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Summer in Springfield: Recap of NSAC’s 2019 Summer Member Meeting

August 23, 2019

Photo credit: Piero Taico, Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

Nearly 100 National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) members from across the country came together this month in Springfield, Illinois this month for NSAC’s annual Summer Meeting. This gathering is one of two opportunities each year for NSAC’s 130+ members to work together in person on the Coalition’s policy and grassroots priorities for the year, including: Agricultural Appropriations, Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, Fairness in Livestock Competition, and 2018 Farm Bill Implementation

NSAC's Nichelle Harriot and Co-Chair Kiki Hubbard (Organic Seed Alliance). Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik

During the meeting, NSAC’s five Issue Committees (Conservation, Energy and Environment; Marketing, Food Systems and Rural Development; Research, Education and Extension; Farming Opportunities and Fair Competition; and Food System Integrity) took advantage of the rare opportunity to work in person with their peers from across the country. The Committees focused their time at the Summer Meeting on 2018 Farm Bill implementation, rule-making opportunities, and on the ongoing fiscal year (FY) 2020 appropriations debate.

In addition to Issue Committee breakouts, NSAC members also had the opportunity to participate in plenary and panel sessions on climate change and immigration reform, engage in racial equity caucusing, tour an Illinois farm and learn more about local production, and enjoy a beautiful brewery/farm dinner made from local ingredients.

NSAC would like to thank our meeting sponsors – Annie’s Homegrown, Clif Bar, Organic Valley, and New Belgium Brewery – for helping to make this meeting possible. We would also like to thank our host committee members at the Illinois Stewardship Alliance and Missouri Coalition for the Environment for their support, and all our members for their hard work and dedication!

Members introducing themselves at the start of the meeting. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik.

Building the Movement

Welcoming new NSAC members and first-time meeting attendees is always one of our favorite parts of these meetings. Although three days of policy caucusing can feel a bit like jumping into the deep end, most folks get the hang of things quickly, and long-time member representatives are always eager to help new folks navigate.

At the 2019 Summer Meeting, NSAC was pleased to welcome the Illinois Council on the Environment (IEC) as a brand new member to our coalition.  Since 1975, IEC has worked to ensure a more healthful environment for Illinois residents, representing 80 environmental and community organizations and nearly 300 individuals from throughout Illinois.

In addition to IEC, there were also several new folks from pre-existing member groups who joined us in Springfield and brought fresh questions and perspectives to our discussions. For first-time attendee Iris Nolasco, the NSAC meeting helped them to identify how their organization, California Farm Link (CFL), can continue to benefit from NSAC’s policy efforts. The meeting also got Iris thinking about how CLF can integrate their racial equity initiatives on behalf of family farmers across California:

“My first meeting was really great,” said Nolasco. “The highlights for me and the primary reason I wanted to attend this meeting was the focus on race, diversity, equity, immigration, etc. I was warned that it might not meet my expectations since NSAC is policy-focused, however, the meeting really exceeded my expectations! The themes of racial equity and diversity were present throughout the various gatherings and in very deep and real conversations. CFL is currently working on our internal diversity and equity, so having a committee and others to share with who are also on that journey was of particular interest to me.”

Another first-time attendee, Sarah Goldman of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, noted the intense knowledge and passion that her fellow NSAC members had for sustainable agriculture and supporting farmers’ livelihoods: 

“As a first-time attendee, to be quite honest, I was a bit intimidated by the presence of so many talented folks who have done so much to advance the sustainable agriculture movement. That being said, I felt embraced by the NSAC community and welcome to share my thoughts, ask questions, and dive into the important work ahead. Seeing so many organizations step-up and commit to doing outreach to farmers in their network was really powerful.”

The continued strength and ingenuity of NSAC is intrinsically tied to our capacity to grow our membership, as well as our ability to bring new representatives from member organizations into the coalition’s policy work and grassroots advocacy. To learn more about NSAC membership, click here.

Racial Affinity Work and Immigration Policy

Over the course of the meeting, members participated in days full of policy education around racial equity and immigration reform, aligning with NSAC’s commitment to having intra-coalition dialogues on these topics. One of our featured sessions on these topics was led by Ricardo Salvador, Director of the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Ricardo presented members with an in-depth look at the history and impact of racial inequity in the U.S. agricultural system, and how we can make transformational change in that system today by working together.

Ricardo’s presentation set the stage for member’s racial equity caucusing work, a time during which our members of color and white members dig deep into issues of race and oppression. Although members separate to do this work, the ultimate goal of separating is to learn and grow so that we can work together more equitably. To learn more about the reasons for and benefits of racial equity caucusing, check out this article from CompassPoint.

Following our racial affinity caucusing, NSAC convened a panel event focused on immigration and agriculture, which featured Ricardo and two additional guests. Jose Olivia, Co-Director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, began the immigration plenary by telling his story and the story of people he calls “food refugees”. Through story telling, Jose painted a complex picture of the exploitation that immigrants experience in the restaurant industry, one of the largest employers and lowest-paying industries in the food system. Jose’s stories highlighted the discrepancies in labor protection laws for farm laborers and food workers compared to others in the labor market, and how Food Chain Workers Alliance emerged to improve these systemic workplace conditions.   

Members also learned about the history of U.S. immigration reform and practical legislative pathways forward from Iris Figueroa, Staff Attorney at Farmworker Justice. After Iris’ presentation, members had the opportunity to participate in a Q&A session to delve deeper into issues like the structural implications of agricultural guest worker programs on farm laborers and the potential outcomes of the upcoming H-2A rule-making on immigration reform.

