Grassroots Leaders Present Appropriations Asks in Virtual Fly-In


Credit: Jonathan P. Larsen/Diadem Images
Credit: Jonathan P. Larsen/Diadem Images

Each summer, NSAC is proud to bring dozens of farmer and rancher voices to Washington, DC for our annual fly-in lobby days. To recognize the importance of this grassroots advocacy work while also protecting the safety of farmer-leaders, we adapted to organize virtually this summer – our second virtual fly-in this year. In July,  farmers and community leaders representing seven states shared stories and critical policy asks based on what’s occurring on the ground and the needs of their communities. Advocating virtually by conference call and video allows for more folks to participate in the busy growing season, including local leaders who otherwise might not  have the capacity to do so. We were able to mobilize our members and stand firmly as a coalition to address pertinent issues.

The House released their agriculture appropriations bill for (FY) 2021 just prior to the fly-in, and it proposes to increase or retain funding for a number of vital programs across the board, including many of our priority issues. This sets the stage for the Senate to do the same later this year. As farmers and communities across the country continue to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that agriculture appropriations reflect the current and ongoing needs to strengthen local and regional food systems, prioritize assistance for farmers of color and beginning farmers, protect conservation funding, fund farmer-led research, and increase food safety support.   

NSAC’s grassroots leaders represented Maryland, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Kansas for our FY 2021 summer fly-in. They joined forces to be leaders in “ag-vocating” for programs that directly affect farmers they work with, communities, and their organization and to highlight how federal sustainable agriculture programs can better support farmers through and beyond the pandemic. 

Program priorities and FY 2021 funding asks for NSAC’s summer fly-in included:

Below we share some highlights from grassroots leaders’ experience during the fly-in working to shape what will be included in next year’s budget to reflect the needs of farmers and their communities.  

Amy Wong (Policy Director), Friends of Family Farmers, Oregon

Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF), works to promote and protect socially responsible agriculture in Oregon. Amy and Gwynne Mhuireach of Black Tansy Farm near Springfield, Oregon, had a successful meeting with Senator Merkley’s (D-OR) office to advocate for continued and increased SARE funding. 

Gwynne and her husband are currently doing research as part of a SARE grant that is exploring if multi-species rotational grazing will improve soil health on their farm, where they raise beef, lamb, and poultry year-round on pasture. 

Amy shared how SARE is helping farms like Black Tansy Farm measure the impact of their practices through its farmer-led research model: “It seems like the soil is improving, but Black Tansy Farm is partnering with a microbiologist at the University of Oregon to get conclusive quantitative data to answer this question.”

Donn Teske (President), Kansas Farmers Union

Kansas Farmers Union (KFU)  is the state’s oldest active general farm organization working to protect and enhance the economic interests and quality of life for family farmers and ranchers and rural communities. They joined forces with Cultivate KC and several other Kansas farmer organizations to meet with Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Representative Sharice Davids (D-KS-3) to talk about the SARE and FOTO programs. 

Donn has been involved with SARE for over a decade, including having served on the Administrative Council  for North Central SARE and on the state Advisory Committee for Kansas, where he has helped to guide the program. His involvement began when he received his own SARE grant for research on his 5th-generation family farm. He shared that almost all of the increased funding would go to additional research and education on the ground in communities.  

Donn stated, “We are in an era right now where there seems to be more acceptance of more centralized local foods and SARE could be instrumental in delivering the education needed to make that successful.” 

Donn has been attending fly-ins in DC for 20 years and said that a virtual fly-in “allows people to participate that have the knowledge to contribute to the conversation but maybe don’t  have the ability to leave their commitments at home to meet face to face in DC.” 

Melissa Vatterott (Food & Farm Policy Director), Missouri Coalition for the Environment

Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) delivers vital information to thousands of Missourians on issues that affect water, air, food, health, and the environment. Melissa met with Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO)  and Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) to discuss LAMP, FSOP, SARE, Expanding SNAP Options Act of 2020 (S.4202), and Food Assistance for Kids and Families During COVID-19 Act of 2020 (S.3563). 

MCE received a Local Food Promotion Program grant through LAMP in 2017-2019 to help build the local food supply in St. Louis. The program helps farmers and other food system organizations plan and implement important programs to support farmers, the next generation of farmers, and access to healthy food.

Melissa shared that extension offices or universities in Missouri who conduct research with corporate funding are limited in what they can research. By making more funding available through SARE, it would give more research entities the ability to conduct research based in community-identified needs  toward supporting a healthy sustainable food system given climate change’s increasing impacts. 

For S.4202 and S.3563, she spoke about how grocery delivery right now is a luxury but should be something that every family has access to as a path to healthy food amidst the pandemic. Families receiving food aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have not been able to purchase food online in most states.   The COVID-19 pandemic spurred USDA to expand its existing online SNAP purchasing pilot, but it still has not reached all 50 states, and participating retailers are limited. S.4202 will provide the technical assistance to support small retailers and farmers in states like Missouri in order to support SNAP recipients and get them access to healthy food. 

