While Congress was on recess this August, several farmers, chapter leaders and Land Advocacy Fellows from our coalition met with their legislators across the country. Meetings focused on 2023 Farm Bill policy priorities, including land access, USDA accessibility, and several other challenges currently facing young farmers and ranchers. In-district meetings took place in every region of the country, from California to Maine.
Between April and August over sixty in-district meetings have taken place across the country (check out our highlights from April in-districts earlier this year)! We’re seeing these grassroots efforts directly translate into wins for our policy campaigns. Recently, the USDA announced a first-of-its-kind program to increase access to land, capital, and markets for young farmers and ranchers. Federal policy change is incremental and hard won, and we believe that the announcement of this funding is proof that our theory of change is working. We are also hopeful that this new program indicates that the 2023 Farm Bill will finally be the farm bill that focuses on land access.
With the Autumn Equinox now passed and harvest season upon us, we reflect on some of the highlights from the thirty-six meetings that took place throughout August.
In California, young farmers met with Congresswoman Doris Matsui and Representative Anna Eshoo to discuss land security for urban farmers and the difficulty that many young farmers face as they try to access support from the USDA. After their meeting in West Sacramento, farmer and Land Fellow Kaitlin Oki shared, “it was incredible (and relieving!) to hear a person in power speak so highly of the next generation of young farmers, and she seemed to understand the connections between agriculture and climate stabilization, equity, and healthy community development.”
In San Mateo, USDA microloans were a major topic discussed during a meeting with Rep. Eshoo. Farmers shared that oftentimes they’ve found loans through the FSA to be inaccessible to their operations, especially when it comes to loans for land. Specifically, Land Fellow Veronica Mazariegos-Anastassiou said “without a pre-qualification/pre-approval process, small and medium-scale farmers are left waiting and unable to access financial resources to purchase land or timely secure operational loans.”
In Illinois, Land Fellows Jesse Schaffer and Ritchie Wai met with the office of Senator Dick Durbin to share how their lived experiences connect to the larger policy framework that Young Farmers is advocating through the One Million Acres campaign. Jesse and Ritchie shared that there was a lot of ground to cover in a single meeting, and that it can be difficult to discuss the full breadth of challenges that young farmers face during that brief time.
To that point, the Coalition’s Farmer Leadership and Advocacy Manager, Faith Shaeffer, noted that in-districts are just the “start to long lasting collaborative relationships with your legislators, so that you are a resource to them as relevant policy comes up, and can act as a voice for young farmers and ranchers in your area to be consistently included in conversations happening on the Hill.”
In Worcester, New York farmers Inno Powell, Charles Madlock, Tianna Kennedy, Jessica Tobon, Angelina Montez, Julian Mangano all met with the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand during a tour of Star Route Farm to discuss concerns regarding access to both land and healthy food for their communities, as well as the accessibility of USDA programs. Local food infrastructure, such as a regional food hub, came up as a particular need for farmers and residents alike. The group pointed out that food hubs can house many critical resources, such as cold storage, to ensure that the types of large, aggregated CSA’s that Tianna Kennedy of Star Route operates can be successful. Her farm runs a 600-person CSA that supports 40 regional farms, but they had to contract with their own drivers and call on friends for storage to make the distribution logistics work.
Additionally, every farmer present who attended the in-district is currently facing or has faced a challenge to accessing land long-term. Angelina Montez, Innocence Powell and Tianna Kennedy all highlighted that they have experienced extreme weather events at increasing regularity over the last ten years, and unstable land access has prevented them from being able to invest in the land to build resiliency.
In Maine, Land Fellow Janelle Plummer shared her land story with the office of Rep. Chellie Pingree. Rep. Pingree’s office expressed that they have heard from other farmers that have similar concerns and experiences with land access due to climate change and development pressure on the land with increased housing development and population growth in the state.
In Virginia, farmer Char’Rese Finney held a meeting with Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s office to discuss community-based land projects as well as the need for beginning farmers to have greater access to USDA programs like farm ownership loans. Similar to conversations that took place during several other in-districts, the lack of opportunity for pre-approval came up as a specific barrier impeding many young farmers from accessing capital through the USDA.
In Louisiana, Land Fellow Iriel Edwards met with the office of Congresswoman Julia Letlo to share her story of growing organic rice for Jubilee Justice in Alexandria, and what her experience has been like trying to gain market access as well as services from the USDA. Iriel plans to formally invite the Congresswoman to the grand opening of their rice mill in Alexandria where they can demonstrate what sustainability and cooperative economics can look like within regional food systems.
After her meeting, Iriel shared that “it was a great opportunity to speak with a staff member of my representative’s office about difficulties accessing USDA programs for young, BIPOC farmers. My first in-district was a good entry point into developing a lasting relationship with that office.”
Thank you to all of the farmers, chapter leaders, organizers, and Land Fellows who have met with their Representatives this year to advocate for our Young Farmer Policy Priorities! The in-district meetings highlighted above represent just a fraction of those that farmers and ranchers in our network have been a part of in 2022. In addition to several other in-district meetings in each region, we’ve seen farmers and ranchers speak during 2023 Farm Bill hearings and provide written testimony and public comment at a variety of notable events. Thank you to Alex Ball, Andy Chae, Benu Amun-Ra, Brian Estes, Candius Elliott, Detra Iverson, Jonathan McArthur, Julia Asherman, Kelsey Zaavedra, Michael Kotutwa Johnson, Sarah Brown, Tanisha Diggs, and Tianna Kennedy for representing young farmers and ranchers at those events.