There are few windows of opportunity to make changes to something as big as our food and farming system. When those opportunities present themselves, we have to be prepared to act. Fortunately, OEFFA staff and members have been working for months to advance positive change.
Last year, OEFFA members attended community and virtual listening sessions or participated in an online survey leading to the development of OEFFA’s 2023 Farm Bill priorities. During the fall, member leaders and staff formed groups to support beginning and BIPOC farmers, increase investments in organic and sustainable research and regional food systems, address consolidation, and promote soil health and climate resilience.
Groups began meeting regularly to discuss organic agriculture, and how to ensure the crop insurance program works for everyone. Organized by OEFFA, the Ohio Soil Health Initiative—a state-level coalition of farmers, organizations, agency staff, and soil scientists—continued working to support soil health innovations from Ohio farmers.
When the new year began, we were ready for action. What follows is a summary of OEFFA advocacy in the first quarter of 2023.
Advancing Priorities in the 2023 Farm Bill
OEFFA members Eli Dean and Celeste Treece joined OEFFA staff Amalie Lipstreu and Julia Barton for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) winter meeting and fly-in in Washington, DC. After much discussion and preparation, we hit the Hill to meet with Senators Sherrod Brown and JD Vance, new Ohio Representative Max Miller (R-7), and Representatives Shontel Brown (D-11) and Marcy Kaptur (D-9).
It was an important opportunity for three relatively new lawmakers to learn more about OEFFA, organic agriculture, and the small to mid-scale farms that make positive economic and environmental contributions to their communities. Key messages included:
- Bipartisan support for local and regional food systems;
- Research to support organic and sustainable farmers;
- Support for soil health best practices;
- Increased support for urban farmers;
- Allowance of just one subsidy per farm; and
- Promotion of a crop insurance program that is Fair, Functional, and Informed.
Eli Dean presented a well-researched perspective about how, under the current structure of subsidized crop insurance, larger farmers have the upper hand when buying up land. He went on to explain why we need to provide more risk management support to smaller and more diverse growers and keep the crop insurance subsidies in place for the majority of growers, but ask those at the very top of the economic pyramid to shoulder more of their own costs for crop insurance.
Farmers for Climate Action: Rally for Resilience
Joining with NSAC, the Rural Coalition, HEAL Food Alliance, and other organizations, OEFFA staff Heather Dean, Lauren Hirtle, and Amalie Lipstreu accompanied 11 OEFFA members and staff from Rural Action and Ag Noire for Rally for Resilience. The mass action was organized around a request for members of Congress to make climate change policy a priority in the 2023 Farm Bill.
People united around farmer-led solutions to climate change, racial justice in the farm bill, and a focus on communities over corporations. The three-day event included motivating speakers such as OEFFA member Sophia Buggs from LadyBuggs Farm in Youngstown and Lindsay Klaunig from Trouvaille Farm.
We were also there with the Organic Farmers Association, where Amalie serves on the Steering Committee and member leader Scott Myers serves on the Policy Council. In meetings with seven members of Congress and three USDA agencies, we advocated for the following:
- Strong enforcement of organic integrity
- Organic as a key solution to the climate crisis
- Increased investments in organic research
Ongoing communication with and from our members helps to develop strong relationships that build over time. During a meeting at USDA, we learned that different parts of the agency cannot communicate effectively with each other because of outdated and conflicting IT systems. If investments were made in system upgrades, the result would be more efficiencies that would cut bureaucratic and red-tape hurdles that farmers face in accessing resources and programs. Whether from OEFFA members or USDA staff, voices should be heard and remembered.
National Organic Coalition Fly-In
On our next trip to Washington, DC, Julia Barton was accompanied by OEFFA members Kim Bayer of Slow Farm in Michigan and Angela Schriver of Ohio’s Schriver Organics, LLC. As an organic grower, Kim is fond of saying that she “pays for the privilege of not applying poisons on her farm.” She led with poignant examples in several legislative meetings, sharing her experiences with cost share and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) programs. She also highlighted the need for inter-agency collaboration and information sharing.
Angela Schriver spoke eloquently about the holistic suites of synergistic practices in use by organic farmers and similar challenges her farm has faced in engaging with various programs. She shared how extreme weather events impact organic farmers and conveyed the need for a Fair, Functional, and Informed crop insurance farm safety net. Angela and Kim had never met prior to their trip to DC, but they made an amazing team in six legislative meetings, nurturing ongoing relationships with offices, and cultivating new ones.
The Ohio Statehouse
Lauren Hirtle, OEFFA’s state-level policy organizer, has been leading the charge of the Ohio Soil Health Initiative. This year, we are taking advantage of the biennium budget cycle by working to secure funding for farmer-led soil health pilot projects across the state.
We met with and were well-received by eight House members involved in agriculture and finance. OEFFA’s soil health ambassador, Jim Linne of White Clover Farm, provided powerful testimony to the House Finance Subcommittee on Agriculture, Development and Natural Resources. You can view his testimony here.
Interest was piqued when Jim shared the positive outcomes that come from investing in soil health. He has increased his soil organic matter from one to four percent, increased the water filtration and holding capacity of his soil, and increased the days of photosynthesis on his farm by over 100 days per year. Together, these benefits have sequestered tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide and improved his farm’s profitability. It is exciting to imagine the exponential benefits we could see by supporting more farmers to do the kind of intentional soil health management that Jim has implemented!
OEFFA members have been leading the way for change during the first quarter of this year. To build on this exciting momentum we will be hosting a farm bill advocacy training in June and an OEFFA DC fly-in during July. We will also be promoting opportunities for members to meet with their representatives in community during the month of August when they are back “in the district” for summer recess.
Consider joining us to take advantage of this once-in-every-five-year opportunity to make real change in our food and farming system! To find out more information about how you can be involved, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.