As the Oregon legislature nears the end of its 2023 session, there are several bills affecting small farmers that need your help to get over the finish line successfully. (Click on the action link at the end of each item.)
Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (HB 3366):This bipartisan program, known as OAHP, helps farmers and ranchers protect their land while keeping it in production, supports rural communities, and helps Oregon leverage unprecedented federal funding. In the first grant cycle, OAHP protected more than 12,400 acres of working land across Oregon. The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) requested $10.8 million in grant and administrative funding for the 2023-2025 biennium, but that funding was not included in the Governor's budget. Contact your legislators today and ask them to support this program at the link below.
Healthy Soils Bill (HB 2998): This bill leverages federal funding and existing programs to expand resources to support farmers and ranchers with soil health practices that make the most sense for their land and businesses. The Healthy Soils Bill is important in meeting the needs of farmers and ranchers, and addressing the climate crisis. We are at a critical time in the legislative session where funding for many bills, including the Healthy Soils Bill, is being determined. Your advocacy right now could make a real difference for the success of this bill so please contact key legislators to urge them to fund the Healthy Soils Bill.
Canola Bill (SB 789): In a parliamentary move attempting to waylay this bill, the House Ag Committee held a work session resulting in this being moved to the House Rules Committee instead of going to the House Floor for a vote. It is more important than ever that constituents make their voices heard to get this bill passed in this legislative session. We need to maintain the current 500-acre canola cap in the Willamette Valley in order to protect brassica specialty seed production.
Support for Farmers Transitioning to Organic (SB 1058):Oregon is ideally situated to be a leader in the rapidly growing organic industry, which surpassed $60 billion in 2022, but will need to make both public and private investments in order to fully actualize this opportunity. Organic farmers are subject to third party verification, rigorous certification processes, and federal standards that mandate practices which, among other benefits, creates the healthy soils found on organic farms. Certification takes three years and is a considerable economic burden on organic farmers that conventional farmers are not subject to. Given the triple bottom line benefits organic can bring Oregon, investments in organic farming and transitioning to organic are smart policy moves.
I got to talk to farmers like Betsy Harrison of Valley Flora Farm near Bandon, who with her two daughters grows the organic u-pick strawberries that are eagerly anticipated up and down the coast. Down around Elkton is Estill Farms, where Paula Estill grows both organic and conventional blueberries—and if you don't have time to pick your own you can pick some up from her at the Florence Farmers Market on Tuesday afternoons. And in early fall there are the region's famous cranberries, available fresh in October and November at farm stands and area farmers markets.
Local foraging expert Jesse Dolin said not to forget the wild bounty of the region, listing evergreen huckleberries, salal berries, blackberries, red elderberries, thimbleberries and salmonberries to be found in campgrounds and along hiking trails in the area. I can taste them already on my griddled pancakes drizzled with maple syrup.
A random discussion with friends brought up the topic of peanut butter and how easy it is to make yourself, and I remembered this post from 2016.
It wasn't exactly like those dreams I used to have about not being able to find my school classroom on exam day. It was more like the moment I realized that the corn cobs I'd been throwing away for years after a big barbecue—even the half-gnawed ones—could be put in a pot, covered with water, brought to a boil and simmered for 20 minutes to make a lovely corn stock. (Ditto for crab shells, fish carcasses…you get the picture.)
But when I found out that making homemade peanut butter took…literally…five minutes start to finish, it was a big head-slapping moment for me. D'oh!
You could also roast your own raw peanuts, of course—in a shallow pan in a 350° oven for 15-20 minutes—but when I can buy organic roasted, unsalted peanuts in the bulk aisle at the store, bring them home and five minutes later have beautiful, tasty, no-added-ingredients, salted-to-my-preference peanut butter? It's a game-changer, at least around here.
It's not even worth writing up an official recipe. Seriously.
Just put the roasted peanuts in a food processor and turn it on, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides, add a half teaspoon of salt at some point—you might want more or less depending on your taste, of course—and maybe a drizzle of vegetable oil toward the end to thin it if necessary, and in five minutes it's done.
A head-slapper, indeed. Here's a quick and easy peanut sauce to use with the snap peas and pea pods that'll be appearing at your farmers' market any minute!
