing infrastructure has gone by the wayside in the last couple of decades, and that's something we really need to be lifting up.

>> Yeah. I would agree, that this is part of what I was thinking, even if I didn't say it, regarding resiliency is that if we -- if you only grow -- you know, for an extreme example, if you grow two crops in a big state, then you're totally dependent on the ability to get that, the -- that product somewhere else and get paid for it. And I think I see some diversification, you know, both nationally and locally, in what people grow. And I think much of that is good. You know, if -- if nobody in the United States grows tomatoes and we have to get them all from Mexico, and in Mexico they don't grow any corn because they can import it all from the United States, then if anything happens to the -- either the cost, you know, even if it's not like some political or military catastrophe, even if it's just the cost of diesel goes up far enough that it doesn't really work to send tomatoes from the middle of Mexico to New York City, then there's a need for something to happen in between. And that requires both farmers being willing to grow something different, as well as the transportation infrastructure and mechanisms to get that around. I'm actually a hopeless optimist. And, as I get older, I become -- I find myself becoming more pacifist. And so I -- I tend to think that we will figure this out as we go along. But I'm also aware that sometimes bad things do happen, and then we kind of get stuck. But I think it gets to another -- another issue. And maybe this is a good point of conclusion or topic for concluding. You know, we -- I think I see both in small-scale organic farming, as well as in large-scale, you know, what would be called conventional farming, you know, some convergence toward what probably are just good soil management practices. And I think some of the, some of the destructive methods of farming were partly ignorance and partly the result of poor economic incentives that -- that, you know, for example, there's places in eastern Washington that don't have enough precipitation to grow wheat. But because of subsidies back in the '40s, '50s, maybe '60s, people tilled up ground and grew wheat where it never should have gotten planted. And then we spend the next 30 years trying to recover the soil in those places that never should have been farmed in the first place. We have mistakes like that, that have legacy effects that we then spend a lot of public money trying to recover from. And I think we're learning from those lessons and doing a better job on both ends of the size scale to farm better. But I feel like one other issue is the humanitarian concern. You know, do we -- to the extent that we're dependent on other countries, that also means that we're content with however they manage their land and however they handle farm workers, and we'll just buy their cheap stuff. Is that something we should be concerned about, as well? And how does that tie in with conservation of farmland?

>> So, Addie, what do you think about that?

>> Well, I think it's -- I think it's an important question. I would say that we've got a lot of work to do here at home. I agree with you that we are moving in the right direction in terms of finding convergence and a renewed focus on soil health practices with all of the investments in climate smart agriculture coming through, things like the Inflation Reduction Act, it is giving us the opportunity to put a lot more resources toward practices that we have long known are really important for lots of reasons. So I agree with you on that. I think we still have a long way to go in terms of improving how land is managed --

>> Getting our own house in order.

>> Right. And improving how our labor is treated and supported and improving the mental health of farmers here in the United States. We know that suicide rates are higher among farmers than among many other professions. That's something we need to be talking about, really, frankly, especially in the context of climate change. Farmers are living through the trauma of wildfires and floods and heat domes. And those events have cascading impacts through people's personal resilience, their ability to keep showing up to do the farming that we need them to do. So, you know, I'm not trying to say, well, we shouldn't care about farming practices abroad. But we still have a lot of work to do here that I think we do have influence over if we're willing to step up and do the work.

>> Tip I might add one thing, too, and that is that those farmers that we're talking about compete with American farmers, right? These crops, these days agriculture is absolutely international. And pretty much almost every crop it used to maybe beach the dry bulk commodities. But today it's every single crop is exported and travels across national boundaries. So from that point of view, we need to be conscious of what is happening in other countries, as well, because we don't want to be forcing American farmers to deal with some kind of, you know, environmental prerequisites to operating and then having them at the same time having to compete with other farmers that do not. It's one of the reasons that our farmers need support from the American public because these things we're asking them to do are public concerns, some of them. Some of the stuff is stuff that farmers should probably just do just because it's the right thing to do, and it's responsible. But to a very large extent, this is also stuff in the Northwest to think about salmon habitat, for example. Those salmon are in trouble for a whole host of reasons. Yeah, one of those might be related to the farm that's located along the boundaries of that salmon stream. But one whole heck of a lot of the problems that those fish face are way downstream somewhere else, and everybody needs to participate in the solution. So that the issue of fairness with stuff like that, it's more global in nature. These problems, a lot of them are, like, certainly climate change is. These are global problems, or at least they extend far beyond the reach of any farm or farm country. And so that's -- that's also one of the reasons we need to look at some of this stuff, you know, on a broader level. We want it with -- these people are in competition, and we need to keep in mind that needs to be a level playing field.

>> Yeah. I think that's a good word. I apologize if we ranged a little too far afield here, but the book and this topic touches on some truly large-scale issues. You know, the world -- to attempt a bottom line here, the world population is still growing, although most demographers contend that we will see that peak in this century based on current birth rates. And we need to grow food, and that requires farms and farmers. And we need to farm in such a way that we don't kill off the coastal zones in the ocean and send hundreds of species to extinction on the way. And I'm actually encouraged that we're -- we're getting somewhere on that. And I really appreciate your book that chronicles some many of the, you know, controversial movements that are -- that are I think getting us where we need to go. So where -- the obvious question is, where can people find your book? And if somebody wants one of those bumper stickers, even if you're a somebody like me who doesn't do bumper stickers but you think this might be the one good slogan that I'd be willing to stick my name behind, where can people find the book? And where can people get a bumper sticker?

>> Well, they find the book on Amazon. And, Addie, am I correct they can absolutely get the bumper sticker from American Farmland Trust.

>> Yep. I can request it,

>> Okay. I look forward to finishing the book. I had hoped to get it done before we could do our interview, but I didn't quite make it. But I have thoroughly enjoyed it and have found it easy to read and informative and motivational. So, Don, I really appreciate your work on this and your work in the region and the nation in trying to bring people together around conserving farmland.

>> Thanks, Tip. I appreciate it. I think AFT and folks like Addie all across the country are just doing some amazing work. And AFT is an exemplar for me of where we might be able to go with all kinds of other issues and organizations if we put our mind to it.

>> Great. Thank you both for your time today.

>> Thanks for having us.

>> You bet.

>> Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast, you can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. Just search for Art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering range line managers, please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Connors Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University's endorsement.


Mentioned Resources

The book is available from the publisher, from SecondSale, or on Amazon.

Get the No Farms, No Food Bumper sticker from American Farmland Trust.

For more on what American Farmland Trust is doing for agriculture, check out their "Our Work" webpage.

Watch Don's talk at Town Hall Seattle.

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