{ROAD TO THE 2012 FARM BILL} DC Part 1

Editor’s Note: So I’m back from my quick trip to DC for 2012 Farm Policy lobbying. There is so much to report on that there will be multiple posts on the trip, including MANY interviews with farmers & food advocates that were apart of NSAC’s Farmer Fly-In. I will also have an entire post dedicated to social stuff, such as the amazing food scene, and meeting a ‘blogger’ friend. First up, my super positive overview of the trip and the politics. Tomorrow’s {weekend reading} will have A LOT of 2012 Farm Bill links.

In a “pull back the curtain” disclosure, I would like to thank my husband for encouraging me to go and for taking time off to take care of Miles. Without that, this trip wouldn’t of happened, thanks Charles! I love you. -Christina

What is there to say about my quick 52 hour trip to DC as one of two New York State Constituents for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition‘s Farmer Fly-In?

In one word: Powerful.

In another word: Transformative.

I was lucky enough to get first-hand experience seeing how “The Hill” actually works. First thing one realizes is: ‘The Hill’ is run by men & women in their 20’s. That was the biggest surprise to me and all the other farmers and food advocates that took part in the lobby days. I don’t want to speak for them specifically, but we all seemed to mention at one time or another (when we were all together for a meal or de-briefing) how big of a surprise it was to meet with senior staffers that were not out of their 20’s. That said, everyone I worked with was professional, knowledgeable and well-spoken. Each office’s staff were a delight; both in welcoming us into “their world” and also trading birth places, as most staffers are either from the Representative’s district OR are from somewhere in NYS. NY pride abounded, it was lovely!

The other thing I quickly learned, and this is where you come in, is that ANYONE can get a meeting with their Senate or House Representative’s Office. (You should be from the Representative’s District and/or State.) You most-likely will meet with a staffer but what this experience taught me is that democracy is alive and well. Your voice is powerful and it is heard. Staffers are in those offices are there to field questions and concerns from their constituents and they take notes. They also have LOCAL offices that you can also make appointments with, I plan on following up via this route.

Honestly, if you are in the DC area, you can always drop off your business card or a letter to your Representative “in person” to the Scheduler (Secretary) within your Rep’s office. The doors ARE OPEN and the Scheduler is right there at the door. The House & Senate Office Buildings are OPEN. You stand in line and go through security, just like the airport, then you are free to walk the halls. You don’t check in with anyone at the entrance to the buildings, you are just free to walk the halls, take pictures, and go see your Representative. That said, I’m not advocating showing up to your Rep’s office and demand a meeting, but what I’m trying to illustrate is that ANYONE can get “just a little closer” to the inner-workings of Federal government.

Okay, all that said, I am delighted to say that I met some amazing farmers, food advocates and policy workers during my 52 hours. I didn’t get to spend much time with others from different states as they too had packed schedules with Senate and House meetings and also some farmers spoke at various hearings. One such farmer, Mr. Jody Hardin, was the ONLY farmer to speak at the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Hearing: Healthy Food Initiatives, Local Production, and Nutrition. This was the 3rd of 4 hearings for the 2012 Farm Bill (on the Senate side of things). You can watch the entire hearing here.

{Ms. Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of the USDA}

Before we all disbursed to our meetings & hearings, we each got to “tell our story” to the group. Let me tell you, there are some amazing people doing some amazing work on the streets and in the fields for sustainable agriculture. It was inspiring: some young organizers in major cities to young “beginning farmers” to mature farmers who recently went from conventional to organic farming- inspirational!!! We also were honored to hear from the Deputy Secretary of the USDA, Kathleen Merrigan, who is a Sustainable Agriculture champion. Of course, in her position, she was unable to lobby or give us any “insights” but what she did speak about was her work at the USDA and the new “Compass: Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer” program, which has a new interactive website that I do recommend you take a look at. Where you get to see where the USDA dollars are going. In addition, she allowed for questions and I got a question in: “Where does the advocacy of home cooking come into play?” She skirted the question a little by focusing on the work being done to better school lunches….Not quite the answer I was looking for. (*more on this topic in another post*)

{this is Kevin}

I went on the House & Sentate meetings with a fellow NYS constituent & farm-worker, Kevin Jablonski Farm Manager from Sun-Fed Beef located in Earlville, NY. They do most of their retail sales through the massive Greenmarket system in New York City & boroughs (they built their own distribution & warehouse network WOW).

We met with 24th District House Representative Richard Hanna (the congressman & Legislative Director), 23rd District House Representative Bill Owens (the congressman & Legislative Director), 20th District House Representative Chris Gibson (only his Legislative Director) and NYS Senate Representative Kristen Gillibrand (only her Legislative Director). We mostly gave our personal stories:  who we work for, what we do specifically and then how the Local Farms, Food & Jobs Act affects our districts, our farms and our communities. Both Representative Owens & Gibson are the House Agriculture Committee and Senator Gillibrand is on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

{ Kevin, Representative Owens & Yours Truly}

We were pushing for the inclusion of this marker bill into the 2012 Farm Bill IN committee. This means that we are urging both Agriculture Committees (Senate & House each have their own) would add this piece of legislation (or parts of it) into their versions of the Farm Bill in the committee before it goes to the floor for discussion and reworking. This would show the members of the House or Senate the Committee’s “Priorities” in this farm bill. As of today, only Democrats are co-sponsors of this market bill such as Representative Owens and Senator Gillibrand. Owens vowed to make it a priority and Representative Hanna vowed to write a letter of support for the pieces of the bill that he is in support of. Now Gibson’s Legislative Director couldn’t speak directly for Gibson but did say he loved A LOT of this marker bill and that the office would make up their mind to co-sponsor soon. We thanked all the Representatives for their co-sponsorship (where applicable) and then thanked those offices that were seriously considering supporting the bill (in its entry or its parts) and of course, for taking the time out to meet with us.

Of course, the question remains: what does this really mean? I don’t know as a newbie and a non-expert. What I can tell you is that IT FELT like Kevin & I made a difference. I FELT like Kevin & I were heard. The Farm Bill is HUGE & COMPLEX, but what I do know it the next steps is for the WONDERFUL & SMART & PASSIONATE folks at NSAC to figure out and follow-up with them to follow-through on our meetings AND for all of us to write our Representatives and submit comments to both Agriculture Committees. Oh, and I need to write some thank you notes 🙂

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*You too can submit comments*

For the House Agriculture Committee: Taking ‘comments’ until May 20th

I could not find information regarding the Sentate Agriculture Committee taking comments at this time.
Here is their Farm Bill Page

Again, I will have more & more & more about the road to the 2012 Farm Bill and my trip in the coming days & weeks. Tomorrow, I will have a Farm Bill 101 {weekend reading} for you!

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Alexis says:

    Chris, it’s helpful to get your “newbie” perspective on this process, since I never really grasped how it all works. Also, I’m so proud that you were there for this particular bill – I hope the doors keep opening to put your passion to good use.

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