For the peanut sauce: 1/4 c. soy sauce 1/4 c. rice vinegar 1/2 c. light coconut milk 1/2 tsp. salt 2 tsp. peeled fresh ginger 2 cloves garlic 6 Tbsp. peanut butter 3 Tbsp. peanut oil or vegetable oil 3 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil 1/2 tsp. chili oil or 1/2 tsp. red chile flakes 1/2-1 tsp. Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
For the pasta: 1 lb. pasta or 8 oz. buckwheat soba 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil 2 c. sliced snap peas (or other crunchy green things) 1/2 lb. frozen shrimp Cilantro leaves for garnish
Bring large pot of water to boil. While it heats, put all sauce ingredients into bowl of food processor and process until it makes a smooth sauce. When pot of water boils, add pasta and cook till al dente or, for the soba, follow the package directions. While pasta cooks, heat vegetable oil in skillet and sauté peas briefly, then add shrimp. When shrimp turn pink, remove from heat. Drain pasta and put in serving bowl. Add peas and shrimp and half of sauce (the remainder is terrific as a dipping sauce with salad rolls or raw veggies). Toss and garnish with cilantro leaves.
It's the bane of a sourdough aficionado's life: What to do with all the discard? You see, when you get ready to make something with your starter, first it must be fed, which basically means refreshing or “activating” the starter by adding more flour and water for the bacteria to feed on.
When it's all bubbly and ready to go to work, you'll need to save out a bit for your next project down the road, then take out however much you need for the job at hand. That leaves about half of that ready-to-rock starter sitting there staring at you.
Which is why it's so heartbreaking to toss it in the compost. If you're like Dave, it gets added to a vat of old starter that's been sitting in the back of the fridge for weeks getting a black-ish liquid building up on top of it. Not pretty. But there are only so many friends you can gift with starter, and only so many pancakes, waffles, bagels, etc., etc., that one (small) family can reasonably consume.
Thus the (tragic) discard issue.
Fortunately Dave is always on the prowl for recipes using sourdough discard, and is a dedicated fan of theencyclopedic videos and recipes of employee-owned King Arthur Flour—he and their star instructors like Martin (Philip), Gesine (Bullock-Prado) and Jeffrey (Hamelman) are on a first-name basis at this point. Which is where he ran across a recipe for a lusciously decadent chocolate cake that calls for no less than a cup of discarded starter.
He's used both discarded and fresh starter, and whatever organic all-purpose flour we have in the pantry—the recipe also calls for a teaspoon of espresso powder, which we don't have, and it turns out perfectly anyway. It can be baked in a bundt pan (top photo) or a rectangular baking pan, which only needs to be buttered and dusted with flour to come out like a charm.
1 c. (227g) sourdough starter, ripe (fed) or discard 1 c. (227g) milk 2 c. (240g) all-purpose flour 1 1/2 c. (298g) granulated sugar 1 c. (198g) vegetable oil 2 tsp. vanilla extract 1 tsp. fine sea salt 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda 3/4 c. (64g) cocoa powder 2 large eggs
Combine the starter, milk and flour in a large mixing bowl. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours. It won't necessarily bubble, but it may have expanded a bit.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a bundt pan and dust with flour (you can also use a 9" by 13" baking pan).
In a stand mixerat a low-medium setting (or separate bowl if you're doing it by hand), beat together the sugar, oil, vanilla, salt, baking soda and cocoa. The mixture will be grainy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
On the lowest setting of the mixer, gently mix in the starter-flour-milk mixture until smooth. (The recipe says it will be gloppy at first, but the batter will smooth out.)
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the thickest part of the bundt pan comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and set it on a rack to cool. If using a bundt pan, let it cool for 20 minutes before inverting it onto a platter and removing the pan. Allow it to cool completely. (The recipe on the website also has instructions for an icing that can be drizzled over the cake.)
When the recent e-mail from New Seasons Market arrived in my in-box touting its efforts at "digging down to the ground for Earth Day," I looked down the page to see what great companies they might be celebrating. Then I saw under the headline "Dairy Done Right" a photo of a pristine river with this copy:
"We’re on board for a dairy-licious sustainability initiative with Tillamook County Creamery Association and Zero Footprint to create a riparian forest on regional dairy farms within TCCA’s co-op. By replanting unvegetated ground with native species, the project will sequester carbon, protect and improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat."
That's when my head exploded. Why?
While I applaud companies' genuine efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and repair damage to natural systems, this kind of token effort on a few farms in the diminishing membership of the TCCA co-op is the definition of "greenwashing," or "misleading or deceptive publicity disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image."
