August 24, 2022
Last week, for the first time in more than two years, nearly 100 members of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) traveled to Durham, North Carolina for the 2022 Summer Meeting. The Coalition has not met in person since before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While virtual meetings allow the Coalition to effectively continue its work of priority setting and campaign strategizing from afar, meeting in person this time around (with some members joining virtually for several sessions) provided the opportunity to connect, share stories and build relationships to strengthen the coalition’s work year-round.
On the Sunday evening before the meetings began, members gathered for an informal happy hour at Fullsteam Brewery in downtown Durham. There was no better way to beat the heat on that last night in July than with some cold beer and catching up over dinner.
The meetings officially kicked off the next day with a welcome session, introductions, and a chance to meet three North Carolina-based NSAC member organizations. Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) is a farmer-driven, membership-based organization that helps people in North and South Carolina grow and enjoy local, organic food. Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA (RAFI-USA) challenges the root causes of unjust food systems, supporting and advocating for economically, racially, and ecologically just farm communities. Self-Help Credit Union is a leading non-profit financial institution and community development organization that creates and protects ownership and economic opportunity for all, especially people of color, women, rural residents, and low-wealth families and communities in the Carolinas and Florida. All three organizations were instrumental in helping NSAC plan and execute the week’s activities in the Durham area and NSAC is grateful for their support and for making everyone feel right at home in North Carolina.
The Coalition focused on several key issues at this year’s summer meeting: exploring and revising key 2023 Farm Bill policy proposals, developing shared narratives for grassroots campaigns, and learning how to uplift farmer stories – especially focused on climate change – to help lawmakers and the public understand the importance of bold 2023 Farm Bill policy reforms. Over the three days, members had the chance to participate in plenaries, panels, and breakout sessions around key 2023 Farm Bill campaign components including Climate Change, Conservation, and Agriculture; Livestock Processing and Competition; Local and Regional Food Systems; Structural Reform to Crop Insurance and Commodities; and Equity in Credit and Land Access. Members also met in racial affinity caucusing spaces, providing space for support, learning, and growth to better understand, confront, and dismantle racism within and beyond the coalition.
NSAC was fortunate to be joined by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) via Zoom to talk about the importance of giving farmers a seat at the table as we address the climate crisis. Pingree sits on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and the House Agriculture Committee, is a longtime organic farmer, and is a champion of NSAC’s priorities. She has been a key leader in promoting the Agriculture Resilience Act which focuses on addressing climate change through farmer-driven solutions to reach net-zero emissions in the sector by 2040.
“We want to do everything we can to protect existing farmland,” Pingree told the NSAC members, adding that “soil health is where we make the greatest gains. Even some of our climate-conscious colleagues don’t recognize the impact and role that agriculture can play in addressing the climate crisis. We want to build solutions based on science.”
On Tuesday, CFSA hosted a vibrant lunch panel entitled: Working Together for Food System Innovation in Rural and Urban North Carolina. The panel featured representatives from food hubs and local farmers, including several who participate in CFSA’s FarmsSHARE program.
Visiting local farms is a signature component of NSAC member meetings, offering the coalition a chance to gather insights and wisdom from local producers and food systems leaders. While in North Carolina, members had the opportunity to tour some truly amazing local farms:
Braeburn Farm sits on approximately 500 acres of pastures, woodlands, creeks, ponds, hills and valleys in Snow Camp, NC and is owned by Charles and Cindy Sydnor. The farm raises high quality beef by creating a healthy ecosystem that works for humans, cattle, insects, and birds through holistic, high-intensity grazing. The cattle at Braeburn move almost every day, providing them with fresh, nutritious forage while improving the land. The practices they use improve soil health, and create healthier root systems, greater moisture retention, and a livelier microbiome. Over time, healthier pastures with increased topsoil can sequester carbon at a higher rate.
Left Bank Butchery in Saxapahaw, NC is a whole-animal butchery sourcing from local family farms (including nearby Braeburn Farm), built on the foundations of supporting local agriculture, providing healthy food for the local community, educating and engaging customers in the many aspects of sustainable farming and whole animal butchery. Whole-animal means Left Bank takes in whole pigs, lambs, and cows which are cut to order on a weekly basis. With this nose-to-tail approach, they can offer a wide range of fresh cuts, fresh sausages, smoked and cured meats, frozen products and meals, bones, and more.
Transplanting Traditions Community Farm works to uplift food sovereignty in the refugee community through access to land, education, and opportunities for refugee farmers to address community food insecurity and the barriers they face in reaching their dreams of farming. Approximately 155 refugees are involved in farming on 8 acres of farmland, providing a cultural community space to recreate home and build healthy communities, and continue agricultural traditions in the region. In addition to a CSA, a Share-a-Share program, and youth programs, they also have a farmer education program. All of the refugee farmers at Transplanting Traditions were farmers in their home country of Burma. They bring a wealth of agricultural knowledge and skills and a desire to re-connect to their deeply rooted cultural heritage of farming. Transplanting Traditions works with farmers to increase farming skills, providing business workshops and classroom education to help farmers adapt their knowledge to the realities of farming in North Carolina.
Faithfull Farms is a small Black-owned family farm located in Chapel Hill, NC. Farmer Howard Allen shared his story of leaving behind his previous career to delve into farming, taking a 95 percent pay cut in the beginning. While many thought he was crazy, he feels strongly that this has been the best decision for him and his family. In the past five years, they have experimented with sustainable ways to steward the land. All their produce is chemical free. In addition to participating in a CSA, Faithfull Farms sells at the prominent Carrboro Farmers Market. Howard also works to support young farmers, offering opportunities to apprentice and learn from the strategies and techniques that Faithfull Farms employs. Howard stated, “I want to offer the type of help that I wish I had when I was starting out.”
On a covered patio at Faithfull Farms, the day of farm touring culminated in a true feast of delicious local Carolina barbecue, including all the pickled veggies one’s heart could desire and trays of macaroni and cheese. Under the stars, with the sounds of crickets in the background, NSAC members had the chance to sample local fare and swap stories about what is happening on the ground in their communities and networks back home.
Gathering as a coalition provides an incredible opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other. We are grateful to have been able to connect with so many members in person and virtually and look forward to catching up with others who were unable to join us this time around. NSAC members and staff returned with a fresh perspective, motivated by what was learned and shared. The meeting provided a close look at the opportunities and challenges faced by farmers, ranchers, and food entrepreneurs on the ground. With this renewed energy and commitment to addressing climate change through sustainable agriculture, bolstering farmer resilience, and supporting healthy food systems, we can now focus on achieving our goals through the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization process. As we head into the fall election cycle, we know we have our work cut out for us. Yet the strength of our member organizations across the country means we are ready to continue our work towards building a more sustainable food and farm system!