August 23, 2018
Editor’s Note: This piece was written by NSAC Grassroots Fellow Stephanie Henry with Associate Director for Communications Reana Kovalcik. Stephanie Henry is NSAC’s Summer 2018 Grassroots Intern. After her internship, Stephanie will be returning to Fort Wayne, Indiana where she is extensively engaged in the growth and development of the regional and statewide local food systems. She plans to use the information and connections gained during her time at NSAC to support food systems policy and outreach initiatives.
Members of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) arrived in Seattle, WA earlier this month from all corners of the country. They flew as many as ten hours, drove hundreds of miles, and some even braved a 22-hour train ride. They all converged in Seattle for the 2018 NSAC Summer Meeting, an opportunity to dig in together on the complex policy and grassroots work that they each do – both individually and as part of the larger coalition.
NSAC’s 2018 Summer Meeting was convened at Seattle University and held over three jam-packed days. The 100+ member organizations in attendance spent their time actively engaged in policy and grassroots working sessions, participating in racial equity caucusing, attending local farm tours, and – of course – celebrating!
NSAC holds two member meetings annually, in the first and third quarters of the calendar year. The Winter Meeting is the coalition’s opportunity to set the focus for the upcoming legislative session, while the Summer Meeting is a time for NSAC members to review progress and work on current policy campaigns and grassroots priorities.
Not surprisingly, the 2018 Farm Bill was a top priority at this year’s Summer Meeting. This farm bill cycle has been unlike any other before, and has therefore required extra mental and sweat equity from all sustainable food and farm stakeholders.
The House’s draft version of the 2018 Farm Bill bucked the legacy of bi-partisan farm bills by putting forward a bill that failed the first time it was introduced on the House floor and eventually passed with zero votes from Democrats. The House bill has been roundly denounced by the sustainable agriculture movement for its proposals to gut programs critical to rural communities and family farmers, creation of new loopholes for corporate subsidies, and elimination funding for critical conservation programs. In contrast, the farmer-forward Senate version has been largely praised by food and farm stakeholders and received strong bipartisan support. Needless to say, the members of NSAC are actively advocating for the Senate version of the farm bill as Congress’ two drafts are currently being conferenced.
NSAC Members convened as part of several Issue Committee breakout groups for discussion on our campaign priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill. Priorities include:
In addition to policy and grassroots advocacy, NSAC understands that addressing racial equity and diversity is also a critical part of our work. At the meeting, NSAC members convened to discuss equity priorities, including as part of racial affinity working groups. This work, in combination with ongoing efforts to identify ways to move forward on the justice and equity goals outlined by our members, was an essential part of our convening.
In addition to our time spent in high-intensity breakout sessions, plenary discussions, and hands-on workshops, members also had the pleasure of touring two local farms during the meeting: Tonnemaker Valley Farm & Woodinville Farm Stand and Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands.
In 2016, Kurt Tonnemaker crossed the country to testify as an NSAC farmer advocate before the U. S. House of Representatives, Agriculture Committee, Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research. Tonnemaker came to D.C. to speak with the Representatives about how the transition to direct marketing helped save their family farm, and also about the important role that sales via Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Electronic Benefit Transfers played in supporting the ongoing success of his families’ operations.
In the last two years, Kurt and his brother Kole have expanded their 126-acre family farm and orchard on the north slope of the Frenchman Hills to include a secondary location in Woodinville. The newly revitalized 16-acre Woodinville farm and farmstand was where NSAC members had the pleasure of learning more about the Tonnemaker operation – and picking up some delicious, fresh produce!
The Tonnemaker family grows more than 400 varieties of certified organic fruit and vegetables, which they sell at farmers markets throughout Washington state. The Tonnemakers also sell directly to many restaurants in the Puget Sound region. Being an active part of their community is important to the Tonnemakers, which is one reason that they believe so strongly in the farmer-to-consumer nature of direct marketing. The Tonnemakers are also currently considering another way to engage their community – by adding an on-site commercial kitchen with processing facilities and banquet areas that could accommodate the rapidly growing interest in agritourism in the region.
The Tonnemakers started transitioning their farm to organic in 1997 and finished certifying their final field in 2008. For a full history of the Tonnemaker farm and orchard, click here.
NSAC members who visited the farm were very enthusiastic and had a nearly endless number of questions about the various intercropping technique experiments that were underway and other exciting techniques being used on the farm. After a stimulating – if all too short – informational tour, members happily descended upon the Tonnemaker farmstand to buy their fill of fresh produce.
Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands is a certified organic farm in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle – one of the most diverse zip codes in the country. Owned by Seattle Parks & Recreation and co-operated by Tilth Alliance and Friends of Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands, this 7-acre farm is the largest urban farm in Seattle. In addition to the farm, the site is also host to wetlands restoration projects, provides employment opportunities, and serves as a community gathering space.
Born out of community organizing and support from the city, the farm demonstrates how urban agriculture can be a cornerstone of a healthy community. Thanks to many generous supporters and partnerships, the farm recently completed a major improvement and additions to the operation, including: a new classroom and teaching kitchen, three green houses, a new circle drive, and improved site layout. The farm also recently hosted Farm Fest, a community celebration that included cooking classes, live music, and fun for all ages.
Upon arriving at the farm, NSAC members were immediately delighted to discover that blackberry brambles were abundant in the area. Everyone took the opportunity to sample the plump berries as Carlin Van Holmes of Tilth Alliance shared the history of the valley and farm. In addition to the prolific wild blackberries, there were also 30-year-old blueberry bushes and several other varieties of berries.
Carlin guided the group on a tour of the numerous hands-on workshops and experiments throughout the farm. Afterward, they led the group through a gate crafted by a local artisan, to a neighboring park on the shore of Lake Washington. NSAC members were eager to enjoy the view of the distant mountains and cool off before boarding the bus to head back to campus.
As is the case in all aspects of our work, this meeting would not be possible without the support of many individuals and organizations. In particular, we would like to thank our fantastic meeting sponsors for making this event such a success: Annie’s Homegrown, Bellflower Chocolate Co., Clif Bar, Cougar Mountain Cookies, Justin’s, Organic Valley, and Patagonia. Our meeting sponsors provided snacks to keep our stomachs from rumbling during the many hours members spent in working meetings, financial support to help lower-resourced folks actively participate, and awesome incentive prizes to encourage members to get active on social media during the event!
We would also like to thank Seattle University for hosting us, and our member host Organic Seed Alliance, who played a crucial role in helping us to organize and implement this inspiring gathering.
Last, but never least, we thank all of our members for their hard work and dedication. We are grateful to have been able to connect with so many in person during this meeting, and look forward to catching up with others who were unable to attend this time around. We know the road to the 2018 Farm Bill has been bumpy, but we also know that our members are among the most committed sustainable agriculture advocates out there. Together we can achieve our goals for a food and farm system that provides a quality living for family farmers, protects and nurtures the natural environment, and feeds our nation.
More photos from the NSAC 2018 farm tours and Summer Meeting can be found on our Facebook page.