The vast majority of the milk used in Tillamook's products comes not from cows on farms on Oregon's coast, but from a 70,000-cow industrial factory farm dairy in Boardman, Oregon.
That's because the vast majority of the milk used in Tillamook's products—Tillamook is the commonly referred to name of the TCCA—comes not from cows on farms on Oregon's coast, but from a 70,000-cow industrial factory farm dairy in Boardman, Oregon, among those contributing to a crisis caused by pollution from industrial farms.
“If Tillamook and New Seasons want to sell real dairy ‘done right’ they need to stop sourcing from confinement mega-dairies like Threemile Canyon [Farms], which threaten our climate, clean air and water, and community health," according to Amy Van Saun, Senior Attorney for the Center For Food Safety. "They especially must commit to not contracting with the pending Easterday mega-dairy, which is proposed to reopen the disastrous Lost Valley mega-dairy near Hermiston, where residents are already suffering with a drinking water emergency caused in large part by mega-dairies in the area.”
Recent testing of drinking water from wells that draw from that area's aquifer shows the situation has grown dire. Even households that were fitted with reverse-osmosis filters designed to filter out nitrates were shown to have levels of the pollutant "between 29 parts per million to nearly 48 parts per million—up to nearly five times the federal safe limit" according to an article in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.
In the same article, it quotes the technician who called with the test results from the six samples tested as asking, "No one is drinking this, right?"
Because of the extreme levels of nitrate pollution in the groundwater, mostly from agricultural sources, Morrow County has declared an emergency and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering using its emergency authority to intervene in the region.
When you think Tillamook, think factory farms.
Tarah Heinzen, Legal Director of Food and Water Watch has advice for shoppers: “When you think Tillamook, think factory farms. Behind the company’s sustainability claims and idyllic images of family farms is a harsh reality: most of Tillamook’s milk comes from the state’s largest mega-dairy, raising tens of thousands of cows in confinement.
"This factory farm is a dirty operation, regularly violating state air quality laws and contributing heavily to the climate crisis," Heinzen adds. "Oregonians know better and are demanding better, backing multiple bills in Salem to rein in destructive factory farms [see NOTE below]. Oregonians have the right to know the truth behind their food. And the truth is, there is nothing green about Tillamook.”
In addition, the TCCA is the subject of a class action lawsuit on behalf of consumers who are alleging that Tillamook violated Oregon's strict Unfair Trade Practices Act, claiming that most of the cooperative’s milk is produced by cows confined in an “industrialized dairy factory” in Morrow County, rather than living on small family farms with access to pastures in Tillamook County as the company advertised.
NOTE: Two bills addressing factory farms have advanced out of the Senate Natural Resources committee of the Oregon Legislature and are headed for the Rules Committee before going to the floor for a vote. One is a temporary moratorium on new or expanded facilities (SB 85), the other is for a package of reforms that is still in process (SB 398).
Something I love to do is mix up a batch of cornbread to accompany a big pot of soup or stew. As simple as it is to make, it doesn't always happen because it's even easier to slice off a few hunks of the fabulous sourdough bread that Dave cranks out like clockwork every couple of weeks. But there's nothing more satisfying than throwing some simple ingredients in a bowl, giving them a few gentle turns by hand and pouring it into a pie pan and pulling it out of the oven just before ladling out the soup.
I love cornmeal ground from organic flint corn with its rustic flecks of red, orange and yellow, and recently I've found a substitute for my beloved Ayers Creek Farm Roy's Calais Flint. Called Floriani Red Flint and grown by Fritz Durst of Tule Farms in Capay, California, it's a rich organic corn flour ground in Junction City by Camas Country Mill. (Read more and find links to purchase it.)
Of course, you can also use regular cornmeal for this recipe, but whichever you choose, and whatever form you choose to make it in—it's wonderful as a loaf, in a round cake or pie tin, or even muffins—definitely give this a try with your next pot of soup.
1 c. flour 1 c. cornmeal 3 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. salt 1 c. milk or buttermilk 2 Tbsp. melted butter 2 eggs 1 c. sharp cheddar cheese 1 roasted green chile, chopped (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°.
In large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Stir in milk and melted butter. Add eggs, cheese and chile (if using). Grease and flour baking pan or muffin tin. Pour in batter. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
NOTE: You can also add cumin, a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, some chopped green onions or one-third cup drained corn—it's a very flexible recipe!
