Last week I was invited to attend The Good Food For All convening in Washington DC. Good Food For All is a network of community-based, grassroots and national organizations who share a commitment to working collaboratively to advance racial equity through federal food and farm policy. The Union of Concerned Scientists hosted over 100 Good Food For All advocates for three days of learning and sharing our work to transform food and farm policy through lifting up marginalized voices, community engagement, political education and collaborative agency strategies. I attended with our Georgia Farm to Early Care in Education project partners Amber Suitt from The Common Market and Wande Okenarum Meadows from Little Ones Learning Center.
During the convening, we learned about the Farm Bill policies that shape the federal food and agriculture landscape. We heard from network members how they are working to protect, assist and educate farmers, students, and immigrants in their community who are adversely affected by these policies. We were educated and encouraged by Reps Dwight Evans and Chellie Pingree to continue our advocacy work as they shared their experience and answered questions. The agenda was designed to give us an understanding of what the potential federal policy changes for the better are and how we might better advocate for policy change that advances racial equity. The timing was perfect, as the House version of the 2018 Farm Bill was expected to drop at any moment.
Our Georgia Farm to ECE contingent participated in a Farm to School breakout session where we were encouraged to dream out loud about what we’d love to see in the near and distant Farm to School future. Together we identified short and long term goals.
Our top three short term goals:
- Encourage sponsorship of the Farm to School Act of 2017 as part of the 2018 Farm Bill
- Clarify the “Geographic Preference” language that currently limits school nutrition sourcing of local produce in the 2018 Farm Bill.
- Encourage more federal investment in Early Care and Education
Our top three long term goals:
- Increased reimbursement rate for child nutrition
- Sustained Early Care and Education funding
- Culture and policy that encourages increased time for school lunch and family style meals
After two days of absorbing, oohing, ahhing and ideating, a Southern states group then prepared for visits to our legislators. We outlined complementary talking points based on our collective and individual organizational goals. On Thursday we put it all into action when visiting six different senators and representatives offices.
It was a whirlwind day where our small group of nine experienced educating and advocating for the first time on Capitol Hill. I especially enjoyed when our entire GFFA group came together to talk with Senate Ag Committee staffer Jacqlyn Schnieder, who helped us understand what might be reasonable to expect given the status of the crafting of the 2018 Farm Bill. I was surprised and disappointed to learn that while Geographic Preference language is included in the Farm Bill, the Ag Committee is careful to respect that child nutrition has traditionally been the work of the Education Committees and is reluctant to take on what seems to me to be a small, no-cost change that would make local purchasing simpler.
Exhausting and exhilarating at the same time, my key take away is that I should be reaching out to our congressional delegation on a regular basis to share real stories of individuals that benefit from the policies we advocate for. Those stories bring the policy work to life and help our lawmakers understand the impact of their work on their constituency. In person discussions and invitations to them that result in good PR and good feelings can only help further all of our agendas. The entire experience will enhance our Farm to School and Farm to ECE project work as well as our way of interacting with policy at the local, state and federal level in all of our work going forward.
The most impressive elements of the convening:
- The attendees!! Passionate, dedicated, wildly intelligent people from large and small organizations spread throughout the country pushing on different levers at different levels to transform our food system to a just, equitable and sustainable one. From staff at the Wallace Center and National Sustainable Ag Coalition who guide and inform the network, to a farmer originally from Oaxaca working to build a land trust in rural Massachucetts to a Community Engagement Specialist at DC Greens working directly with inner city youth in gardens…all working to build the world they want to live in.
- The Union of Concerned Scientists: Led by the brilliant Ricardo Salvador, our hosts Ruth Tyson, Mike Lavender and Nat Clay created an agenda that educated and motivated, while empowering us act to on what we learned in collaboration with the network. They also took care of every conceivable detail to ensure we were comfortable and very well fed.
- The food: Never underestimate the power of influence good food can have…especially on food system advocates! I ate so many delicious things, all locally sourced, mostly vegan, and prepared by Root and Stem, and Eat REAL certified My three favorites (and I’m a total carnivore by the way):
- Cauliflower steak with kale and ginger pesto
- A roasted carrot and greens salad that looked like an art project and convinced me I was eating meat
- Cashew “cheese cake” with coconut crust (that was a 2 dessert day)