February 14, 2020
They say everything’s bigger in Texas, so what better setting to grow and strengthen as a coalition? In January 2020, members and staff of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) convened in McAllen, TX for four jam-packed days of policy and grassroots work. NSAC’s annual Winter Meeting is the Coalition’s opportunity to set our policy priorities for the upcoming year, review campaign progress, and work together in issue-based committees on complex farm and food issues.
In addition to all the hard work undertaken at these meetings by NSAC staff and members alike, we also take the time to enjoy and learn about the agricultural styles and issues in the communities in which our meetings take place. We do this by inviting guests to share their knowledge with the Coalition, by going on farm tours across the area, and by indulging in local food and beverages to the greatest extent possible.
Before conference sessions began, members took some time to explore the biodiversity of the Rio Grande Valley at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Those visiting Santa Ana enjoyed the Refuge’s 400 different bird species, 450 types of plants, half of all butterfly species found in North America, and tons of Spanish moss. Bentsen visitors similarly had the opportunity to view tons of native plant and wildlife species, and got to enjoy peak birding hours at the park.
Situated along the banks of the Rio Grande River, both ecological sanctuaries are within one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America — an area that is also currently threatened by border wall construction. Both Santa Ana and Bentsen were among the few sites spared from border wall construction in a 2019 appropriations bill, but the future unfortunately remains uncertain for other natural areas along the Lower Rio Grande.
To firmly root us in place before beginning our meeting, Professor of Agroecology at UT Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) Alexis Racelis spoke to the Coalition about the Participatory Action Research and community engagement efforts his students are leading to strengthen sustainable agriculture in the Rio Grande Valley. Members then got to engage with Professor Recelis’ students through a gallery walk featuring posters and presentations of their research. The insight, rigor, and community focus of the students’ research, which covered a wide variety of issues form soil health to cover crops to aquaponics, inspired us all.
The following morning, members got a wonderful welcome from our three Host Committee Members: National Center for Appropriate Technology, the Sustainable Food Center, and C.A.S.A. del Llano. Each organization shared updates on the work they are doing in Texas to advance sustainable agriculture, build a sustainable and just food system, and empower communities with access to education and resources. This update from from three member organizations, working on different but intersecting sectors of farm and food issues, was a valuable demonstration of collaborative work and established the tone that carried the Coalition forward throughout the meeting .
Determining annual priorities is a key part of NSAC’s collaborative, grassroots approach to policy advocacy, and is done annually at our Winter Meeting. The process of determining priorities includes feedback gathered from member organizations over the course of several months, a review process by member leaders, and a final vote at the Winter Meeting by NSAC’s Represented Members.
With the first year of implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill completed, NSAC’s policy priorities focus on continuing successful farm bill implementation, which includes working with Congress and USDA to ensure that wins from the 2018 Farm Bill are implemented in ways that best support sustainable family farm agriculture.
For a full list of NSAC’s policy and appropriations priorities, click here. As we enter the appropriations cycle for fiscal year (FY) 2021, NSAC will publish detailed appropriations recommendations, including funding requests.
NSAC’s issue committees are collaborative task forces helmed by an NSAC staffer and member “Co-Chair”. 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.
Issue Committee Summaries
In addition to the issue committee breakouts, the Diversity Committee, the Grassroots Council, and the Immigration Subcommittee also convened during the Winter Meeting.
Racial equity is a core tenant of NSAC’s work to advance sustainable and family farm agriculture. The Coalition is committed to applying a racial equity lens to our strategic planning, policy and priority setting process, and issue committee strategy and implementation work. As part of these efforts, the Coalition partakes in racial identity caucusing during our in-person meetings to confront the effects of internalized racist oppression and internalized racist superiority. Coalition members work in their respective racial identity groups: People of Color (POC) or White.
The POC Caucus works to understand and confront the effects of internalized racist oppression and to work collectively to dismantle racism. The White Caucus meets to deal with issues of internalized superiority, to build an anti-racist white collective group, and to work together with the POC Caucus to dismantle racism. NSAC recognizes caucusing work as instrumental to better understand, confront, and dismantle racism within and beyond the Coalition. We acknowledge the value that caucusing brings in contributing to the development of effective organizing strategies for all of our members to work together as anti-racist allies in the sustainable agriculture movement. While we have a long road ahead of us, our caucusing work brings us one step closer to a more sustainable and equitable food system.
