NSAC 2024 Winter Meeting Recap

Our federal policy team is feeling extremely motivated and connected after joining fellow NSAC members in DC at the end of January. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) puts on a summer and winter meeting each year where its members join to strategize, build relationships, and learn about agriculture policy. This winter meeting was the largest to date!  

Read on to learn about our time together.

All About Policy

It was timely to be in DC while Congress was (and still is) moving on all appropriations bills. While we were glad to see the government did not shut down in mid-January, we recognize there is a lot to be done. The winter meeting kicked off with a DC report from NSAC Policy Director, Mike Lavender. We received the most up-to-date information on the agricultural appropriations bills and the farm bill’s drafting process.  

This was an overarching factor while strategizing for the lobby day, which ended the winter meeting on February 1. On February 8, our team hosted a virtual farm bill update call that provided timeline updates. If you’re curious to see what was talked about, you can view our slides here.  While existing funding negotiations continue in Congress, we see that money is the main hold-up when it comes to getting this farm bill moving. 

The next couple of days we had campaign sessions on the farm safety net, resilient local and regional food systems, and climate and agriculture. Each of these provided good recaps of what we are fighting for while building a localized food system that supports all sorts of communities. Many of the policy priorities named are identical or similar to those we support on our marker bill tracker. 

Racial Equity

All our work must be rooted in racial justice. The continued discrimination throughout the United States agriculture system emphasizes the number of repairs that must be done. From building trust among organizations to combatting oppression by government agencies, it is good to have these reminders.  

At the start of the NSAC winter meeting, we went into affinity caucusing spaces (groups made up of individuals sharing a social identity). Regenerate Change held the white caucus and we focused on building trustful relationships with one another through how we conduct ourselves in joint spaces. We can only be so expressive and creative when in a safe space together.  

The next day, NSAC’s Racial Justice committee started the morning with facilitation by Rested Root. The organization focuses on illustrating the stages of transformation that allow liberation to flourish within ourselves, our teams, our communities, and our society. The session was framed as, “If you’ve come because your liberation is related to mine, then let’s work together.” The foundation of our movements is to be in coalition. These partnerships are crucial for building power but must be done the right way through trust, relationship building, and collaboration.

Trust is like topsoil—hard to build, easy to erode, and necessary for growth. Building it requires inputs (interactions and communication) and remediation (accountability and conflict transformation).

Rested Root

Bring the Experts (Farmers)

We were so thankful that two leaders in OEFFA’s network joined us in DC for these thoughtful discussions and on the lobby day.

Patricia (Patty) Allen, program manager for the BIPOC Food & Farming Network (BFFN), began her food justice and farming career professionally in 2018 as a resident apprentice for Bluestone Farm in New York. Now with BFFN and as co-chair of the 2024 Black Farming Conference, Patty is doing deep community organizing work to uplift and recognize support for urban farmers and farmers of color.

BFFN’s partnership with OEFFA is rooted in a shared mission of working toward a sustainable and equitable food system and advocating for small-scale farms and urban food producers. We commend OEFFA for its commitment to providing a platform for growers and food producers of color thorugh participation in NSAC’s national conference and lobby day on Capitol Hill.

Patricia Allen

Kristy Buskirk, co-founder of Clay Hill Produce and Flowers in Tiffin Ohio, has a 10-acre production farm and 40 acres in cover crops, native grassland, and forest. The husband (Aaron) and wife team sells their products direct to market, sells wholesale to Ohio Food Banks, and offers flower bouquet subscriptions to other local farms. 

I was hesitant to accept the opportunity to head to DC to talk with legislators about the farm bill, but after attending the NSAC meeting and talking with OEFFA policy staff, I was completely prepared and motivated to tell my stories and ask for what we deserve! We heard over and over again how important firsthand feedback is about how the programs the government creates work on the ground, and that was true to my experience. I left feeling very motivated and energized by meeting not only with the politicians, but with sustainable agriculture folks from around the country. Very grateful for this opportunity!

Kristy Buskirk

Our OEFFA policy team can talk with congressional offices all day, but the impact of hearing stories from the farmers and food system leaders themselves is so important. Not only were both of their testimonials so important for lobbying on Capitol Hill, but it was also wonderful to see them cultivate relationships with folks across the country. Contact information was exchanged, and many pictures were taken! 

Capitol Hill Meetings

It was a great start to our February 1 lobby day meeting with Amy Myers from Senator Brown’s office. We are thoroughly grateful for having a Senator in Ohio who represents the needs of local food systems so well on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Next, Patty and Nicole traveled through the tunnels under Capitol Hill with an intern from Senator Brown’s office to the House side. They met with Representative Mike Turner’s office (Dave Straka) and Representative Marcy Kaptur’s office (Alex Rytel). We had candid conversations about supporting urban farmers through dollars in the farm bill and appropriations bills, and how to work with both sides of the aisle. Patty and Nicole also made connections for in-district visits.

Meanwhile, Milo and Kristy met with Brian Oakes from Senator Vance’s office. Conversations focused on the importance of supporting Ohio’s farmers through conservation programs, organic agriculture support, and farm safety net reform. Our whole team was able to come back together to meet with the offices of Representatives Shontel Brown, Mike Miller, and Emilia Sykes.

In each of these meetings, we focused on the importance of conservation funding programs. They instill strength in local food systems and nutrition programs and level the playing field for smaller and diverse farms to be able to compete with the large agriculture industry. All in all, our seven meetings proved to be very successful. We are thankful for each of these offices for taking the time to meet with us, hear our stories, and build deeper relationships.  

Spring Movement and Growth

We are so thankful for being in coalition with folks around the country focused on building sustainable and resilient food systems. Like Senator Debbie Stabenow told us, “You make change by building coalitions.” Having the opportunity to hear the Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture speak about her farm bill priorities was the perfect inspiration for our work on Capitol Hill. Her words on protecting the safety net for small farmers and the stories of the farmers who joined us have energized our efforts for months to come.

This spring we expect to have more active farm bill activism for our OEFFA community to get involved with. We expect that both the House and the Senate will be working on their drafts throughout the spring, which means it is a crucial time to get our stories and needs into those offices. Keep in touch with us on Instagram and by subscribing to our monthly policy bulletin to continue to engage.