I traveled to Washington, D.C. in early December to attend the SAFSF policy conference and hill visits. The newly elected 114 Congress had not yet been seated. Once seated, nearly half of them will have been in office for four years or less. They will need to be educated. The current lame duck congress was in the midst of passing an omnibus bill, this year dubbed “cromnibus” for its ability to fund the government and enter into continuing resolution which means it extends the funding for only a limited period of time. I thought I was there to deliver my messages, well prepared and strong on federal GMO labeling and funding for organic agriculture. Instead the message I received was more profound than anything I was about to deliver.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) partnered with SAFSF on this first policy event in Washington. Their recap of the funding bill passed during my time in Washington highlighted the “riders” or additional actions riding along on this bill like a pack of vermin that never belonged on the original host. In fact these riders reduce domestic spending, reverse wins we have made in campaign finance reform and loosen the regulation of Wall Street that titans set in place after the 2008 Great Recession.
Like chips out of a wall we have already built these “riders” weakening sustainable agriculture and child nutrition. There will be no funding to jump start the much anticipated Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account (IDA) program. When will we address the trend of aging farmers in our rural communities? One “rider” also lowered funding levels for the Value-Added Producer Grant Program that helps farmers add value to their farm products and diversify income streams.
“Chip chip” they hammered away to reduce conservation spending by nearly $600 million! School lunch programs no longer have to abide by previous rules to serve less salt and more whole grains. Big ranchers and CAFO’s no longer have to report greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems. The EPA must withdraw a new rule defining how the Clean Water Act applies to certain agricultural conservation practices.
The hammer on domestic spending for agriculture, our waters, and our children came down hard in this bill, yet its original purpose was to keep the government running. What does this tell us about the new Congressional leader soon to be seated next year? One Senator I met with indicated that if spending is not somehow related to the military or other large corporate interests it was likely to get weakened or defunded with the new Congress!
The message was loud and clear! It is up to us to communicate, penetrate, educate and escalate our priorities with this new Congress. We must make friends and get to know them and especially their staff. Don’t be a stranger; call them, write them, and invite them to visit our farms, our schools and businesses.
Organic agriculture made substantial progress in the 2014 Farm Bill. It is now crucial that we build and maintain relationships with all congressional leaders to protect the gains we won. Both sides of the aisle must be educated, and we must cultivate relationships with the new leaders. Now, more than ever, it is critical we all play an active role in government relations and advocacy. A very tangible way for you to do so is to be actively involved in the Organic Political Action Campaign!
The Organic PAC is the only Political Action Committee dedicated to advancing organic agriculture and trade. It provides financial assistance to candidates for Congress who are, or who can be, influential in protecting or promoting organic agriculture and trade. It is completely bipartisan and helps to educate candidates and develop new industry champions.
Another way to be involved and have a seat at the table is to attend the OTA Policy Conference and Hill visits April 14-16th! Every spring OTA congregates organic leaders in Washington, D.C. to take part in important discussions about the future of organic, and to help raise the profile of organic on Capitol Hill. By attending you will learn how to have direct and impactful relationships with members of Congress and the USDA. Join me in lobbying for funding for our organic priorities this April.
The dispatch from Washington was loud and clear: get involved and speak up! Our voices are needed now more than ever before.
As Martin Luther King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Let your voice be heard!