August 13, 2015
Last week, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) held our bi-annual meeting in Iowa City, Iowa. Representatives of NSAC member organizations, including farmers, convened to review coalition priorities, plan for next steps, and reconnect and engage with fellow members. The meeting was hosted by two NSAC member organizations located in Iowa: Practical Farmers of Iowa and the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN).
Preparing our Coalition’s Statement on Racial Equity
This meeting marked the first coalition-wide effort on developing a comprehensive statement on racial equity in the food and farm system. This work is critical to ensuring that NSAC remains open and responsive to the needs of farmers and communities of color. To help prepare for this dialogue, NSAC was honored to host Shirley Sherrod, civil rights activist and former Georgia Director of Rural Development for USDA, as a speaker. Mrs. Sherrod led a session on the impacts of federal farm policy on farmers of color following a conversation detailing her personal experiences growing up in Baker County, Georgia. This powerful discourse from Mrs. Sherrod gave NSAC members a critical lens for interpreting the interactions between federal food and farm policy and racial inequities in this country that have and continue to exist.
This dialogue was continued on Wednesday with a facilitated session on NSAC’s statement on racial equity in the farm and food system. For over two hours, NSAC members engaged in critical and thoughtful discussion on racial equity and NSAC’s role in fostering it further within our farm and food system, starting with the development of this racial equity statement. NSAC will continue to work towards finalizing this important statement and incorporating actions into our coalition’s policy priorities and capacity building.
Additional Meeting Highlights
In addition to our coalition’s work on racial equity during the meeting, NSAC staff also hosted and led several meetings on USDA’s flagship research program for sustainable agriculture: the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE). These workshops were geared towards fostering discussion and ideas on how to improve the program to better serve farmers and farmer-based NGOs.
Prior to the meeting, NSAC also convened a Beginning Farmer Summit, which brought together farmers and policy advocates to examine critical barriers that continue to exist for those interested in pursuing a career in farming.
NSAC also continued its multiyear strategic planning effort. NSAC Managing Director, Jeremy Emmi, and Organization Council member, Michelle Napier Dunnings, presented the first five implementation plans and led a discussion on what the next and final round of plans will look like. NSAC hopes to complete the strategic planning process by our next member meeting in January 2016.
Finally on Monday, NSAC members took a tour of Franzenburg Farm in Van Horne, Iowa. Eric and Ann Franzenburg own and operate this family farm, and have incorporated a diversity of alternative crops over the past few decades. NSAC members were lucky enough to visit their diversified farming operation and see first-hand how sustainable agricultural practices can be incorporated successfully into a conventional farm in the Midwest. Together, Eric and Ann have expanded their farming operation to include medicinal herbs, cut flowers, and greenhouse grown vegetables, in addition to the traditional corn and soy that dominates the state’s landscape. They gave insight into the difficult realities of the medicinal herb market in the United States and discussed their successes with the cut flower market in Iowa.
NSAC meetings give our members a chance to reconnect as well as begin to plan strategic responses to upcoming federal policy issues impacting sustainable agriculture. This fall will bring about several significant campaigns including the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act Campaign; the start of a fair and comprehensive crop insurance campaign; and continued efforts in our racial equity work. These campaigns will occur in addition to our coalition’s ongoing work with USDA and Congress on implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill and annual agricultural appropriations process.
It’s going to be a busy year, but NSAC and our member organizations across the country stand ready to continue our work towards a sustainable food and farm future!
Categories: General Interest