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TALKING WITH: Shavaun Evans of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

shavaun_evansWe were thrilled that Shavaun Evans, Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, was able to stop by our office for a little bit this morning to give us the legislative lay of the land for the organic agriculture and food systems world.

NSAC is an incredibly important alliance of sustainable ag organizations around the country, and their work is a crucial part of the good food movement’s policy arm.

So where are we now with the Farm Bill? The Senate has passed their version of the Farm Bill, and the House has passed their farm-only portion of the Farm Bill, meaning that they split the farm bill into two pieces—the farm-only piece and the nutrition piece. We are currently waiting on the House to either pass the nutrition portion of the Farm Bill or for the House to appoint conferees so that the Senate and House can conference their versions of the bill together. The Farm Bill expires at the end of September, so once we hit Oct 1 it will be expired and we’ll be either waiting either for a full five-year Farm Bill or another extension to the Farm Bill. (Interested in the ever-changing saga of the Farm Bill? Check out NSAC’s blog.)

What would life without the Farm Bill look like? There’s a lot of uncertainties for a lot of the programs that can support small-scale beginning farmers, local food systems, organic agriculture—all of that will be left hanging in the balance without an investment for next year. The House and the Senate both provide funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program in their versions of the Farm Bill, but if they can’t get those bills to conference then we’ll be in the same situation as we were last year.

What we need to push for at this point is to make sure that an extension includes funding for those programs.

What are some effective ways that people can chime in on this? Anybody can call their legislator right now and say “We need a full, fair, five-year farm bill that funds critical programs that are important to our next generation of farmers and to a sustainable future.” If folks want to give their legislators a call, that is always very helpful. They need to hear from their constituents and the folks that are voting in their districts.

It’s also very important that legislators are able to see what’s going on in person. There’s recesses coming up at the end of October. There’s also another one coming up at the end of September. So people can send a note to their legislators office and say “Hey, there’s an event that’s coming up in your district.” Or “Hey, I’d love for you to come visit my farm and see how my farm works and what’s going on here on the ground.” It’s always good for constituents to invite their legislators out so they can see how important these Farm Bill programs are.

What are some other tips for advocating to legislators? One thing just in general is to keep it positive. It’s never really a good idea to be rude to a legislator, because then they will tune you out automatically. There is strength in numbers. It may get a little annoying to get emails asking you to take action, but when there’s a lot of people taking action on things, it’s always super-helpful. It’s good for a legislator to hear from a lot of people.

Anything personal is probably the most effective, so it’s good for people to make that personal call or send that personal email about what’s going on in their communities. We need as many voices as possible. We don’t want to be in the same situation where there’s no funding for these critical programs.

It’s been close to a year since the last [Farm Bill] extension, and we want to make sure that they’re funded fully for years to come. So as much as legislators can hear from people about how important these programs are, the better. There’s such a high consumer demand for local food systems, organics, supporting local farmers. We need to make sure that our policies support the farmers that supply that.

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