March 13, 2012
On March 6 and 7, more than 30 independent family farmers and ranchers from 19 states traveled to Washington, DC to share their stories and speak out for crucial farm bill programs that enable them to produce healthy food, build community, and sustain the environment. Farmers participated in two days of advocacy and policy trainings, visited with their Legislators on Capitol Hill, and heard from USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan about the importance of supporting local and regional food systems.
Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan
speaks to participants at the Farmer Fly-in
Brian Gronski of Groche Organic Farms LLC in Suamico, Wisconsin is among the farmers that made the trip to Washington: he’s been farming part-time for 35 years, but just two years ago received an EQIP Organic Initiative grant and financing through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher (BFR) loan program, both of which enabled him to transition into full-time organic vegetable production. Their new mission on the farm is to feed 300 families organically through four seasons of the year — a feat made possible by another EQIP grant that helped finance a season-extending hoop house.
Farmer Brian Gronski of Groche Organic Farms
Gronski said he came to Washington because it was “an opportunity to be a voice for the organic and sustainable community and to give direction to the farm bill, which goes to feeding our country […] We need to do that smarter and better.” Though he knows Congressional purse strings are tight these days, he says that his new organic vegetable operation would have been impossible without EQIP and the Beginning Farmers program.
“It’s not a handout,” Gronski explains, “it’s a helping hand and an investment we’ll pay back – with interest.”
As Congress continues work on the 2012 Farm Bill, farmers from California to New York have their livelihoods at stake as the programs they use and value face grave budget cuts in Congress. Gronski and others offered a farmer’s perspective on why key programs matter and how they can be improved, including:
John and Ora Carpenter from Moorhead, Mississippi
visit with legislators on Capitol Hill
John and Ora Carpenter, from Moorhead, MS, own Carpenter Farm, which covers 88 acres, including some conventionally raised row crops and some organic vegetables. They came to Washington “to learn more about how the process works” and share their unique story with their members of Congress. John and Ora have benefited a great deal from some key federal programs, including beginning farmer initiatives and an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) grant. John explains that “equipment loans can be most of the problem,” but EQIP enabled them to install a new well on site that they estimate improved their bushels per acre by more than 50%.
Ora, who also runs a salon in Moorhead, jokes that she’s running a “salon to farm” program because she’s been known to send her customers out to the farm for a pick-your-own harvest. She has ambitions to pursue a USDA Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG), which could help expand the range of products they sell on the farm, perhaps getting them into the pickled okra business.
Farmer Dave Fikel from New Frontier Family Farm, Chino, CA
Dave Fikel’s business card says it all – in addition to the usual contact information are depictions of him, his wife, and their two boys. His is a true family farm, where everyone has a job and pitches in daily to keep their fledgling – and already highly successful – operation growing. The Chino, CA-based farmer raises and sells organic, pastured poultry and grass-fed beef, and is expanding into organic goats’ milk and grass-fed lamb. Demand throughout Chino, Ontario, and the surrounding region is soaring.
“My boys are an integral part of this farm,” he says, of his two sons, 10 and 11 ½ years old. “They’re bottle feeding our kids [baby goats] now.” Fikel is a military veteran and former fireman and paramedic; farming affords him and his family the chance to make a living while doing something they love and continuing to contribute to the well-being of their community.
Participants at the 2012 Farmer Fly-in!