February 8, 2019
Last week, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)’s annual winter meeting convened over 80 coalition members from all across the country to discuss food and agriculture policy in the nation’s capital. At the four-day convening, participants selected and made plans around NSAC coalition priorities, including implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, which was signed into law late last year. The winter meeting closed with a lobby day, where staff from NSAC’s member organizations attended over 80 meetings with members of Congress to champion policies that impact farmers and communities nationwide.
NSAC’s 2019 Priorities
Determining annual priorities is a key part of NSAC’s ability to work effectively and efficiently in advocating for policies that address the needs of farmers and communities across the country. The process of determining priorities includes feedback from member organizations over the course of several months, and at NSAC’s annual Winter Meeting, the Policy Council, made up of NSAC’s represented members, has the final vote on the priorities the coalition will work on in the year ahead.
NSAC sets annual priorities for policy and appropriations issues that are relevant for sustainable agriculture. With the 2018 Farm Bill now signed into law, this year members focused priorities on the farm bill implementation process, which includes working with Congress and USDA to ensure that wins from the 2018 Farm Bill are carried out to achieve intended results and benefits for farmers, ranchers, natural resources, and communities across the country.
2019 Policy Priorities
Our 2019 campaign priorities are focused in on ensuring the farm bill wins that NSAC and our members championed are successfully implemented and that policy improvements reach and benefits farmers on the ground. The campaign priorities selected by NSAC membership represent areas where there is a need and an opportunity for grassroots voices to engage and help protect and advance policy wins over the course of the next year. The three grassroots priorities selected by NSAC membership are listed below:
In addition to NSAC’s three grassroots campaign policy priorities outlined above, NSAC members also adopted the following priorities for our policy work in 2019:
NSAC members were also tasked with selecting appropriations priorities for the year ahead, which will be focused on securing discretionary funding for key sustainable agriculture priorities in fiscal year (FY) 2020. The following five priorities were selected as grassroots priorities for the year ahead.
In addition to NSAC’s grassroots campaign priorities, our members also adopted the following additional appropriations priorities for FY 2020: conservation technical assistance; FSA loans; Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network; Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program; and opposing the proposed ERS/NIFA reorganization.
NSAC also adopted several “emerging issues” this year, through which we will engage our members in policy development, research, capacity building and laying the groundwork for future legislative campaigns. These are issues for which there is significant interest from our member organizations and an opportunity for future legislative wins. NSAC’s emerging issues for 2019 are:
Coalition members at this year’s Winter Meeting had the opportunity to experience DC’s burgeoning craft spirits scene during happy hour at One Eight Distilling. Located in the northeast DC neighborhood of Ivy City, One Eight Distilling gets its name from Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution which established Washington, DC as the nation’s capital.
Participants sipped on craft cocktails and participated in guided distillery tours where they learned about the procurement of local and regional ingredients for the production of One Eight’s spirits and the relationships the distillery has developed with the producers.
Tuesday evening marked the close of three days of strategizing and priority planning for coalition members. The day concluded with racial affinity caucusing followed by a panel of community leaders who are engaging in racial equity and food justice work in the broader DC, Maryland, and Virginia region.
The panel – Sustainable Agriculture, Unsustainable Inequities – was moderated by Ruth Tyson from the Union of Concerned Scientists. As the coordinator of the Good Food for All (GFFA) coalition, she works to unite grassroots and national organizations around a vision for a just, equitable and sustainable food system, and transforming the food system through policy advocacy. Speaking on the panel were DMV residents Gail Taylor, Michael J. Wilson, and Reverend Dr. Heber Brown.
Longtime DC resident Gail Taylor is the owner and operator of Three Part Harmony Farm in northeast DC. Gail asserts that Three Part Harmony Farm “grows food to feed people but also exists in part to challenge our assumptions on how urban farms should look. It intentionally seeks to create a viable and just local food economy while at the same time dismantling racism and the ever present, entrenched forms of oppression in that same food system.” A lead organizer for a campaign that eventually led to the passage of the DC Food Security Act of 2014, Taylor offers a perspective of the food system that speaks with experience in both policy and community advocacy.
As a panelist, Taylor discussed the idea of policy being a tool for building better communities and a better world for future generations, rather than the only solution to issues of inequity. She discussed the necessity for both community building and assessing the needs of your community in order to appropriately strategize around policy that has traditionally excluded people of color.
Taylor acknowledged the power she holds as a farmer and coordinator of a DC-based CSA that aims to procure all CSA inputs from farmers of color, women, and queer farmers within DC. Using her own buying power to financially support other food equity efforts supports the ever present theme of food sovereignty.
In response to a question about what self care looks like as a person of color in a white workplace, Taylor emphasized the importance she places in being able to find sanctuaries outside of predominantly white institutions, and the value for people of color to cultivate spaces where they are able to show up with all parts of themselves.
Since 2013, Michael J. Wilson has been leading hunger advocacy, education, and outreach as the director of Maryland Hunger Solutions. Wilson serves as the Co-Chair for the Prince George’s County Food Equity Council as well as in several other leadership roles in statewide coalitions, and is a core advisor in the State Partnership to End Child Hunger. Wilson has experience working in Congress, as well as leading food policy and worker advocacy efforts at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, both of which have allowed him to experience the policymaking process firsthand.
Wilson spoke to the importance of movements within his own theory of change, highlighting the necessary distinction to be made between movements and institutions, stating that movements can turn into institutions, and institutions don’t create change. He also discussed the difficulties of policymaking effectively – highlighting statistics that show the amount of people receiving SNAP benefits is significantly lower than the amount of people who are eligible for SNAP benefits.
Reverend Dr. Heber M. Brown, III is a community organizer, social entrepreneur, and Senior Pastor at Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Brown is the founder of the Black Church Food Security Network, which combats food insecurity by helping African American congregations establish gardens on church-owned land and by connecting Black Farmers and churches through a food value chain partnership. Dr. Brown discussed the importance of engaging Black churches in the fight for food sovereignty as collectively they represent the largest network of Black-owned land in the country.
Dr. Brown spoke to the importance of white people participating in personal and organizational racial equity work. The ability to create learning and reflective spaces for themselves, rather than placing the burden on people of color, is an integral part of white folks becoming effective accomplices to non-white communities. He also stressed the importance of white folks asking themselves the hard questions, holding one another accountable and being held accountable by the very communities that they attempt to serve.
Dr. Brown also raised questions around racial equity in food policy work and the partnerships they build with communities. He asked attendees to think about what the benefits and implications are in building partnerships with communities of color and consider whether the relationships are valuable for all parties, or exploitative and extractive of communities.
NSAC members closed out the 2019 winter meeting with a day chock-full of Congressional meetings. Moving into the next phase of advocacy means continuing to build and maintain relationships with members of Congress who worked to champion the policies that NSAC members worked tirelessly to see move forward. Coalition members from across the country scheduled visits with over 80 members of Congress from their home states and districts to recent changes made in the 2018 Farm Bill, share implementation strategies and funding priorities for FY20, and deliver in person thank-yous for tireless efforts to support sustainable agriculture in the farm bill.
In recognizing lawmakers who worked particularly hard on pushing forth policies that benefit sustainable food and farming systems, NSAC awarded Champion of Sustainability awards to several members of Congress, including:
The NSAC 2019 winter meeting would not have been possible without the help of our sponsors, community partners, and allies.
Our sponsors provided raffle prizes, donated space, financial contributions to assist with scholarships for attendance, and ample snacks to keep us nourished all week long!
Gail Taylor, Michael J. Wilson, and Reverend Dr. Heber Brown – the members of our panel who generously shared their time and knowledge with us. Thank you to our member organizations Future Harvest CASA and the Northeastern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group for helping to make these connections.
We would also like to thank Gallaudet University for hosting our winter meeting, and our host committee members at the National Young Farmers Coalition, Fair Food Network, and the Henry A. Wallace Center at Winrock International for helping us to coordinate and organize meeting logistics.
The work done within the organization would not be possible without the help of our members. Thank you all for your dedication and diligence in working on issues that advance sustainable agriculture. It is always wonderful to connect in person with so many of our hard-working members, energizing us for the challenging and exciting work ahead.
Categories: General Interest