Gochujang is making an appearance more and more often on our table, ever since my friend Denise shared her family's recipe for the jammy, spicy, deeply umami-esque red pepper paste that is ubiquitous in Korean cooking.
My fascination with it reminds me of the time, years ago, when Mark Bittman would wax poetic in his New York Times columns about Spanish pimentón, confessing in one column that he "may be at the point where I use more pimentón in my cooking than anyone in Spain."
So I was thrilled when my brother, who's not a big fan of Korean cuisine but graciously accepts that I am, was moved to send me a recipe he'd run across in Bon Appétit by Zaynab Issa for a garlic-laden gochujang noodle dish. I'm pretty sure I immediately ran to the cupboard to check on our noodle situation, finding soba noodles but not the mein, udon or ramen specified in the recipe.
Undeterred, I rationalized that the buckwheat noodles would be a hearty counterpoint to the red pepper paste—and that no one would object too strenuously to this detour from a recipe, especially if I didn't mention it. I also didn't have the broccoli rabe called for in the recipe, but I did have carrots, scallions, garlic and frozen peas from the previous summer.
Stirring together the ingredients for the sauce, with a couple of tweaks to the recipe, took just a few minutes. As always, chopping the vegetables took a bit more than that, but fewer ingredients (and those ready-to-cook peas) makes it simpler. A few minutes of sautéing, then pouring in the sauce and mixing in the already-cooked noodles until they were heated through made this easily a less-than-30-minute meal.
Next time I'm going to get some locally made Umi Organic ramen or yakisoba, but dried udon noodles (photo, above right) or even spaghetti would work. Plus it's infinitely adaptable depending on what you find in your veg bin. And adding some oomph by throwing in cubed tofu, or leftover roast chicken, pork or beef wouldn't be a bad idea, either.
The key is in that sauce, which I can see coming in handy for everything from chicken wings to marinades. Stay tuned!
Make your own gochujang from my friend Denise's family recipe. It's easy to do if you have a couple of hours, it makes enough to last for months and is so much more flavorful than store-bought!
For the sauce: 4 Tbsp. gochujang 1 Tbsp. soy sauce 2 Tbsp. light or dark brown sugar 2 Tbsp. tahini (raw sesame butter) 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil 1 Tbsp. fish sauce
For the noodles: 8 oz. dried soba noodles 3 c. chopped vegetables (raab, bok choi, carrots, kale, peas, cabbage, scallions or whatever you have on hand) 6 cloves garlic, chopped fine 1/2 c. stock (chicken, pork or vegetable) 1/2 block cubed tofu and/or 1 c. cooked meat (optional) 1 tsp. sesame seeds for garnish (optional) Cilantro, chopped fine for garnish (optional) 1/2 lime, sliced into wedges, for serving (optional)
Bring water to boil in medium saucepan. Cook noodles for 4 minutes. Drain and rinse under cool running water.
Whisk gochujang, soy sauce, brown sugar, tahini, sesame oil, fish sauce and 2 Tbsp. water in a small bowl to combine; set aside.
Heat vegetable oil in a wok or large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add vegetables and garlic and sauté until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add sauce and cook, stirring often, until thickened slightly, about 2 minutes. Add tofu or cooked meat, if using, then add noodles, tossing gently until heated through, about 1 minute; add stock if it seems too thick. Serve directly from cooking pot or serve individually in bowls, garnishing with sesame seeds and cilantro. Place lime wedges in a bowl on the table for drizzling over servings.
Legislative maneuvering on the part of Oregon's powerful agriculture lobby has killed one bill and basically gutted another since my last Legislative Report.
The Factory Farm Moratorium bill, SB 85-1 (formerly HB 2667), suffered a setback when an amendment was proposed (SB 85-3) limiting the bill to apply only to poultry factory farms, as well as shrinking the moratorium from eight to only two years, not nearly enough time to make the necessary changes to Oregon's laws and regulations. According to one insider, "while the amendment was an attempt by the committee to offer a compromise, industrial interests will never get to neutral on a moratorium, let alone support it, [so the effort] was all in vain."
The 11 mega-dairy facilities operating in the state produce over 17 million kilograms of planet-warming methane every year.
The Lower Umatilla Basin, home to some of the largest operating and proposed mega-dairies in Oregon, suffers from depleted and degraded groundwater with widespread nitrate contamination to drinking water wells, affecting the health of area residents.
