Plant Spring Change: Two Ways Women Can Stimulate National Ag Policy Reform Written By: Lisa Kivirist Posted by Sarah Long Spring inspires an annual dose of hopeful change. From tilling the fields to celebrating that first pea tendril, this time of year ushers in a fresh breeze of energy and optimism for us women in agriculture. Remember to take some of that vernal enthusiasm and voice your opinion to your elected officials in Washington, D.C., to keep sustainable farming a top funding priority. “Individual phone calls and letters to your representatives take just minutes of your time, but they collectively add up to a very strong influence on Congressional priorities,” explains Aimee Witteman, Executive Director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “The voice of women in agriculture needs to be heard in Washington, D.C., particularly this spring when key funding issues will be decided.” Two things we can each do this spring to plant seeds for national change: 1. Tell your representatives and senators to fund sustainable ag priorities in FY10 appropriations Over the next two months, members of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will be finalizing the list of programs they will champion for FY2010. “Congress needs to hear why sustainable agriculture programs that support innovation and economic prosperity are so important and must be adequately funded, especially during our current tough economic situation,” adds Witteman. Call or fax a letter to your senators and Congressional representative (enter your zip code at www.house.gov to find your representative) and express your support for two important yet potentially vulnerable sustainable agriculture programs: SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) and the Value-Added Producer Grant Program. Specifically, we want to ensure: * $30 million for SARE ($25 million for research and education and $5 million for extension and outreach) * $30 million for the Value-Added Producer Grants Program SARE is a competitive grants program funding farmer-driven research, education, and extension initiatives on profitable, environmentally and socially sound practices. Its research and education grants help first-time farmers get started and succeed, help farmers find ways to be more profitable, and help new businesses get started. The Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG) offers competitive grants to farmers and ranchers developing new farm and food-related businesses that boost farm income, create jobs, and increase rural eco- nomic opportunity. Despite growing demands for these grants, VAPG funding has been cut seven years in a row! When calling your senators’ and representative’s office, be specific and personal when leaving a message, as you will probably be talking to a staff member: “I am Lisa Kivirist, a farmer outside of Monroe, Wisconsin, in Green County. I am calling to express to Senator Kohl my strong support of funding sustainable agriculture during the appropriations process. Specifically, I want to see . .. “ Be polite yet personable. Sharing your farming story and experiences adds deeper meaning and authenticity to your message. Another way of expressing your opinion directly is to attend in-district or in-state “town hall” or other open public meetings sponsored by your representative or senator. As Congress will be on spring recess the first two weeks of April, many representatives will be in their home states and hosting such gatherings; keep an eye open for announcements in your local newspaper. 2. Promote and use new Farm Bill programs Some of these new Farm Bill programs will be starting the granting process in the next couple of months by issuing RFPs (requests for proposals) – that detail exactly what types of applications may qualify for funding and application deadlines. The NSAC website (www.sustainableagriculture.net) will have updated information as these RFPs go public. “Tell the organizations you are connected with about these new funding opportunities, particularly new Farm Bill programs such as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and the Rural Microentreprise Assistance Program (RMAP),” sums up Witteman. “Now that these programs are part of the Farm Bill, we need to take advantage of these resources to support sustainable agriculture projects.” Lisa Kivirist is a Wisconsin farmer, author, and director of the Rural Women’s Project for Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES).