There are a myriad of laws and policies at all levels of government which affect agriculture. Unfortunately, it’s easy for farmers others who care about food issues to feel disenfranchised from engaging in advocacy because the issues are complicated, numerous, and shrouded inside the complicated systems that create policy.
To provide an opportunity for local farmers to connect to key legislative issues affecting agriculture, Tilth Producers of Washington, the Washington Young Farmers Coalition, the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group, and Local Roots Farm collaborated to host a listening session with Congresswoman Suzan DelBene on April 13th. We were fortunate to have twenty farmers and concerned eaters turnout on the coldest day of the month, and to have Siri Erickson-Brown and Jason Salvo, owners of Local Roots, and their employees Rawley Johnson and Sam Bowhay as great hosts for the tour.
Congresswoman DelBene is a great listener. Northwest Farm Bill Action Group Student Intern Danielle Gilmour reflected, “This was my first time meeting a congressperson, and I am so glad it was Congresswoman DelBene. She is approachable, attentive, and articulate.”
If you would like to extend your own thanks to Congresswoman DelBene, you can reach her DC office at (202) 225-6311, her Bothell office at (425) 485-0085, or send her an online message here.
The event provided an opportunity to reach the Congresswoman and hear her views on four primary issues of concern to all the convening organizations. Each priority was illustrated with a stop at a relevant site on the farm. A summary of each issue follows.
Local Food Systems
The tour began with a peek into the processing shed where fresh produce gets washed, bunched, and boxed to go to market. We discussed the need to rebuild local food systems and Farm Bill programs, including the Farmers Market Promotion Program, Organic Cost Share Program, Value-Added Producer Grants, Specialty Crop Block Grants, and the Organic Research and Extension Initiative. Many of these programs are included in the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, which we asked the Congresswoman to co-sponsor (to great success!).
Congresswoman DelBene and Farmer Siri Erickson Brown in front of Local Roots’ new greenhouse, which is still under construction
Next, we looked at Local Roots’ new greenhouse, which was paid for in part by a Natural Resource Conservation Service grant, and discussed conservation programs. Farmer Siri pointed out that while many conservation programs like that one do help farms, others, like the Wetland Reserve Program which helps farmers conserve wetlands by paying them not to farm in wetland buffer areas, can take significant amounts of farmland out of production.
Beginning Farmer and Rancher Issues
We next explored Crew Leader Rawley’s laying hen side-project, which is helping him develop the means to start his own farm. Rawley wrote the business plan for this project in the WSU Extension’s Cultivating Success: Agricultural Entrepreneurship class (which many of the meeting participants had attended as well). This program is a great model for new-farmer training, and is the kind of program supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). The BFRDP also provided a low-interest loan which helped Jason and Siri to buy the property which comprises Local Roots Farm.
Local Roots sometimes grows more food than they have time to harvest. Right now, the over-wintered kale plants are producing an excess of kale “raab” or flowers. The farm works with an Americorps program which sends volunteer gleaners out to harvest excess produce to donate to local food banks. We didn’t get to see the kale raab as we hurried into a greenhouse to warm up, but we did get to talk to the Congresswoman about other Farm Bill programs which help urban consumers access healthy food, such as access to SNAP at farmers’ markets, the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and Community Food Project grants.
The event concluded with a question and answer session during which Congresswoman DelBene continued to engage with constituents, and spoke to other issues, including genetic engineering, food safety, and subsidy reform.
We appreciate Congresswoman DelBene’s support for sustainable agriculture and local farms. We are grateful she could join us for this event, and so happy to see her already taking steps to support our growers in Congress.