Farming Magazine - July, 2012

COLUMNS

New England Farmers Union: Farmers Go to Washington

By Annette Higby

Maine in midsummer brings forth cool breezes, warm sunshine and some of the best farmers' markets in New England. In addition to having some of the East Coast's most beautiful coastline and cleanest air and water, Maine also has some of New England's best farmland. Soils are rich and varied, acid and alkaline, rocky for grazing and level for row crops.

Penny Jordan at Jordan's Farm in Cape Elizabeth is an example of the kind of farmer that has made Maine agriculture strong. Jordan grew up on the farm and works alongside her brother, Bill, and sisters, Pam and Carol Ann, growing strawberries, tomatoes, corn, pumpkins, green beans, lettuces and salad greens. Jordan's Farm also produces compost, which is used as a soil amendment on the farm.

Jordan is a member of the New England Farmers Union and was instrumental in starting the Cape Farm Alliance, a community-based organization that focuses on ensuring viability of farms in Cape Elizabeth. She is active in hunger prevention programs in Southern Maine and is a panel member for the Farms for the Future program. She is passionate about all Maine farms and works to find ways to expand market reach for farms across the state.

Jordan was one of four farmers who participated in an April legislative fly-in to Washington, D.C., sponsored by the New England Farmers Union and the National Farmers Union. Jordan joined more than 100 farmers from across the nation who fanned out across Capitol Hill to advocate for a strong 2012 Farm Bill.

The New England contingent met with 16 members and their staff in the New England Congressional delegation to advocate for farm bill provisions crucial to the economic viability of New England agriculture. At each of our meetings we presented our priorities for strong local and regional food systems, dairy policy, conservation programs, organic agriculture and beginning farmers. You can read our priorities here: http://newenglandfarmersunion.org/pdfs_docs/NEFU_FarmBillPlatform12-B[2].pdf.

In addition to Jordan, our group included Nanne Kennedy, a value-added farmer with a sheep herd and busy yarn business in Washington, Maine. Recent recipients of a Value Added Producer Grant, Cheryl and J.D. Devos, took time away from the liftoff of their new milk bottling plant in North Ferrisburgh, Vt., to participate in the fly-in.

Jordan and the other farmer participants brought to life the importance of investing in conservation and a local and regional food system by telling of their own farm stories. It's impossible to overstate the importance of bringing these voices to the process of writing a farm bill.

Jordan explains it this way, "The stars are lined up for local and regional agriculture to flourish. We, the producers, need to seize the moment. We need to be engaged in and vocal about policy needed to move our businesses forward. We need to understand our infrastructure needs, create it and own it. We should not go back to being producers of raw materials and let somebody else make the money. We need to ensure local, state and national policy supports an environment where farming is not encumbered by regulation, but is positioned for financial success."

The timing for this farm bill fly-in was nearly perfect, as the Senate Agriculture Committee was drafting its version of the 2012 Farm Bill. Many New England Senate offices were busy formulating their own farm bill wish lists and were grateful for our input. The Senate Agriculture Committee "marked up" its version of the bill the following week, and it included a number of our priorities. The Value Added Producer Grant program, for example, was reauthorized and a new focus on food hubs and processing was added to the Farmers Market Promotion Program. We will continue to press for adequate funding of our priorities as the House takes up its work on the farm bill.

The highlight of my summer is always that first ripe tomato, followed by the first picking of sweet corn. The abundance of summer in Vermont can be breathtaking. At local farms here and throughout New England you'll find a local feast that you can n eat fresh, and you can also can and freeze this abundance to enjoy throughout the winter.

I am grateful for farmers like Jordan, who not only grow our food, but who also care about our national priorities for food and farm policy. Join with as we strengthen the voice of New England agriculture. Get engaged in the farm bill debate by signing up for our newsletter and our action alerts, http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50207/p/salsa/web/common/public/signup?signup_page_KEY=6196.

Together we can accomplish Jordan's vision for a regional food system that leverages the assets of each state in New England; one where Maine, with its natural resources and untapped farmland, could produce food for itself and its neighbors.

Annette Higby, Policy Director for the New England Farmers Union, can be reached at Annette@NewEnglandFarmersUnion.org. New England Farmers Union is a membership organization. Join online: http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50207/p/dia/membership/public/?membership_page_KEY=4.