Uncertain future for US food system

Below is a reproduction of an opinion article that the Board of the Geographies of Food and Agriculture Specialty Group wrote in response to the election of Donald Trump and what this means for food and agriculture systems in the United States.


Despite strong support from rural voters, since President Donald J. Trump entered the White House, he has made almost no direct mention of agriculture, farmers, the Farm Bill, or the countryside.

However, the administration’s efforts to shift global trade, reduce regulation, cut social safety nets, and limit immigration will have wide-reaching repercussions for our society. This means that we pay more at grocery stores or restaurants, our families will get sick from food-borne illnesses, and pollution chokes our water and air. These are issues that affect every single one of us — no matter how you voted on election day — and will be sure to impact regions and states relying on a migrant workforce who support a thriving agriculture industry.

As geographers who study food systems, from production to consumption to waste management, we are extremely distressed by the social and ecological damage resulting from the Trump administration’s current actions, and we foresee more problems on the horizon.

Perhaps the most evident issue is the President’s  promise to eviscerate trade deals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership — now dead in the water — and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Although NAFTA has meant manufacturing job losses and is notorious for widespread social and environmental repercussions, merely the threat of a NAFTA repeal or the incorporation of dramatic changes (such as reinstating tariffs for Mexican imports) has U.S.-owned companies and consumers railing against renegotiations. Not only would new tariffs dramatically increase the price for everyday foods imported from Mexico (such as tomatoes and avocados), they would likely harm domestic production for foods we export to Mexico (such as dairy, pork, beef, onions, and corn), if Mexico matched these import tariffs.

Some proponents of a more locally focused food system see cutting trade deals as a win. Shifts toward regional systems are indeed crucial for sustainability in the long run, and one impact of these policy changes may be that distributors and consumers increasingly rely on sources of food closer to home. Yet, while it may seem at first glance that the rejection of trade deals would be a positive change for small-scale producers forced to compete in the global “race to the bottom,” these changes do nothing to address the continued dominance and, indeed, the increasing consolidation of transnational food corporations.

Since neither the Trump administration nor his pick for Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, a former manager of a global agribusiness trading company, is expected to prioritize the voices of small-scale farmers over corporate interests, we must wonder what benefits this new approach will have for family farms and rural America? This is particularly alarming when coupled with the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle environmental and ethical protections, and in light of Perdue’s reputation as an anti-regulation climate change denier. Famous for hosting a public prayer for rain (http://politics.blog.ajc.com/2017/01/10/that-time-sonny-perdue-prayed-for-rain/) in response to a Georgia drought, as governor, Perdue promoted the growth of unregulated chicken factories in his state at the expense of public health and animal welfare (http://www.grubstreet.com/2017/01/5-reasons-experts-worry-about-trumps-agriculture-secretary.html).

Trump’s anti-immigrant positions, in addition to being broadly xenophobic and unjust, will also have direct implications for food and agriculture in the U.S. Immigrants are the backbone of the food system — not just in the fields, but also in packing, processing, retail, and service. During his first week in office, President Trump ordered a major overhaul of immigration law enforcement, and as many as 8 million undocumented people could be targeted for deportation.

Yet undocumented immigrants make up about 80 percent of the agricultural workforce. Agricultural labor is physically challenging work, and in most states, workers do not have basic labor law protections, such as minimum wage and overtime pay. Periods of immigration crackdowns in recent years have left crops unharvested to rot in the fields (http://www.grubstreet.com/2017/01/5-reasons-experts-worry-about-trumps-agriculture-secretary.html). Ultimately, the only ethical solution to the linked issues of agriculture and immigration is to ensure secure livelihoods for workers, regardless of their citizenship status, and to protect the unqualified rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

These are steep challenges and the stakes are high. Yet if we realize that the food system can be a powerful tool for reshaping society, economy and environment, we can turn this moment of crisis into an opportunity.

The 2018 Farm Bill will be contentious but, with concerted effort, it could prove an effective pressure point. Highlighting the inequities of the agribusiness agenda as it materializes can produce new and unlikely coalitions. Immigrant farm workers, rural smallholders, indigenous peoples and urban foodies, for example, could all be negatively affected by the current administration’s agenda. A movement unified around food is capable of cultivating not only a reasonable Farm Bill but also a more socially just and ecologically sustainable future for all.


GFASG Sponsored Meeting at 2017 AAG

Meeting: Food Justice Scholar-Activist/Activist-Scholar Community of Practice


Kristin Reynolds, Food. Scholarship. Justice./The New School/University of Southern Maine kristin@foodscholarshipjustice.org

Katera Moore, University of Pennsylvania – kymoore@sas.upenn.edu

Daniel Block, Chicago State University – dblock@csu.edu

Sponsor: Geographies of Food and Agriculture Specialty Group


Food justice scholarship and activism have continued to evolve alongside, and often intertwined with each other over the past decade. This has set the stage for critical and action-oriented dialogues about: the meaning and scalability of “food justice,” as both a paradigm and material goal; the roles of academics in food justice activism; the recognition of experience-based food systems expertise; and a deep questioning of a dichotomy between activist and scholar–all topics of direct and historical relevance to geography.

