When Congress goes on recess each spring, legislators tend to leave Washington, D.C. and head back to their home districts for District Work Periods, or “in-districts.” In April, thirty-nine farmers held thirty-two in-district meetings with legislators across the country to share about the challenges they face on their farms, and the policy solutions they need.
Thank you to all of the farmers, chapter leaders, and Land Fellows who met with their Representatives this spring to advocate for our Young Farmer Policy Priorities! This grassroots push is just the beginning of our 2023 Farm Bill advocacy. As farmers, ranchers, and Representatives get back to work and ramp up for another busy season, we reflect on some of the highlights from this year’s April in-district meetings.
In Massachusetts, Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-2) spent over an hour touring Bombeta Farms with Land Fellows Aoma Muma and Kel Komenda. Afterwards, Representative McGovern reflected on his visit by saying “agriculture is at the heart of our Commonwealth’s economy and farmers play a vital role in growing nutritious local food. Visiting Bombeta Farms in Lancaster, I learned more about how we can support young farmers with the challenge of finding land.”
In New York, Land Fellow Laura Colligan of Dirt Rich Farm met with Representative Chris Jacobs (NY-27) to discuss some of the challenges that many young farmers are facing, including student loan debt, land access, and barriers to USDA funding. During their meeting, Laura shared a poignant story with Representative Jacobs about a time her farm did not qualify for a needed FSA loan because she had only been operating for two and a half years, just shy of the three year requirement. Jacobs said that he sees young farmers as a good counter to the aging demographics of his district and that land access is at the top of his agricultural policy priorities. He later invited Laura to serve on his agricultural advisory committee.
Land Fellow Charles Madlock, Urban Agriculture Coordinator at RISE and alumni of the Groundswell Farmer Training Program, met with Representative John Katko (NY-24) in Syracuse where they discussed the difficulties that many farmers face as they try to grow affordable produce for their community. Charles also spoke on the difficulties of securing land to start his own business and shared that he hopes to build pathways for more people to get into agriculture. Representative Katko offered a letter of support from his office for a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) grant that Charles will apply for.
In Mississippi, Land Fellow Burns met virtually with an aide of Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. Burns said that “the highlight of the conversation for me in terms of policy was when I addressed the difficulties of obtaining the necessary documentation to secure a microloan from the USDA, and [Senator Hyde-Smith’s aide] Mr. Coopwood said that they were already aware of this problem and working to address it. I was excited to immediately find common ground with him.” Burns’ meeting was one of six in-districts that occurred in the southeast.
Eleven meetings took place across the west including San Antonio, Texas where Land Fellow Rockie Gilford met with an aide of Representative Joaquin Castro (TX-20). Reflecting on her meeting, Rockie shared “the farm bill and land advocacy matter to me because, one, it’s a major piece of legislation that shapes our food and agriculture systems, as well as climate change.” Rockie continued by saying, “when we really think about eating, it’s an agricultural act right from seed, water, soil, the farm labor, the migrant workers, farmers and distributors, all the actors of the food system play a part [to] deliver that food onto our plates.” In addition to Rockie’s, ten other western region in-district meetings took place this April in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington.
In Kalamazoo, Michigan, Remi Harrington, alongside our Michigan Organizer Payge Lindow, had an on-farm meeting with Senator Debbie Stabenow’s Regional Outreach Manager, Mary Judnich. Senator Stabenow’s office plans to come back this summer in order to meet with the rest of the farmers in Remi’s Zoo City Food and Farm Network. Remi’s meeting was just one of ten in-districts that took place in the midwest this spring. In addition to the in-district meetings, Payge and Land Advocacy Fellows Candius Elliott of Workin Roots Farm and Detra Iverson of Love n Labor Botanicals represented our 2023 Farm Bill priorities during the first field hearing in Lansing. Read more about the hearing here.