WASHINGTON — Massachusetts farmer and President of the Board of Directors of the Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter (NOFA/Mass) Laura Davis delivered testimony before the House Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research. The subcommittee hearing on Specialty Crops is part of a larger series of hearings entitled “The Next Farm Bill”, hosted by the Committee on Agriculture of the U.S. House of Representatives in advance of the drafting of a new federal farm bill in 2018.
Laura and her husband, Donald Sutherland, own and operate Long Life Farm in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, where they raise over 100 varieties of vegetables and fruit. Like many farmers just trying to get by today, however, Laura also wears many other hats. Laura is also currently the President of the Board of Directors of NOFA/Mass, which assists farmers and food handlers with their organic certification process, an organizer of the Hopkinton Farmers Market, and an Independent Organic Inspector. Laura’s unique experience as a family farmer, leader at NOFA/Mass, and organic certifier has provided her with an informed and important perspective on the state of small, diversified farms and specialty crop production in Massachusetts and also throughout the Northeast.
“As everyone here in this room knows, farms of all types are struggling throughout the country,” Laura told the subcommittee. “[With] more and more producers looking to local, regional and organic markets to diversify their businesses and ensure the long-term viability of their farms, it is critical that the next Farm Bill maintain or even increase current investments in those sectors of the agriculture economy – now is not the time to cut important programs serving agriculture and promoting rural jobs and economic opportunity.”
To support her work on the farm, with NOFA/Mass, and at the Hopkinton Farmers Market, Laura has utilized several different U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs, many of which face potential funding cuts and service reductions as part of the 2018 Farm Bill negotiations: the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Assistance and Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion programs have helped Laura to connect her farm with new customers and more lucrative markets; grants from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program provided the financial support for Long Life Farm to install high tunnels, extending their growing season and increasing their profits; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) connects senior shoppers on a budget to local farmers and fresh food at the Hopkinton Farmers Market.
Laura also testified as to the importance of the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and programs that provide food safety training for farmers.
“While it is not a concern for my farm at the current size, like every small business owner I hope my small farm business will continue to grow,” said Laura, “and that means I will have to become increasingly focused on compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) produce regulations. From my perspective the next farm bill needs to invest more resources in outreach, education, technical assistance and cost-share assistance for farmers to support FSMA compliance.”
As a member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), Laura (through NOFA/Mass) is able to access the tools and resources she needs to not only learn about and effectively use USDA programs, but also to be a champion and advocate who fights to ensure these crucial programs are available for future generations of American farmers and ranchers.
“Farmers and rural communities are struggling with limited economic opportunities, low commodity prices and tightening international commodity markets,” said Wes King, Policy Specialist for NSAC. “The next farm bill is an important opportunity to invest in the tools that will give farmers and rural communities the freedom to tap into the growing demand for local, regional and organic food and farm products. NSAC looks forward to working with members of Congress and farmers like Laura in developing a farm bill that meets the needs of farmers and rural communities.”
Laura’s travel and testimony before the House Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research was made possible with support from NSAC. As a leading voice in sustainable agriculture and farmer advocacy, NSAC is committed to uplifting farmer voices and connecting producers directly with the decision-makers who control the programs and policies that impact their lives and livelihoods.
—National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
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