The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) always comes away from its member meetings feeling empowered by the strength and energy of its broad coalition. The 2021 NSAC Summer Meeting was no exception, and we are truly inspired and motivated by the hard work and dedication of our members, especially given the unprecedented crises of the past year that have affected all of our lives, along with the food and farming sector. A total of 121 attendees from 67 member organizations joined NSAC staff virtually for the 2021 Summer Meeting, an opportunity to come together to review priorities, delve into current policy campaigns and grassroots next steps, make commitments, and engage with fellow members.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, NSAC meetings have shifted to a virtual platform until public health guidelines allow for safe in-person gatherings again. The meeting was held over four days, from August 2 – August 5, 2021, and included pre-meeting sessions during the last week of July.
Pre-Meeting Event Highlights
Addressing racial equity and diversity is a critical part of our work. At the Diversity Committee pre-meeting, members had a chance to discuss how NSAC can engage minority-serving higher education institutions and how member organizations can best support their work. The group received an update on NSAC’s racial equity assessment toolkit and had a chance to review and reflect on NSAC’s equity statement. Significant time was dedicated to discussing and preparing for issues committee sessions, ensuring that racial equity is not separate from committee work but rather is embedded throughout.
The Immigration Subcommittee included context-setting for the coalition’s immigration work and discussion about how the coalition can strengthen its relationships with and support of BIPOC-led farmworker organizations to ensure that sustainable agriculture includes equity for farm workers.
The Grassroots Council held space for a 2023 Farm Bill campaign timeline overview, and farm bill veterans shared insights and lessons learned with folks newer to the process. These groups discussed challenges and strategies for supporting members in the coming months.
2023 Farm Bill Preparation
This year’s Summer Meeting focused heavily on early preparation for the 2023 Farm Bill. In highlighting some of the deep-rooted structural challenges in our food and farm policy, and the opportunities to address them with the coming farm bill process, NSAC’s issue committees are collaborative task forces helmed by co-chairs from the membership and supported by NSAC staff. These committees are responsible for leading our work on the issues established in the priority setting process and their expertise is what informs how the Coalition implements our plans and priorities. Members convened as part of Issue Committee Breakout Sessions to discuss, among other agenda items, campaign priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill. These were: Research, Education, and Extension; Food Systems Integrity; Marketing, Food Systems, and Rural Development’ Climate Change Subcommittee; Conservation, Energy, and Environment; and Farming Opportunities and Fair Competition.
In addition to regular committee updates, these sessions offered the chance to reflect on past farm bills wins and losses and set the stage for current and upcoming priorities. Conversations were held around what issues groups may want to learn more about and what specific policies and programs might be ripe for inclusion in the 2023 Farm Bill campaign. The exchanges at these sessions will play a key role in informing the Farm Bill platform development process.
In addition, coalition members met in their respective racial affinity caucusing spaces. NSAC holds caucus spaces to better understand, confront, and dismantle racism within and beyond the coalition and provide space for support, learning, and growth. Caucusing contributes to the development of effective organizing strategies for our members to work together as anti-racist allies in the sustainable agriculture movement.
Commitments and Next Steps
This is a key moment for the sustainable agriculture movement. The current Administration has signaled strong commitments to our Coalition’s priorities, and dozens of Congressional lawmakers are endorsing NSAC-championed bills like the Agriculture Resilience Act. Yet we are also still navigating a devastating pandemic and its lingering socio-economic impacts, along with the undeniable urgency to address the climate crisis. In the coming weeks, major decisions will be made at the federal level regarding once-in-a-generation infrastructure spending, including both the bipartisan package and the reconciliation package, representing the opportunity to seriously tackle the climate crisis, including in agriculture.
On the final day of the meeting, Coalition members shared collective and individual commitments and identified next steps together. The range of the commitments shared reflect the breadth of our work and our shared excitement for the work to come, a small sampling includes:
- Committing to holding 2023 Farm Bill listening sessions with farmers, and prioritizing the voices and input of BIPOC farmers.
- Building more and deeper relationships with food and farming organizations and farmers in members’ specific geographical areas to amplify their voices, particularly for BIPOC led organizations.
- Doing deeper engagement with farmers through affinity groups and doing grassroots work on policy.
- Furthering research and analysis on the role of greenhouse gas emissions and the protection of vulnerable communities.
- Monitoring Agricultural Research Service investments in organic research and advocating for increased funding for organic research.
- Hosting lawmaker farm and site visits with key Congress Members in-district.
Time to Connect
In addition to the dynamic plenaries, working sessions, and breakouts, there were opportunities for casual conversation and connection, even virtually!
Following the meeting’s closing ceremonies and commitments, NSAC hosted a happy hour and retirement celebration to honor Kim Kroll, longtime Associate Director at the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Given NSAC’s long relationship with the SARE program, the only farmer-led competitive grant program supporting sustainable agriculture research, NSAC hosted this gathering to honor Kim and his long legacy as he heads off to retirement.
It was a delight to hear many stories about Kim from his colleagues and partners who joined us for the virtual Happy Hour. Rob Myers, Ph.D., SARE Regional Coordinator (Chapter 3) and Director of Professional Development (Extension) Programs shared: “Everything we do in SARE is a collaborative effort, but I want to mention a few things that Kim did that would not have happened as effectively or successfully without him. One of those things is our outreach program. Kim has provided the overall support, hiring people, providing the fiscal management, providing guidance to new staff in that area. Think of all the publications and videos and efforts that we have had through SARE outreach! That has been huge – to facilitate all of that through his office there in Maryland!” SARE’s outreach program has produced hundreds of informative, free, accessible publications over its lifetime, all available nationwide.
SARE is a competitive grant program established by the USDA agency, the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service in 1988. The purpose of SARE is to promote research and education on sustainable agriculture practices and ensure the economic viability of the agricultural industry in the United States for future generations. SARE has funded 7,743 projects since its inception and has helped grantees put the principles of sustainable agriculture into practice on farms and ranches in every state and island protectorate.
The week closed out with Kelsey Watson, NSAC Associate Director of Partnerships and Engagement, leading the group in an optional guided beer tasting. Kelsey has worked since early 2019 as a professional beer tour guide in Washington, D.C. showing locals and tourists alike some of the best breweries the city has to offer. Kelsey is extremely knowledgeable about all things brew and her warm and engaging spirit created space for an informative, light-hearted, and memorable experience. Cheers to Kelsey!
After a full week of hard work and idea-sharing, NSAC is grateful to our members for their commitment and dedication to the sustainable agriculture movement. Although we were unable to gather in person this time, we value the opportunity to connect and collaborate virtually to continue to advance common positions that support small and mid-size family farms and producers, protect natural resources, promote healthy rural communities, and ensure access to healthy, nutritious foods by everyone.