February 1, 2017
Last week over 100 advocates representing the 116 member organizations of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) met in Louisville, Kentucky for our annual winter meeting. NSAC member groups gather twice a year to work on policy campaigns, develop grassroots strategies, and connect with one another. Our winter meetings are especially busy because it is during these gatherings that the NSAC Policy Council votes on our policy priorities and strategies for the coming year.
This winter’s meeting was hosted at Louisville’s 21C Museum Hotel by Community Farm Alliance, based in Berea, KY, and the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, whose annual conference was held directly after NSAC’s meeting. We also received generous (delicious) support from our sponsor, Annie’s Homegrown.
As is the case twice each year, NSAC member groups from all over the country came together, including several new members who joined the Coalition last year: FoodCorps, Missouri Coalition for Environment, Montana Organic Association, and the Sustainable Food Center.
Kentucky Farm Tours
At each of our biannual meetings NSAC makes it a priority to visit at least one local farm, and to serve as much locally produced food as possible. This year we were especially lucky to have two local food and farm operations available to our members: La Minga Cooperative in Prospect and Foxhollow Farm in Crestwood.
La Minga was started by Nelson Escobar, an El Salvadoran who wanted to bring the farming traditions of his homeland with him when he immigrated to the United States. Farmers at La Minga work cooperatively, each of the 12 farmers is responsible for a few of the crops, and everyone helps out when it comes time for harvest. Nelson believes strongly in the power of cooperative work; in some South American countries a traditional organization based on cooperative work is also called a “minga”. In 2012, Perennial Plate produced a short video on Nelson and La Minga, which you can watch on their website. NSAC was honored not only to visit La Minga, but also to have Nelson join members of our Diversity Committee for a plenary panel session on racial equity.
Foxhollow Farm offered NSAC members the unique opportunity to visit a fully biodynamic, organic, and grassfed beef operation. Our tour was facilitated by Janey Newton, who describes herself as a third generation steward of Foxhollow, and Derek Lawson, a young herdsman and Master Cattleman. According to Janey:
“In 2005, my brother, sister, and I moved into the position of stewardship for Foxhollow. It was our turn to converge our unique passions and intentions with this 1300 acre piece of the earth. All three of us were lovingly influenced by our grandmother, Jane Norton… a life long student of the work of Rudolf Steiner…[who formed] the foundation of biodynamic agriculture. Our united decision to understand and use biodynamic methods on our land was a natural next step.”
Foxhollow recently took another big step forward: earlier this month they signed a contract with five Norton Hospital cafeterias, where they will now serve Foxhollow’s grassfed beef. This kind of partnership will allow Foxhollow to serve not only the local, niche markets, but to also get their products to a wide variety of consumers looking for healthier, more local beef options. According to Louisville’s Courier-Journal, Norton also plans to purchase up to 1,000 pounds/week of vegetables from Louisville-area farmers throughout 2017.
After the farm tours NSAC members were treated to a locally sourced dinner prepared by Farm to Fork (featuring Foxhollow’s grassfed beef).
2017 Policy Priorities
CHAMPION ON-FARM CONSERVATION EFFORTS
Working lands conservation programs reward American farmers for their stewardship of our water, soil, and air. As we gear up for the 2018 Farm Bill, NSAC aims to ensure these programs are protected and enhanced in the Conservation Title. We will also work with USDA to improve implementation of conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and to publicize enrollment opportunities for farmers and ranchers. We continue to advocate for common-sense improvements as the “reinvention” of CSP is rolled out.
PROTECT THE FAMILY FARMER
NSAC believes that a crop insurance program backed by the federal government is an important and necessary component of an effective farm safety net. However, the annual cost to the taxpayer is excessive and current policy does not align well with the societal goals of fostering family farm agriculture and protecting the environment. Unlike most other farm bill programs, there are no limits on crop insurance subsidies and only minimal conservation pre-conditions. The current program also excludes many types of farms and presents barriers to farmers seeking to implement sustainable practices. This makes the program ripe for reform, and we predict that action on federal crop insurance will be among the most contentious issues as the next farm bill debate ramps up.
GROW OPPORTUNITIES FOR BEGINNING AND SOCIALLY DISADVANTAGED FARMERS
NSAC is committed to improving and expanding the existing supports for beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers. In 2017, we look forward to advancing beginning farmer and rancher legislation; working with the new administration to ensure that it continues to prioritize beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers through programs like farm operating loans and the 2501 program; and continuing our efforts to evaluate the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and Conservation Reserve Program – Transition Incentives Program (CRP-TIP).
BUILD A ROBUST LOCAL FOOD ECONOMY
Local food means local jobs, and NSAC is committed to strengthening rural economies at the local and regional level. We will continue our work to advance federal policies and programs that support marketing infrastructure, rural economic development, and improved consumer access to local healthy food. In 2017, we will advance legislation to invest in local and regional food system development, work to improve existing programs such as the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and the Value-Added Producer Grants program, and get the word out far and wide about opportunities for farmers and organizations to partner with USDA.
AMERICAN SEEDS FOR AMERICAN FARMERS
NSAC aims to increase support for our nation’s waning public plant and animal breeding infrastructure, including through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and the Agriculture Research Service (ARS). Public plant breeding offers an important alternative to the alarming trend of increasingly privatized plant breeding, which has resulted in patented seed that farmers cannot save, rising seed prices, and decreasing diversity in commercially available plant cultivars. Public plant and animal breeding fills gaps that private breeding will not, such as research into locally and regionally adapted seed, organic varieties, and other crops with a smaller market share.
Other policy priorities will include soil health and resilience, fair competition in the livestock marketplace, and Food Safety Modernization Act implementation, among others.
NSAC members also set priorities for the upcoming fiscal year 2018 appropriations process:
Other appropriations priorities will include Conservation Technical Assistance, farm loans, and defending against policy riders, among others.
Categories: General Interest