NSAC Policy Director Mike Lavender addresses coalition members

Last week, over 100 attendees from 61 member organizations came together for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) annual winter meeting. In light of the anticipated 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization, members gathered in Washington, DC, to strategically coordinate campaign tactics, meet with Congressional leaders and senior USDA officials, and connect through a shared vision of a just food and farm system for all.

Our first in-person winter meeting since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic gave coalition members the opportunity to catch up, strengthen relationships, and build momentum for the busy 2023 Farm Bill cycle. We also welcomed a few members who were attending one of NSAC’s biannual meetings for the first time!

Advancing the Work

With NSAC’s 2023 Farm Bill Platform recently released and our policy priority-setting process already complete, issue committees focused on in-depth strategizing and planning around successful farm bill campaigns, as part of NSAC’s collaborative, grassroots approach to policy advocacy. As the Farmers for Climate Action: Rally for Resilience fast approaches, the meeting was also a chance for members to connect and organize for the rally.   

NSAC members also assessed the coalition’s commitment to racial equity in our Racial Justice Committee (RJC) and racial affinity caucusing. Facilitators from Rested Root Corp guided this session on methods of accountability and tracking progress to ensure that racial justice is present in all aspects of the coalition’s work.

Secretary Vilsack Addresses NSAC’s Membership

In addition to a packed schedule of breakout sessions, United States Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack joined for an address that detailed the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) work under the Biden-Harris Administration to strengthen local food systems, diversify supply chains, and build economic opportunities for rural communities. 

Secretary Vilsack addresses NSAC members

“There’s a better opportunity for us to move away from the limited option where the focus is primarily on productivity,” said Secretary Vilsack. “To create a system that is not only productive, but also profitable. Not for a few, but for many if not most. A system that is not only productive and profitable, but also sustainable and resilient.” 

Bringing Our Perspectives to Capitol Hill

This year, strategically gathering in Washington, DC, for our winter meeting gave members the valuable opportunity to meet with Congressional leaders and USDA officials. With nearly 100 visits packed into one day, members from across the country met with legislators to advocate for the programs and policy reforms necessary for a sustainable, climate-friendly food system grounded in racial justice. As Members of Congress draft the language for the 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization, the timing for these hill visits was crucial. 

Many members joining the lobby day organized state cohorts to meet with their legislators. For example, a contingent of members from New Mexico met with Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-03) and his office to ensure that the 2023 farm bill improves access to programs for BIPOC producers and infrastructure for small meat processing.

NSAC members from New Mexico meet with Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-03)

“The obstacle has been navigating the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) language. We are frontline communities,” said Helga Garcia-Garza, Executive Director of Agri-Cultura Network and board member of the Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA (RAFI-USA), an NSAC member. “We don’t have access to professional grant writers. USDA interprets our language a certain way, we interpret their language a certain way, and then the grant goes nowhere.” 

“Corporate consolidation has really favored Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) and large operations. I spoke primarily about the issue of the lack of small meat processing plants,” said Rachel Saum, livestock farmer at Polk’s Folly Farm. “Since I’ve been in New Mexico, farmers have talked to me a lot about how that’s a big thing they have struggled with.” 

Nurturing our Network

NSAC members and partners gather for a Happy Hour

NSAC’s 2023 winter meeting was not only a chance for members to strategize and meet with Congressional leaders. There was also ample time to enjoy each other’s company and strengthen relationships within the coalition.

Many of the winter meeting attendees received the college dorm experience as they stayed on-site at the Kellogg Conference Hotel at Gallaudet University. Coalition members shared meals together, assembling buffet-style plates in the foyer before drifting into the ballroom to talk through endless topics, sharing glimpses of their stories. Moments of connection continued before and after breakout sessions, filling the space with laughter, theories of change, and their motivations for this work in the food and agriculture movement. 

A trivia night encouraged meeting attendees to come together and test their knowledge about NSAC’s member base, the many acronyms used in coalition calls, well-recognized figures in the food and agriculture movement, and more. The competitive spirit at trivia revealed that NSAC  coalition members are not only highly knowledgeable about the history of NSAC and the broader food and agriculture movement, but they have a drive to win, especially when a prize of their very own NSAC strapback hat is on the line. 

Following the meeting’s formal closing and lobby day, NSAC hosted a happy hour for meeting attendees and external partners to network and build relationships. Attendees gathered to celebrate the achievements of 2022 and kick off the 2023 Farm Bill year with colleagues working to guarantee that the bill is grounded in racial justice, climate-friendly agriculture practices, and ensuring access to nutritious, equitable food for all.

The Road Ahead

NSAC’s annual winter meeting provides members and staff the valuable opportunity to connect, coordinate campaigns, and build collective power. This year’s gathering filled the membership with renewed strength from the knowledge shared. 

Heading into the 2023 Farm Bill year, the coalition will carry this energy forward toward our goal of strengthening local food systems, conserving natural resources, and empowering the next generation of farmers through the programs and policy reforms for which we advocate. NSAC deeply appreciates our coalition members for their shared dedication to advancing our collective vision of sustainable agriculture. The strength of our base has been instrumental in solidifying NSAC’s presence as a leader in sustainable agriculture policy for more than 30 years. 

The post AG-VOCATES ASSEMBLE: NSAC 2023 WINTER MEETING RECAP appeared first on National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

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