Thanks to the hard work of NSAC’s Host Committee and planning staff, meeting attendees had their pick of two awesome options for farm tours tracks with 2-3 farms on each track. Below is a summary of each of the wonderful and diverse farms members visited. Farms tours were followed by a delicious dinner at McAllen’s first farm-to-food-truck operation, Provenza Cattle Company (thanks, Diego!).
Terra Preta Farm – Juan and Shakera Raygoza own and operate a seven-acre certified-organic farm four miles east of Edinburg, TX. The diversified vegetable farm is used for research, demonstration, and commercial production. With more than 30 varieties of vegetables, Terra Preta demonstrates intense fruit-and-vegetable production and processing for direct marketing to local consumers through their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and farmers markets.
UT Rio Grande Valley – After hearing from the UTRGV students about their work, we had the chance to see their work in action at the UTRGV Garden & Greenhouse — a quarter-acre certified-organic garden complex located on the northeast side of the UTRGV Edinburg campus. The garden complex includes 7,500 square feet dedicated to certified-organic research under the UTRGV Agroecology Program, and 2,500 square feet dedicated to certified-organic fruit-and-vegetable production by the UTRGV campus community.
Triple J Organics – 83 acres of organic citrus, specializing in oranges and grapefruit with limited availability of Meyer Lemons, tangerines, and tangelos throughout the harvest season. Owned and Operated by Jesse & Janie Lozano, Triple J Organics is a Minority Owned Business with 23 years of growing experience.
Yahweh Natural Gardens – Saul and Diana Padilla have a diversified urban farm in Harlingen, TX. They have been growing using organic practices since 2004, and became certified organic in 2014. They grow a variety of vegetables and subtropical fruits. Most of their business comes through their CSA via the Food to U Basket Program. Saul and Diana also own operate HOPE, which is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization that provides training and education to low-income and disadvantaged families, small-scale farmers, and individuals interested in growing, preparing and selling their own organic food for self-sustainability.
Hilltop Gardens – A 720-acre tropical healing garden and organic aloe farm established in 1939, making it one of the first commercial Aloe farms in the country. Hilltop Gardens is believed to be the first business using Aloe Vera gel as an ingredient in cosmetics and is considered the historical home of aloe. Exhibits include a Sensory Walk, a Healing Garden, a Memorial Aloe Garden with one of the largest collections of aloe species available for public viewing in the U.S. and a large Children’s Garden
At the encouragement of members and given the political significance of our Winter Meeting’s location along the U.S.-Mexico border, NSAC reached out to organizations in the Rio Grande Valley region working to address the impacts of ongoing inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. NSAC partnered with Angry Tías & Abuelas, an organization that provides basic necessities for health and safety and support for human dignity and justice to individuals and families seeking asylum at our borders, for a voluntary action opportunity. Angry Tías & Abuelas works on both sides of the border and often times experiences difficulties taking supplies through border patrol for asylum seekers. The organization invited us to visit their McAllen respite center to learn more about their work and the ongoing crisis. The Coalition collected both monetary and in-kind donations for the organization, which were delivered by members at the close of our Winter Meeting.
The NSAC 2020 Winter Meeting would not have been possible without the generous support from our sponsors, community partners, local farmers, and members.
We would like to deliver a special thank you to our meeting sponsors: Annie’s Homegrown, Clif Bar, Organic Valley, General Mills, Cascadian Farm Organic, and EPIC Provisions. Our sponsors provided financial contributions to assist with scholarships for attendance, and ample snacks to keep us nourished all week long!
We would also like to thank the Casa de Palmas hotel for hosting our winter meeting, and our host committee members at the National Center for Appropriate Technology, the Sustainable Food Center, and C.A.S.A. del Llano for grounding us in Texas and helping us to coordinate and organize meeting logistics.
Lastly, we would like to give a tremendous thank you to all of the farmers at Terra Preta Farm, UT Rio Grande Valley, Triple J Organic, Yahweh Natural Gardens, and Hilltop Gardens who generously hosted us at their impressive operations during our visit.
The Winter Meeting is our yearly opportunity to come together as a Coalition to set our priorities for the year ahead. Because of the dedication and diligence of our members to advancing sustainable agriculture, we have been able to achieve unparalleled successes over our 30+ years in action. With our priorities in place, NSAC is now ready to go into 2020 with renewed energy and a focused vision of success.
Categories: General Interest