“This advocacy is worth the fight/flight!”


Title quote by NOFA-VT farmer Stephen Leslie, who hadn’t traveled by plane in more than 20 years but joined NFFC in DC for the fly-in!

As 2023 Farm Bill negotiations proceed in earnest, family farmers must be at the forefront of these conversations as the people affected by agricultural policy the most. Earlier this month, NFFC organized two days of meetings with key legislative offices for member representatives, including farmers and fishermen, to educate on top issues impacting family-scale food producers and their communities. Twenty-six participants joined us in the nation’s capitol – a mix of veteran Hill advocates and newcomers to the legislative world (for some, this was their first time meeting with congressional offices!) and met with 32 bipartisan House and Senate offices. 

The fly-in was split into four groups, organized by policy priorities in alignment with our full Farm Bill policy platform, who spoke about land access, farm credit, dairy supply management and fair pricing, and local foods. NFFC Senior Policy Associate Antonio Tovar, Program Coordinator Jordan Treakle, and Executive Assistant Meg Stratton provided essential staff support to each team, helping to strategize various approaches and coordinating logistics with Congressional offices. 

Clockwise around table: Rebecca Goodman; Betsy Garrold; Andrianna Natsoulas; Stephen Leslie; Sarah Laeng-Gilliatt; Megan EisenVos; and Jim Goodman.

Forming smaller groups allowed our members to grow closer and also brought an important sense of community and trust to legislative meetings. Megan EisenVos, farmer and Food Systems Organizer with Dakota Rural Action, reflected on her experiences,

“In every meeting, our small group spoke from the heart. We were vulnerable and open about our trials, fears, and determined hope. The expertise and knowledge our group could speak of, with sound statistics, economic perspective, and the lived experiences created a platform that could not be ignored.”

New but misguided legislation aiming to block foreign ownership of US farmland led to a perfect opportunity for NFFC members to highlight concerns of institutional and corporate land grabs. Members of the land access team shared the experiences of farmers of color, in particular, who have been harmed by discrimination leading to precarious land tenure even today. The farm credit team echoed these stories, especially of Black farmers who have faced discriminatory lending practices by the FSA for decades. US farmers have more debt than ever before, making improving access to credit an especially timely need for this year’s Farm Bill.

Our dairy team explained NFFC’s Milk from Family Dairies Act, which includes supply management and price floors as key tools to address the dairy crisis and end the widespread loss of family dairy farms. We were thrilled that NFFC Board President and retired organic dairy farmer Jim Goodman, with wife-farming partner and fellow advocate Rebecca Goodman,  joined our dairy team alongside Siena Chrisman, lead researcher and author of the Milk from Family Dairies Act.

From left: Kenya Abraham; Mary Lake; Caroline Gordon; Leo Wassilie; and Gabbi De Marce

The local foods team promoted the benefits of regional markets as a way to lift up independent producers while providing a more stable food supply. Allies from Rural Vermont unveiled their Petition to Clarify the Personal Use Exemption for on-farm slaughter; Legislative Director Caroline Gordon wrote in her blog about the fly-in: “It was tremendously valuable to pair leadership from Vermont for on-farm slaughter with experiences from other states.” Kenya Abraham, owner of Slak Market Farm and member of the Community Farm Alliance, said about her participation in this team, 

I felt heard when we spoke and I believe that sharing my perspective as a Black Muslim Female Farmer’s experience in agriculture was important. There was a divine dynamic that flowed within our group. Bearing the weight of accountability, we set forth our intention and waltzed straight into the dance. It is an honor to serve as a part of the force that stimulates change and progress within the system.”

In all, we heard from members that the fly-in was an invaluable experience. Many participants were pleasantly surprised by the attentiveness and thoughtful questions posed by legislative staff. Spirits were high throughout, hopeful that our brief in-person meetings had struck a chord and shifted the needle towards a more just agricultural system. 

From left: Margaret Krome-Lukens; Tyrone Cherry III; Ben Vig; Ben Burkett; Dãnia Davy; and Rep. Adam’s staff member Richa Patel

Ben Vig, a farmer-member of the Dakota Resource Council, summed up his office visits, “We had good conversations with everyone and the farm program is determined to be a bipartisan bill with strong hopes of being done by September. The platform of NFFC really hits home –  it’s always positive when we can advocate on behalf of family farmers across the country.”

It is crucial that members of Congress hear the needs and concerns of the millions of small family farmers across the US. Our elected officials must be held accountable to their position by working to create the real, long-lasting change in food and farm policy that their constituents demand. Betsy Garrold, President of Food for Maine’s Future, said:  

“When small family farmers and their allies visit the offices of their Representatives and Senators in DC, they are asking their elected officials to hear their side of the story about the truth on the ground. They share the hallways with Big Ag lobbyists who are there full time trying to get votes that favor industrial agriculture. It is incumbent on legislators to listen to these farmer voices because they are their constituents – the people who elected them, the people who hired them for the job of carrying their concerns into the places where policies that affect their daily lives are made.”

Our work is far from over – NFFC staff and members are currently following up with Congressional offices and planning future advocacy opportunities for the 2023 Farm Bill and beyond. With our fly-in attendees back at home, we are so grateful for their tireless advocacy and dedication to supporting family farms in the US and across the world. 

Organizations who participated in the fly-in include:

Agrarian Trust; Community Alliance for Global Justice; Community Farm Alliance; Dakota Resource Council; Dakota Rural Action; Family Farm Defenders; Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund; Food for Maine’s Future; Land Loss Prevention Project; North American Marine Alliance; Northeast Organic Farming Association; RAFI-USA; Rural Vermont; Women, Food and Agriculture Network