Roger Noonan was heading out of his New Hampshire farmhouse recently to pull some celeriac out of the frozen ground. On a cold day, this farmer still found plenty to do. While he keeps up with the daily demands of running a working farm, Noonan makes sure he finds time to be active in agricultural policy.
Noonan, who has been farming since 1989, oversees 30 acres of organic vegetables, along with a small livestock and poultry operation, at his Middle Branch Farm in New Boston, N.H. He also grows hay, produces maple syrup from a 1,000-tap sugar bush, and manages several woodlots for a total of 140 acres under production. In December, he was elected president of the board of New England Farmers Union (NEFU). While he keeps a thriving CSA and wholesale vegetable business going, he said his work with NEFU yields tangible results.
"The work we do at the farmers union has a direct economic benefit to New England farmers," he said, citing many priorities from the Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, that were folded into the farm bill debate at NEFU's urging.
"These are a collection of policies that enhance access to local farm goods, offer training for beginning farmers and ranchers, strengthen local food systems, and create farm-to-school programs," he said.
Noonan's work with NEFU began when he was recruited in 2011 to attend the National Farmers Union annual lobby days in Washington, D.C. Walking the halls of Congress, Noonan and other farmers delivered the concerns and priorities of New England family farmers to national representatives.
"Before the fly-in, I didn't appreciate how important lobbying is for my business," he said. "I found NEFU was a respected force. We had great meetings. Doors were open to us. It was a positive experience."
Noonan also saw NEFU's impact when the group held several meetings with a legislator from his state. "From the first meeting in September, we raised the Congressman's awareness of the economic importance of agriculture to his district, and gained increasingly greater support from him over the year," he said.
"We had an effect," Noonan added.
Noonan has found other ways to be effective. He's been active in soil and water conservation through his role as a supervisor for the Hillsborough County Conservation District, which works closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He serves on the policy committee of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, and has been appointed the agricultural representative to the New Hampshire governor's River Management Advisory Committee and as the Hillsborough County representative to the Agricultural Advisory Committee.
In the coming year, his goals for NEFU include influencing the appropriations process of the Farm Bill and helping farmers wrap their heads around requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
"We will have a chance to comment on those rules," he said. "Thousands of farmers in New England will be impacted. We intend to make sure that our voices are heard."
Noonan continued, "A law is like a cake recipe. Once the law is passed, you still have to bake the cake and frost it. The Farm Bill or any legislation important to our members will be impacted by the appropriations process and implemented through rule-making. Farmers need to stay engaged to ensure that our legislative priorities are funded and implemented as intended."
He believes NEFU's strength is its focus on federal agricultural policy. And NEFU will be center stage when the 111th National Farmers Union (NFU) convention takes place in Springfield, Mass., this month, the first time a New England state will host the powerful organization.
"It's a big deal," Noonan said. "It shows the impact that New England has in the National Farmers Union. Perhaps more than any other region, New England bridges that rural-urban divide."
New England's focus on initiatives such as farm-to-institution, improving food security for urban and rural consumers and direct farm-to-consumer marketing are of increasing interest to the NFU, "because they see it as a vital part of the nation's agricultural industry," Noonan said. "Supporting the kinds of agriculture that we have in New England is important to NFU's overall strategy. We are at ground zero in the realm of agricultural innovation and adaptability. For the national convention to be held here enables us to showcase what we do well. It's a big vote of confidence from National Farmers Union."
In the coming year, he also hopes to reach out to more members, broadening NEFU's base of support throughout the six New England states.
"I'm excited and honored to be president of this organization," Noonan said. "There's a lot of opportunity to grow, and I look forward to reaching out to more farmers, learning what their issues are, and working to benefit the farmers of New England."
Join with Noonan and get engaged with NEFU. As a part of NFU, NEFU has a voice at the national table. Take advantage of this partnership and let your needs as a farmer be known. The more members we have, the more powerful we are when we advocate on your behalf.
Kate Snyder is the administrative director for the New England Farmers Union. To ask her about becoming a member of NEFU, email Kate@NewEnglandFarmersUnion.org.