NSAC Members Stood Up for Small Farms with Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden
posted on February 28, 2014 11:09am
On February 7, 2014, President Barack Obama signed the new five-year Farm Bill into law right here in Michigan on the campus of Michigan State University. It was a long, rough road getting there, though, with many a bump along the way, but Michigan Food & Farming Systems (MIFFS) was there to give a voice to Michigan farmers.
On Wednesday, January 30, 2014, the new Farm Bill was voted on (and passed) the U.S. House of Representatives. That same day, MIFFS Executive Director, Michelle Napier-Dunnings, who was recently elected to serve on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Organizational Council, was in Washington DC for the NSAC winter meeting, and along with 12 other NSAC members, had the privilege of meeting with the Honorable Krysta Harden, USDA Deputy Secretary.
Deputy Krysta Harden was gracious, passionate, and interested in our experiences. Each attendee had the opportunity to express their organization’s perspectives on how USDA can help foster new opportunities for the next generation of farmers and to discuss some specific challenges that farmers, especially beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, face as they pursue a career in agriculture.
Michelle spoke to the Deputy Secretary about the need for USDA to continue working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that new food safety rules make sense and will work for all small and beginning farmers and urged her to ensure that technical assistance and training be available through the National Food Safety Training Education, Extension, Outreach and Technical Assistance Program.
Here in Michigan, we have several examples of how important and valuable that kind of assistance can be. For instance, a USDA Group GAP pilot in the Upper Peninsula is being carried out through a Specialty Crop Block Grant with MIFFS, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, and the UP Food Exchange all working together to see how a collaborative of small, diversified farms can be food safety certified as a group. At the same time, many small scale farmers are stepping up to aggregate at regional food hubs and need to have the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules reflect that growing economic engine. There are also unique opportunities and needs of emerging collective farm enterprises (cooperatives, incubator farms, etc.) such as MIFFS new Women-in-Ag Farm Center at Genesys Hospital in Flint.
Deputy Secretary Harden was interested in all those stories and is hoping to have her office talk with some of our farmers to learn more. She pointed out that her heart is in farming and that the farmers MIFFS represents are at the top of her priority list. She also wants to see more women in agriculture stepping up into leadership positions.
Other NSAC members at this meeting addressed the following national needs:
- Increased access to affordable farmland for new farmers through the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program;
- Improved access to USDA programs for socially disadvantaged and military veteran farmers through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, the 2501 Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program, and other resources;
- Establishing an intermediary relending pilot program within FSA’s microloan program and continue outreach and training of FSA field offices on this new credit resource; and
- Continuing progress to make whole-farm revenue insurance available for small, beginning, and diversified producers by crop year 2015.
Additionally, the group expressed hope that the Administration will include the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account program in their request, in order to finally launch this innovative matched savings program which will leverage public and private funds to help aspiring farmers accumulate enough capital to start their farm businesses. The NSAC group also encouraged the Deputy Secretary to build on last year’s request for USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Direct Loans (including microloans) to meet the continued unmet demand of beginning and aspiring farmers seeking credit to finance their operating expenses.
While the Farm Bill includes both victories and challenges for small farms, but MIFFS was proud to be there standing up for the interests of our members. Visit the NSAC blog to read their “drilldown” series on what’s in the Farm Bill at http://sustainableagriculture.net/category/farm-bill/.