Blog : Guest Blog: Taking Action on the Farm Bill
By Shane Smith, Concord Food Co-op Outreach Coordinator with Roger Noonan, Organic Farmer, Middle Branch Farm. For more information on discounted co-memberships with the Green Alliance and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire, please visit http://www.greenalliance.biz/green-alliance-and-nofa-nh-co-memberships-now-available
“It’s been said that we vote for a new food system with our pocket books. Buying local and organic foods over industrialized foods sends a message to the market place but not to our political leaders,” says organic farmer Roger Noonan from Middle Branch Farm in New Boston. In September, the Concord Food Co-op flew Roger to Washington, D.C., in collaboration with the New England Farmers Union (NEFU) to meet with members of Congress about why it is important to create policies that support agriculture throughout New England in the 2012 Farm Bill. He traveled with a delegation of 11 NEFU members – comprised of farmers and buy-local activists – and met with Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte, and Representatives Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass.
“If I was cynical about our federal government prior to my trip to D.C., I came away even more cynical. I also got angry and determined to do what ever I can to see that agriculture in New England is not put at a competitive disadvantage due to federal policy,” says Roger. “I was surprised at how much work we need to do to inform some members of our congressional delegation on the Farm Bill and its importance to New Hampshire and the region in general. Farmers may make up only one percent of the population, and perhaps to our leaders do not represent a significant voting block, but 100 percent of all voters do eat.”
The Farm Bill contains “titles,” sections devoted to aspects of agriculture where federal money (i.e.: subsidies and grants) is allocated. For example “Commodity Programs” for grains, “Nutrition” for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and “Energy” for biofuels. A key goal for Roger and the NEFU is to strengthen the provisions that support small-scale agriculture. Conservation, Farm and Ranch Lands Protection, and Environmental Quality Incentives Program are key titles that can benefit our local farmers through programs like hoop house grants. Current Farm Bill-related grants have allowed many of our farmers to build high tunnels to allow three- or four-season farming.
We’re also jazzed up about a new proposed title within the Farm Bill called the Local Foods Title, sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree from Maine, which would consolidate local foods programs currently spread throughout the Farm Bill titles and give them a home and increased financial support.
We realized much more work needed to be done. The Co-op funded a second trip for Roger to D.C. to increase their efforts with the NEFU to help shape the Farm Bill and strengthen agriculture here in New Hampshire. Those of you who attended the Co-op’s annual meeting were able to hear the inspiring words of both Roger and Larry Pletcher, two leaders of organics and farming in our state who also supply the store’s shelves and Café with produce. They basically put forth a Call to Action for the Co-op and its members to support and improve the state of agriculture.
With that inspiration, Roger’s second trip to D.C. allowed him to work with the NEFU to narrow his focus and get a clearer picture on how best to enact change in public policy around agriculture.
One of the biggest efforts happening right now is support for the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act introduced to the House and Senate last month.
The Act would consolidate and strengthen support for local farmers in key areas to make local foods more successful and attainable. For example, it’s currently difficult for small farms to process meat for sale to customers, stores, and restaurants. Proposed changes in the Act would provide funding to help farmers build infrastructure – like slaughterhouses – to process and sell food locally.
The Farm Bill is moving quickly, and key aspects of it may be determined by the Super Committee. However, everyone is urged to contact our New Hampshire delegates to ask them to support the ways in which the Farm Bill can benefit our local farmers, food, and economy. See the Action Alert, left, for more details on the Act and how to contact your delegates.
“Our congressional delegation needs to hear from you directly. In a small state like New Hampshire, we are fortunate to have excellent access to our leaders. We need to take the message directly to them,” urges Roger.
The Co-op is pleased to have helped forge the relationship between Roger and NEFU, a relatively new public policy organization that he hadn’t been aware of until the Co-op asked him to join the September fly-in. As a result of the collaboration, the NEFU invited Roger to join their Board of Directors. He was appointed on November 18 and is expected to be officially elected at the NEFU’s Annual Meeting on December 9, 1-8 pm here in Concord at the McLane Audubon Center. Additionally, Roger agreed to work with NEFU Policy Director, Annette Higby, to help facilitate the policy discussion during the Business Meeting portion of the Annual Meeting and discuss the Act. We invite you to join us at the NEFU Annual Meeting to dine on the Celery Stick Café’s delicious food. The evening program will also feature National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, N.H. Commissioner of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill, and N.H. State Representative Tara Sad. (The meeting and dinner are free for NEFU members and $18 for nonmembers.) For more information about the NEFU meeting and to RSVP, visit www.newenglandfarmersunion.org.
Help support local farmers by visiting www.nofanh.org.