As the spring planting season approaches, seven farmers from my home state of Illinois traveled to Washington, DC to participate in the “Farmers for Climate Action” rally. Farmers sought meetings with lawmakers, including Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. Sen. Durbin and others are crafting the Farm Bill, and the farmers want to ensure climate change is a priority as this must-pass legislation is finalized.
I’m a doctor, not a farmer, but the Farm Bill is important because food is medicine, and health-promoting foods come from farms. Pecans, for example, are grown in Illinois and are a healthy source of protein, iron, and other nutrients. Feeling out of sorts? A recent study shows that snacking on tree nuts can boost serotonin which can enhance mood.
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey is also on the agriculture committee, and his vision for the Farm Bill includes promoting climate-smart farming practices. It’s urgent because farmers in Illinois and other states are currently dealing with the effects of climate change. According to the Illinois State Climatologist, temperatures are rising, and heavy rains are becoming more common. Major floods are becoming more frequent, with rivers jumping banks and croplands flooding. But Sen. Booker proposes ambitious reforms to mitigate and adapt to climate change. If Sen. Durbin and others on the agriculture committee are listening to farmers, he will wholeheartedly support Sen Booker’s plans.
In previously proposed legislation, Sen. Booker floated a concept that will probably wind up in the current Farm Bill—farmers with large-scale livestock operations who wish to transition to growing food crops should get government funding and support. In North Carolina, the buyout program for hog farms on the floodplain was extremely popular with farmers who wished to transition to growing crops. Gov. Roy Cooper’s sought serious cash to restart this program, and there’s a waitlist of farmers who want to participate. A similar initiative would probably be popular with farmers in other states, and our elected officials should make it happen.
Several types of trees can be grown profitably in Illinois and other states, including apple, peach, pecan, walnut, and hazelnut. Trees produce oxygen for us to breathe, and their fibers store carbon dioxide—reducing the negative effects of this heat-trapping gas. Trees can provide flood management while producing income for farmers. Hazelnut trees, for example, are an excellent choice to help control flooding, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Wisconsin, dairy farmer Paul Jereczek is planting hazelnut trees because he’d like his children to stay on the land, and he doesn’t see a future in dairy farming.
Following destructive flash floods during the summer of 2022, Sen. Durbin demanded assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He should likewise demand federal funds for livestock farmers who wish to transition to orchards designed to withstand and manage periodic flooding. Federal funds are also available for climate-smart farming practices through the Inflation Reduction Act.
In North Carolina, Tom Butler is evidently forging ahead without government assistance, and he’s working with his son Will to transition the family farm from raising hogs to growing mushrooms. From a doctor’s perspective, I applaud this change because grilling mushroom “steaks” is much more healthful than consuming pork, which is high in saturated fat and has zero fiber.
When I recommend a plant-based diet, patients often ask about protein, but mushrooms, for example, provide plenty of protein—more than half of a mushroom’s calories come from protein. Foods made with soybeans are another great source of protein—as well as
calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Tasty and affordable plant-based foods can help people improve heart health, manage diabetes, maintain a healthy weight, and otherwise improve their health.
In Illinois, there are about 436 large-scale livestock operations, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these industrial livestock facilities contribute to climate change by generating methane, a powerful planet-warming gas. If the senators on the agriculture committee care about supporting farmers, preventing destructive floods, addressing climate change, and improving people’s health, they’ll support Sen. Booker’s vision to phase out factory farms.
Ashwani Garg is a family physician.