February 16, 2022
The opening moments of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) 2022 virtual winter meeting were accompanied by the Talking Heads song “This Must Be the Place” playing through Zoom to all of the attendees. In the chat, an attendee from North Carolina aptly quipped “guess this must be the place!” The sustainable agriculture movement, at its core, is place-based. NSAC members are united by shared commitments to advocate for farmers “on the ground” in their work towards a racially just, resilient, and sustainable food system. Though connecting and collaborating in the virtual format still poses challenges, the 132 meeting attendees created a vibrant space to make strategic decisions about how to move this year’s policy priorities forward and shape campaign strategies, all while centering relationship and narrative building. Determining annual priorities is a key part of NSAC’s collaborative, grassroots approach to policy advocacy, and is done annually at our Winter Meeting.
Over the course of the first week of February, NSAC members worked to simultaneously “dream big” and nail down the specific tasks and tools necessary to ensure a sustainable and equitable Farm Bill. Every year, NSAC comes together to set policy priorities based on needs identified by members and informed by the work of issue committees to firmly establish the Coalition’s positions and “asks” on issues. Policy priorities address critical issues across the food and farming system. Some of the issues NSAC is advocating for include key structural reforms to safety net programs like crop insurance, expanded programs and policies targeted to serve BIPOC, beginning, and socially disadvantaged farmers, the reform of procurement standards, and the implementation of programs and policies to support working lands conservation and sustainable research.
While successful campaigns result from the year-round efforts of NSAC’s member-led issue committees, the winter meeting places each member organization’s work within the broader context of the movement. This requires persistence and continuous engagement with farmers and allies. NSAC’s members are asking: what are the areas of opportunity and need across our movement and what are the values underpinning them? By focusing on narratives and storytelling to develop strategies for campaign work, the coalition is hoping to foster stronger relationships with both policy makers and people working on the ground at the grassroots level. For example, members of the Farming Opportunities and Fair Competition (FOFC) Committee strategized around how to identify and broaden their grassroots base to advance their work to support socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers in the realm of credit and crop insurance. Similarly, the Marketing, Food Systems, and Rural Development Committee (MFSRD) set the intention to provide a voice for small farmers and food hubs as they dug in on the issue of procurement reform. This included developing a shared understanding of both the history of federal food procurement programs and the opportunities procurement reform presents for local farmers and regional economies. Attendees across issue committees explored how to support new legislation within their networks.
A key intention of the Winter Meeting was to carefully align advocacy work with the needs of farmers. This alignment is demonstrated through the Climate Change Subcommittee, whose members focused their approach on base building and engaging farmers around climate and the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill by collaboratively planning listening sessions, farmer-led site visits for lawmakers, and collecting farmers’ stories to lift up in the media.
While the formal reauthorization process for the 2023 Farm Bill is still more than a year away, work is already underway at NSAC and on the Hill to develop big ideas into specific policy proposals – and then to organize together around them. The Coalition will be developing both a broad, ambitious 2023 Farm Bill platform and a series of legislative proposals throughout 2022 built from the insights and needs shared by our members and their grassroots leaders, along with those of our allies and partners. Look for more on this work as the year progresses.
As NSAC builds accountability and transparency into racial equity work and integrates it into the policy setting process, members were able to make specific commitments to this work in a few ways over the course of week. NSAC’s Organizational Council provided an update on the development of indicators to help the coalition measure its progress and ensure accountability to its commitments. Coalition members also engaged in racial affinity caucusing, a space that allows members to practice attentive grassroots advocacy that acknowledges, confronts, and seeks to dismantle racism in the food system while simultaneously cultivating a culture of support and care within the NSAC community. For example, in one session, members shared the racial equity practices they are integrating into their organizations and discussed non-extractive approaches to collaborating with BIPOC-led organizations and farmers on policy development.
“No one knows everything! Together we know a lot.”This is one of NSAC’s Community Agreements, a set of standards that guide the Coalition’s approach to discussion.
The meeting’s closing ceremony solidified that commitment to action is key. NSAC member meetings consistently prove to be generative spaces where pathways to transformative, direct and grassroots advocacy become clear. Most importantly, however, the coalition space underscores that the national sustainable agriculture movement is at its strongest when values and relationship-focused advocacy happens collaboratively.
“I want to share more farmer stories,” said an attendee from Texas when the membership was asked to consider what commitments they are carrying with them from the Winter Meeting. Similarly, others spoke of their excitement to utilize the collection of farmer’s stories and listening sessions to inform their strategies. These and other attendee commitments represent the breadth of grassroots campaign tactics our members utilize daily to build bases of support in the movement. “I’m excited to reach out to younger people who want to get into the farm policy world,” shared another attendee.
NSAC member meetings present a unique opportunity to connect, share tools, and build power. At the end of the closing ceremony, just moments before participants split off into Zoom happy hours, including one for policy deep-dives and another for sharing stories about gardening and the best melons ever tasted, something special was abundantly clear: NSAC’s members love what they do. The vibrant culture of appreciation and the abundance of gratitude and love among our members (for each other and the work) made this year’s virtual Winter Meeting the “place” to be as we begin a new year of working to bolster resilient forms of rural and urban agriculture and access to land, funding, and education for all.
Categories: General Interest