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Farmers to the Rescue

by Josh Vincent — last modified May 23, 2011 03:40 PM
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Organic farmers converge on the Capitol in a fight to preserve the nation's organic programs.

Farmers in DC
Organic farmers storm congress, courtesy of NSAC

Last month, when he could have been in the field preparing to plant his spinach, organic farmer Jim Bronec was headed to Washington, DC. He had been there once before as a teenager to see the sights, but this was to be a different kind of trip.
Investing in an infrastructure for sustainable agriculture is essential if we are to ensure a future that offers both environmental quality and plentiful, healthy food. This is true not just for the northwest, but for the entire country and the world. Yet sadly, funds for organic programs make up less than one percent of the overall USDA budget. More upsetting is the fact that this already small portion of the federal budget has been further diminished by drastic budget cuts in 2011.

Securing funds that will allow organic programs to continue in 2012 has become a serious priority for organic farmers like Jim Bronec. It’s also a priority for NCAP and our partner groups. That's why, as a member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), we helped Bronec travel to Washington, DC to meet with some of the decision makers who will determine next year's budgets.
Bronec is a certified organic farmer from Canby, Oregon. He’s been producing organic squash, pumpkins, spinach and clover seed on his 50-acre Praying Mantis Farm for the last 15 years. The farm has been in his family for three generations. Because of grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE), Bronec has been able to take part in cover cropping studies with researchers at Oregon State University. He is also enrolled in a cost-sharing program with USDA to reduce some of the expenses from the organic certification process. As a farmer who utilizes USDA’s organic programs, Bronec knows firsthand what’s at stake. He was eager to meet with his congressmen in person, “There are cuts happening all over the place, so I wanted to make sure my legislators knew how people depended on these programs. I wanted to put a human face on it.”
While in DC, Bronec had meetings with Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and with staff from the offices of Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkely (D-OR). He also had an opportunity to connect with other organic farmers. “I met farmers from California, Arkansas, Maine and Nebraska who were there for the same purpose,” Bronec said. “It was great for us to have an opportunity to truly educate our elected officials about these programs. It was a worthwhile trip. Washington is definitely a place of power.”
Like many, Bronec admits to being frustrated by the fact that organic programs are being slashed while certain other, much larger expenses are not being discussed. But he also says the only solution is to be heard, and to let your legislators know what’s important.
“It’s all about priorities,” he says. “What are we going to prioritize? Sustainable agriculture and land conservation? Poor farming techniques? War? The only way to set our national priorities straight is to contact your lawmakers. You don’t have to go to DC to do it, you can catch their ear any way you can, but they need our input.”