“During COVID, given all the precautions people are taking with respect to being out in public, I think it’s a great economic, not just opportunity but necessity, to keep our rural and small communities thriving by giving them the competitive opportunity to also support these customers when maybe they couldn’t otherwise,” said Melissa.

Katherine Kelly (Executive Director), Cultivate Kansas City

Cultivate KC is a locally-grown nonprofit working to grow food, farms, and community in support of a sustainable and healthy local food system for all. They joined forces with KFU and several other Kansas Farmer organizations in their first ever collaborative meeting with elected officials. 

SARE and FOTO have proven to be critical programs for Cultivate KC. They have received grants through SARE to conduct research in partnership with urban growers in the Kansas City region. In addition, they offer a 4-year farm business development program working to help refugees build farm businesses. That program would not exist if it weren’t for BFRDP grant funding. FOTO, which houses BFRDP, is “wholly underfunded” but has been integral to their work with beginning farmers. She shared that when applying for grants, they know that whether or not they get funded they will be understood and valued: the BFRDP grants allow them to establish credibility that enables them to go to other funders when additional funding is needed. 

Sarah Goldman (Senior Program Coordinator), John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), works with students, educators, researchers, policymakers, advocacy organizations and communities to build a healthier, more equitable and resilient food system. They met with Rep. Andy Harriss’s (R-MD-1) office and did a joint call with Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG), Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA), and ECO City Farms. They spoke about the need to support FOTO, LAMP, NRCS conservation programs, SARE, and the impact of COVID-19 on farmers.

Sarah highlighted LAMP and the importance of appropriations for FMLPP and VAPG in relation to COVID-19. Currently there is a match requirement: if you apply for these grants, you have to provide some level of funding in order to qualify to get the grant. They suggested that the match requirement be waived in light of the pandemic.

“A lot of farmers and others who are involved in local food processing and farmers markets are in a difficult position so it’s really important that  those match requirements are currently waived for an individual or organization to receive the funding that they need to do their important work right now to make sure that food is accessible to all,” said Sarah.

Nicole Sugerman (Policy Manager), Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) is a network of over 500 participating organizations and thousands of individuals carrying out farm and food systems endeavors to catalyze meaningful change toward a sustainable and just food system. Nicole met with the offices of Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD-1), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) to discuss budget allocations for FOTO, LAMP, SARE, and COVID-19 aid.

In her meeting with Casey’s office, she highlighted two examples in Philadelphia that benefited from LAMP. Fishadelphia is a community supported fisheries program that connects fishers on the Jersey coast with diverse communities in the city who eat fish. Fishers bring in the fish every week and operate with a CSA model: subscribers get a different fish every week. Through the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) they are able to open new markets for local seafood and employ youth in Philadelphia.

“It simultaneously supports the fishers on the shore and supports people in the city getting fresh, delicious fish, it’s a really cool program that would not be possible without LAMP,” said Nicole.

Tooth of the Lion Farm and Apothecary received a VAPG award that was specifically for marketing and assistance with labels, packaging labor, and selling at farmers markets. Support from VAPG made all the difference between being profitable and not the year that she was awarded the grant and helped them successfully expand their farm business. 

Molly Ross (Farmer), ECO City Farms

ECO City Farms is a nonprofit urban teaching and learning farm in Prince George’s County that grows great food, farms and farmers in ways that protect, restore and sustain the natural environment and the health of local communities. Molly joined NESAWG, CLF, and IWLA to meet with Harris’s staff about their experience with BFRDP and the impact of COVID-19 on their farm. 

“The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program funds our beginning farmer training program, allowing us to operate a functional urban farm staffed with farmer-educators. We provide 100 farm shares to our community, while training up to 20 beginning farmers and several apprentices throughout the year. This wouldn’t be possible without the USDA BFRDP grant. This growing season, as a result of the pandemic, we have increased demand for our CSA, increased safety precautions in processing our produce and managing volunteers/trainees, and lower volunteer capacity, putting more pressure on our staff. Small farms and farmer training programs need increased support during this crisis,” said Molly.

What Comes Next?

Congress is currently in its August recess period through Labor Day, with much more work on its plate in September to address ongoing COVID-19 impacts and pass an appropriations bill for fiscal year 2021 (FY 2021). The federal government operates on a fiscal year instead of a calendar year, and the current 2020 fiscal year ends on September 30, 2020. The end of September is often viewed as the deadline for which Congress has to act in order to prevent a government shutdown. While the House has made considerable progress in passing appropriations bills to fund the government for FY 2021, including the agriculture spending bill, the Senate has not taken any actions regarding FY 2020 appropriations. As a result, Congress will most likely have to pass a Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded as the Senate moves forward with appropriations bills and conferencing those with what the House has already passed. 

As we continue to experience the repercussions of the pandemic, it is critical to honor and protect farmers who are on the frontlines, by advocating for programs that support them. NSAC will continue to stay engaged in the process, including making recommendations to appropriators on ways in which FY 2021 appropriations decisions can ensure that the needs of farmers and their communities are being met through and beyond the pandemic.

The post Grassroots Leaders Present Appropriations Asks in Virtual Fly-In appeared first on National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

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