Climate Change and Agriculture

Climate change plenary panelists: Amalie Lipstreu (Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association), Marty Mesh (Farm Aid and Southern SAWG), Roland McReynolds (Carolina Farm Stewards) and Dave Runsten (California Alliance with Family Farmers).
Photo credit Reana Kovalcik.

Although NSAC has always worked heavily on conservation and sustainable agriculture issues, climate change mitigation and adaptation has become an increasingly important component of those efforts. In 2009, members of the coalition stepped up to develop NSAC’s first climate change policy position paper. Today, based on the worsening climate crisis and its impacts on family farmers – as well as the expanding body of scientific research and evidence on the subject – NSAC members are again working together to revise and update the coalition’s formal policy positions.

NSAC’s updated climate paper and policy position statement was formally presented to membership during a plenary on climate change and agriculture. Before being released publicly, the paper must be formally adopted by NSAC’s Policy Council. The paper includes current research findings on climate change mitigation and adaptation on U.S. farms and policy recommendations related to existing Farm Bill programs.

As part of our Climate Change Plenary, we also heard from four Coalition members who have been actively working on climate change mitigation and adaptation policies and strategies across the country, including:  Amalie Lipstreu (Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association), Marty Mesh (Farm Aid and Southern SAWG), Roland McReynolds (Carolina Farm Stewardship Association) and Dave Runsten (California Alliance with Family Farmers).

Local Farm Tours

Owner/operator Dave Bishop of PrairiErth Farm brought several speakers to education NSAC members on the partnerships and operations of his farm business. Photo credit: Piero Taico.
Owner/operator Dave Bishop of PrairiErth Farm brought several speakers to education NSAC members on the partnerships and operations of his farm business. Photo credit: Piero Taico.

No NSAC Member Meeting would be complete without participating in tours that connect members with the experiences, insights, and wisdom of local producers and food systems professionals. While in Illinois, members had the opportunity to tour two local farms, one of which had an on-site brewery: PrairiErth Farm and Rolling Meadows Farm Brewery.  

At PrairiErth Farm, members had an opportunity to see and learn about many of the partnerships and innovations that help Farmer Dave Bishop and his family steward their 300-acre farm, which has been in the family for about 30 years. One of the most interesting on-farm innovations and partnership projects we had the opportunity to learn about was between PrairiErth and experts from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

TERRA-MEPP robot from the University of Illinois. Photo credit: Piero Taico.

The Bishops are working with engineers from the University and their robot, TERRA-MEPP to increase efficiency and sustainability on their farm.

According to an article about TERRA-MEPP from the Chicago Tribune, the robot “weighs about 65 pounds and drives itself around on two caterpillar tracks like the kind found on tanks. [It is able] to transmit real-time data about growth and development using cameras, lasers and other sensors, [and will] will help identify individual plants with desirable characteristics linked to bigger yields.” You can also learn more about the TERRA-MEPP project and other Illinois agricultural innovations from AgriNews, who sent reporter Tom Doran to join us on our tour of PrairiErth.

Learning about on-farm conservation activities on PrairiErth Farm. Photo credit: Piero Taico.
Learning about on-farm conservation activities on PrairiErth Farm. Photo credit: Piero Taico.

The Bishop family also discussed the challenges, opportunities, and lessons learned from their organic transition process, including how they’ve utilized federal programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help them transition and implement conservation practices on their farm, such as cover cropping, conservation buffers, integrated grazing systems.

In the midst of several full and spirited days of policy debate and grassroots advocacy planning, NSAC staff and members were more than happy to enjoy a locally sourced meal out in the fields of Rolling Meadows Farm Brewery. The farm brewery was started by Caren Trudeau and her friend Connie Regan in 2011, both gardeners and farm operators on the property, and today their families work alongside each other both in the fields and in the brewery.

Brewery Tour at Rolling Meadows Farm Brewery. Photo credit: Piero Taico.

The farm is situated along the Sangamon River, an important tributary to the Illinois River that feeds the Mahomet Aquifer and serves as a busy wildlife corridor. Rolling Meadows take steps to ensure that the activities on their working farm do as little harm as possible, including: reducing harmful fertilizers and pesticides; using organic methods when possible; allowing water to return to the ground after use, to be cleaned through natural processes; and using sustainable methods when possible.

After touring the farm and brewery, NSAC members sat down together for a beautiful meal prepared by Augie Mrozowski and his team. Chef Augie is well known in Springfield for his delicious, farm-to-table cuisine, and his restaurant Augie’s Front Burner has been recognized by Slow Food Springfield as a “Snail of Approval Winner” for their commitment to sustainable agriculture and great food. The dinner featured many seasonal ingredients (including Illinois sweet corn), as well as donated, grassfed beef from our partners at Organic Valley.

Seasonal dinner served by the crew of Augie’s Front Burner. Photo credit: Piero Taico.

With another summer meeting complete, NSAC members return home armed with an action plan for the next six months that includes mobilizing farmers around upcoming USDA conservation and livestock rules, building support for local food in the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization debate, and organizing farmers to speak up on the important role that farmers must play in mitigating climate change. With Congress returning from their month-long recess in a few short weeks, the fall calendar will surely be a busy one for NSAC and other sustainable ag-vocates around the country.

Categories: General Interest

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