WASHINGTON — With big wins already secured for sustainable agriculture in the House’s FY 2020 Agriculture Appropriations bill, family farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates flocked to the Hill this week to help push funding priorities across the finish line. On Wednesday, twelve family farmers and farm/food advocates joined the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) in DC to participate in the Coalition’s June Farmer Fly-in.
“Amplifying the voices of America’s family farmers is one of the most impactful things we can do as a farm and food policy organization, and so we’re thrilled to have these twelve ‘ag-vocates’ here with us this week talking about appropriations,” said NSAC Interim Policy Director Juli Obudzinski. “We’ve already seen some substantial victories for sustainable agriculture in the House’s Agriculture Appropriations bill, many of which met or exceeded NSAC’s recommendations for FY 2020 funding levels. We’re now looking forward to working with our fly-in farmers and champions in Congress to achieve the same great results in the Senate’s bill, and in the final appropriations package.”
NSAC’s June fly-in participants included farmers and advocates from California, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, and Wisconsin. For nearly all attendees, this fly-in represented their first time advocating on Capitol Hill and a key opportunity to discuss the federal programs that have helped them find environmental and economic sustainability.
A majority of NSAC’s June fly-in participants were eager to speak with their legislators about two new programs developed in the 2018 Farm Bill: the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach(FOTO) program and Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP). Participants from Kansas, Georgia, and Oregon, all of whom work with or are themselves farmers of color, asked their legislators to support the House’s funding proposal to provide FOTO with $10 million in discretionary funding split equally between its component programs that support beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers.
Sisi Cho, Ya Mae Popo, and Katherine Kelly from Cultivate Kansas City, as well as Amber Bell of the Southwest Georgia Project, George Hall Jr. of Geo Hall Farm (Georgia), and Silvia Cuesta of Adelante Mujeres (Oregon) each came to DC to underscore the need for and benefits of supporting programs that train and uplift farmers of color, beginning, veteran, and other socially disadvantaged producers.
“The 2501 Program is a critical lifeline for black farmers,” said Bell. “We’ve got maybe 10 years left for many African American farmers and landowners – the median age of farmers in our community is much higher than the average, it’s between 62-65 years of age – so we’ve got to get to work now and start making farming a viable option for the next generations of black growers. Through the help of Section 2501, we’re helping our farmers to develop business plans and providing them with other training that will keep existing farms viable and help new farms to start strong.”
“Normally us smaller-scale farmers are in a little box, but working with the Southwest Georgia Project has got me thinking outside that box,” said Hall Jr., a third generation farmer participating in 2501-funded programming through the Southwest Georgia Project. “I’m now thinking about agribusiness, about value-added farming, I’m realizing that there’s unlimited opportunities for us in farming. Thanks to funding from the Section 2501 Program and the Southwest Georgia Project, we get the experiences, opportunities, and exposure we need to take our products to larger markets beyond the neighborhood.”
Patricia Manes of Louisiana’s From the Ground Farm and Caitlin Frame of The Milkhouse in Maine were two of the several advocates in town to urge Congress to support local and regional farm and food programs. Specifically, Manes and Frame spoke to their representatives about the need for $20 million in additional appropriations support for the LAMP program and its sub-programs, Value-Added Producer Grants and the Farmers Market Local Food Promotion Program(FMLFPP).
“The dairy crisis has been hitting farmers hard, including organic dairy farmers like us,” said Frame. “That’s why we’ve been working with the Maine Farmland Trust on a new milk market option project, which is funded by a Local Food Promotion Program grant. I feel its my duty as a citizen and a farmer to be here doing this advocacy on LAMP and beginning farmer and conservation programs. It’s important that our representatives know how challenging agriculture is, and that the money invested in these programs stimulates growth on many levels. Any federal money that we receive or benefit from, it goes directly into our rural communities, driving those economies and supporting families on and off the farm.”
Producers active in local/regional markets are also among those most affected by the Food and Drug Administration’s recently rolled out Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations. While the 2018 Farm Bill reauthorized the Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP), which provides food safety training and outreach to small and mid-sized farm and processing operations, it did not provide the program with any dedicated funding. NSAC and Kali Feiereisel of California Alliance for Family Famers (CAFF) are therefore urging Congress to include $10 million in funds for FSOP, as proposed in the House, in their final FY 2020 appropriations bill.
“I care deeply about local/regional food systems, and I don’t want our food safety regulations to threaten those systems,” said Feiereisel. “Providing as much technical assistance to our family farmers as possible – especially as FSMA implementation is just rolling out – is incredibly important to keeping our local food systems vibrant. I’m here to ask Congress to support critical food safety training and outreach by providing $10 million in funding for FSOP, and by supporting food safety cost-share programming within LAMP. I also want farmers to know that they have advocates in DC that are doing this work while they’re busy in the fields. We’re here advocating for you this week with NSAC and we’re sharing your stories.”
Several advocates also came to DC to shore up wins for critical conservation, organic, and agricultural research programs. Anna Johnson, Policy Manager at the Center for Rural Affairs, came from Nebraska to ensure no cuts to mandatory funding were made to working lands conservation programs, and both Adam Montri of Ten Hens Farm in Michigan and Eugene Schriefer of Rolling Hills Stock Farm in Wisconsin came to the Capital to ask for $45 million in support for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (SARE) program.
“The beautiful thing about SARE is that it’s farmer driven and farmer led,” said Montri. “We recently completed a SARE project with two other Michigan farms to study methods of weed management that would allow us to increase our winter yields, and sales, of root crops. We could never have spent the $22,000+ dollars, even collectively, to just try out this equipment and hope that it worked out. SARE funds reduced our risk and allowed us to experiment in a way that produced tangible results for our farms that could easily be replicated on others.”
NSAC’s recommendations for FY 2020 appropriations include: no cuts to mandatory funding for conservation programs; $10 million in discretionary funding to FOTO, split evenly between its two sub-programs; $10 million for FSOP; $20 million for LAMP, split evenly between its subprograms; and $45 million for SARE.
“NSAC is very excited at the prospect of an FY 2020 appropriations package that addresses the needs of America’s family farmers and food producing communities,” said Obudzinski. “Farmers continue to struggle from a lagging economy, trade wars, and a worsening climate crisis. While more policy reforms are needed to truly address the crisis facing our nation’s farmers, this spending package is an important opportunity for Congress to reinvest in our nations’ producers and bring home a good deal for good food in the next fiscal year.”
–National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
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