On March 4 and 5, 60 independent family farmers, ranchers, and sustainable agriculture advocates from 24 states met with more than 105 legislative offices in Washington DC. Participants urged Congress to restore funding for critical sustainable agriculture programs and pass a farm bill that advances the sustainability of agriculture, rural communities, food systems, and natural resources.
Mac Stone of Elmwood Stock Farm in Georgetown, KY, was among the farmers that made the trip to Washington. Stone has been farming for over 30 years and currently produces certified organic beef, poultry, lamb, eggs, and produce. He spoke with legislators about the value of conservation and sustainable agriculture programs both for his farm’s success and for other farmers in Kentucky and around the nation. Stone says, “a little bit of investment has spurred so much growth of our business.”
Stone believes that this “little bit of investment” in programs like the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program – which helps farmers afford the annual cost of organic certification – can make a huge difference in helping farms grow and succeed.
Mac Stone and other fly-in participants visit with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow
Another participant, Daniel Doyle, is a co-founder of Yokna Bottoms Farm in Oxford, MS and current director of the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network. Doyle sees tremendous potential across the state for more sustainable agriculture to thrive.
“With a nearly year-round growing season and some of the best agricultural growing land in the country, producing fresh, locally-grown food makes lots of sense for Mississippi farmers,” he says.
Doyle, Stone, and other farmers met with legislators and USDA administrators to help them understand how farm bill programs – particularly those left without funding – affect their farms and their communities. Participants urged Congress to restore funding for key programs that boost rural economic development, leverage local initiatives, and support future American farmers in the Continuing Resolution that it debates in March. They also urged Congress to take immediate action to allow USDA to hold a 2013 enrollment for the Conservation Stewardship Program.
They also advocated for passage of a new five-year farm bill that:
· Invests in young farmers and ranchers by funding programs and improving policies that support beginners, and removing barriers that deter entry into farming.
· Increases economic opportunity for farmers, food businesses, and rural communities by investing in the development and growth of local and regional food systems.
· Improves natural resource protection and rewards farmers for good stewardship by increasing investment in and improving voluntary conservation programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
· Brings fiscal responsibility and transparency to farm policy by targeting commodity and crop insurance subsidies to working farmers and tying subsidies to basic stewardship practices.
Farmer Janet Aardema, who also participated in the fly-in, is just starting her farming career – she and her husband just finished their third season operating Broadfork Farm in Chesterfield, VA. She and her husband have been able to access hands-on skill building workshops in Virginia thanks to the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which is currently languishing without funding.
“Our farm is a business,” she says. “Programs like BFRDP help us make strategic decisions and respond to growing demand for our products.”