Early last week I (Jeremy) had the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC as part of a Farmer Fly-in organized by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). NSAC is an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocates for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities. The fly-in brought together more than fifty farmers, ranchers, and others working towards more sustainable food systems. In just two days there were over one hundred meetings held with Senators and Representatives, especially those on the House and Senate Agricultural Committees. The fly-in meetings focused on a few different topics, including ensuring that programs which support sustainable agriculture are included in the 2013 Farm Bill, and returning funding to programs left stranded by the fiscal cliff Farm Bill extension. I was in DC as part of a contingent from the National Young Farmers Coalition. Our main topic during our meetings was restoring funding to programs that help new and beginning farmers get started in agriculture, most notably, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, the Value-Added Producer Grant, and the Farmer’s Market Promotion Program.
The week started Monday with a morning of meetings with the NSAC staff about what to expect during the hill meetings, specifics about the programs and policies, and an overview of how the Congressional process is supposed to work. After a short lunch break everyone dispersed to the respective meetings. I attended meetings along with the Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), Lindsey Lusher Shute. We had very good meetings with both Senator Thune’s and Senator Johnson’s offices on Monday and then met with Representative Noem on Tuesday.
Overall the meetings were supportive of the programs that we were lobbying for, but finding funding for them is still a big concern. Lindsey and I were a good partnership in the conversations, she has more experience and knowledge with the political process and also, through the NYFC, a understanding of farmer issues nationwide (she and her husband also run a 600 family CSA in New York state). I was able to bring the perspective of a very new farmer and being from South Dakota I had a story that held special meaning to the SD Congress people we met with. Part of what made the meetings so positive may have been from lobbying for the sustainable agriculture programs through seeking general support for the next generation of farmers, not specifically organic, or small scale. Everyone was aware that we have an aging population of farmers, large acreages set to change hands, increasing land and infrastructure costs, and a lack of training programs for interested future farmers who were not raised in agriculture. Regardless of politics, this situation needs assistance if we want to have a viable food system in the next 20 years.
For more information about the fly-in, the Farm Bill, the stranded programs or sustainable agriculture policy, check out the NSAC website, http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/farmers-travel-to-dc/ or the National Young Farmers Coalition http://www.youngfarmers.org/blog/2013/03/09/young-farmers-take-to-washington/