Among our collective, we have organized conference sessions and field trips centered on these themes at the past few AAG meetings to begin to build a community of practice among “food justice scholar-activists and activist-scholars.” After a successful suite of sessions in 2016, and a special journal issue in progress, we will meet in Boston to continue cultivating this working group. The meeting is open to all, including community-based participants, academic, and professional geographers. Please join us if you are interested in helping to advance our collective food justice scholar-activist/activist scholarship.


 Friday, 4/7/2017

10:00 a.m. – 11:40 a.m.

Sheraton Hotel, Clarendon Room

No registration required.


GFASG Board Election

Dear GFASG Members,

We are pleased to announce that it is time to vote on three new positions: Faculty At-Large, Student At-Large, and Newsletter Coordinator.

Follow this link to participate in the election: GFASG Board Election.

The election will close on March 3, 2017.



GFASG Board Elections Nominations Announcement

Dear GFASG members,

A number of positions will soon be open on the GFASG Board. Elections will take place online in early March and be announced at our specialty group business meeting at the AAG in late March/April. The term starts after the meeting. The positions available are listed below. Each position is two years.

– 1 Faculty at-large

– 1 Student at-large

– Newsletter Coordinator

All positions have the same voice in decision-making, and specific tasks are assigned to the individual roles. The board generally has two to three conference calls per year. In addition, members work in smaller working groups to organize conference events, our graduate student award, and other activities.

If you are interested, please send a short (150 words max) bio statement to me at lminkoff@syr.edu by February 15, to be circulated before the ballot is made available. You must be a registered GFASG member by time you join the board.

Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern

Chair, GFASG

GFASG 2017 Graduate Research Grants (Extended)

The Geography of Food and Agriculture Specialty Group (GFASG) invites proposals for the 2017 Graduate Research Grant Competition. This year GFASG will hold separate grant competitions for students at the master’s and doctoral level. The competitions are designed to support graduate students’ conducting initial research for their master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation.

The master’s level competition is intended to support research-related travel and expenses in support of thesis research during the 2017 field season. Proposals should clearly demonstrate scholarly merit and the ability to be successfully completed during the time-frame of the master’s research.

The doctoral competition is intended to support pilot research, or provide startup funds to help launch dissertation research. This award is not intended to supplement dissertation research that is already underway or near completion. Proposals should clearly demonstrate a scholarly contribution to geographic research on food and agriculture, an ability to successfully complete the proposed work, and a readiness to begin research in 2017.

The awards are competitive; applications are judged on the basis of scholarly merit of the project, organization and clarity of the proposal, and qualifications of the student to conduct the proposed work.

Each applicant must be a student member of the GFASG at the time of application (student dues are $2), and the proposed project should be part of her/his thesis or dissertation research. Again, please note that applicants should not yet have completed research, as this is a seed grant. This year’s grants will be made at $400 at the master’s, and $600 at the PhD. level. Awards may not be given if no proposals are deemed suitable.

Entries undergo review by the Geography of Food and Agriculture Specialty Group’s Executive Committee. A complete application must be sent electronically (as a single PDF file with applicant’s name and graduate level (master’s or PhD) in the title of document) to Russell Hedberg (rch206@psu.edu) no later than January 22, 2017.

The application is attached here, and available on the Geography of Food and Agriculture Specialty Group’s website: gfasg.wordpress.com. The application consists of an approximately 500 word proposal, an itemized budget of no more than two pages, and a one-page synopsis of the curriculum vitae. The proposal should present the research question(s), outline the methods and data employed, and summarize the expected results and significance of the project. Proposals will be evaluated based on the originality and importance of the work’s contribution to the geography of food and agriculture, strong theoretical framework(s) and clear presentation/framing of the problem, and evidence of strong and appropriate methods. Submissions should be original, interdisciplinary, well-written and well-researched, and it should be obvious that the applicant is prepared to begin research AND has not already received full funding for the work.

The winners of the competition will be contacted by March 31, 2017, and the competition results will be announced at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American of Association Geographers in Boston, during the GFASG Business Meeting. Please address questions or requests for clarification to Russell Hedberg (rch206@psu.edu).

Geography of Food and Agriculture Specialty Group

2017 Research Grant Competitions – Application Instructions

Eligibility: Applicant must be enrolled in a Master’s or Ph.D. program in Geography at an institution of higher education. The proposed research must be an integral part of ongoing research toward the Master’s or PhD degree. The applicant must be a member of the Geography of Food and Agriculture Specialty Group at the time of application.

Award Amount: $400 master’s/$600 PhD

Application Deadline: January 22, 2017

Application Directions:

  1. Complete the Research Grant Application Form, which has fields for the proposal and budget information.
  2. Provide a 1-page synopsis of your curriculum vitae.
  3. Email all materials as one file (.pdf only) to Russell Hedberg (rch206@psu.edu).