Forty years ago, Oregon was home to more than 4,000 dairies, mostly small, family-owned businesses. As factory dairy farms have come to dominate state milk production, just over 200 family-scale dairies remain.
Despite public hearings showing Oregonians are in favor of the moratorium by a 3-to-1 margin, the new amendment basically gutting the intent of the original bill is being promoted as a "compromise" by industrial agricultural interests in the state.
The Canola Protected District (SB 789) bill, which would permanently place restrictions on growing canola within Willamette Valley Protected District, has passed out of committee thanks to the help of citizen action. The Willamette Valley is one of the last regions on earth suitable for large-scale brassica seed production—crops like kale, cabbage, mustard, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kohlrabi—and grows over 90% of the world's supply of many brassica seed varieties.
Canola is a low-value oil seed oil product that can cross-pollinate with brassicas, and because it is mostly a genetically modified (GMO) crop, is particularly dangerous for Oregon's organic seed industry—if organic seed is found to be contaminated from GMO crops, the whole seed crop from the farm can be destroyed, potentially putting it out of business.
The bill will now be sent to the full Senate with a "do pass" recommendation from the committee. More information here.
Raw Milk Sales (HB 2616), the bill to expand small farmers' ability to sell raw milk to the public, was killed in committee by pressure on legislators from large dairy interests, as well as a disinformation campaign targeting legislators at a public hearing regarding the safety of the product.
The bill would have expanded the venues where farms under the micro-dairy exemptions could sell raw milk, to include delivery, at farmers' markets and farm stands if they label the raw milk. The bill would also have legalized the retail sale of raw cow milk and cow milk products to retail stores including butter, cheese and ice cream.
Though the disinformation was refuted by farmers and advocates who cited an internationally accepted product standard to ensure safety, after the hearing the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) issued a surprise ruling that would require farms selling raw cows' milk, most of which have three cows or less, to get a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation certificate from the state, normally a process only required of farms with more than 200 cows. Oddly, Oregon is the only state in the nation whose regulations—and the proposed ODA ruling—only apply to raw milk from cows, not raw milk from goats or sheep. Go figure.
TAKE ACTION:Sign the petition to let legislators know safely produced raw milk should be available to Oregonians.
On this Solstice day, I am trying to think of a spring that I've anticipated more than this one. I'm not sure this winter's waning has been any colder or wetter than any other—remember how farmers couldn't plant their fields last spring because their tractors were getting mired in mud up to their axles? And all the spring vegetables at the markets—asparagus, strawberries—were anywhere from two weeks to a month late.
But, oh my gosh, I'm ready for my spring fix with a particular passion this year, and from what I'm hearing I'm not the only one. Even my favorite produce pusher, Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce, when he spied me filling my basket at Providore the other day, dashed over to nail a date to talk spring things.
When we did manage to sit down, the first topic was brassicas and the raabs, rabes and rapinis they're sprouting with a vengeance, from kale to cauliflower, tatsoi, mustard greens, turnips, bok choy and their many cousins. Look for towering stacks of these inflorescences at farmers' market tables along with their lookalike cousins, kalettes, broccolini and purple sprouting broccoli—sound really cool and call it "PSB"—which are not technically inflorescences but are traditionally bred, distinct hybrids.
Spring roots are also coming on and should be in plentiful supply. Look for piles of hakurei turnips, a rainbow of radishes—French breakfast, white icicle, black radishes and daikons—along with spring carrots.
Alsberg said he's seeing local green garlic and Spanish calçots on local farm lists, but he said spring onions are probably a couple of weeks from appearing at the markets; after that will come the garlic scapes with their twining stems. Herbs like chervil, Italian parsley, dill, sorrel and cilantro should be appearing soon, so get your salsa verde and chimichurri recipes ready. One of my personal favorite greens, arugula, at its peppery, spicy best early in the season, should be here soon, too.
Legume greens have arrived, including pea shoots and fava greens, and coming in mid-April we'll start to see the very first local asparagus, foraged greens like fiddleheads and nettles (top photo), imported ramps and West Coast-grown triangle leeks, so named for their triangle-shaped stems. If you see flowers on those leeks or on the pea shoots and fava greens, Alsberg said they're mighty tasty and terrific in salads or scattered over grilled greens.
If we have a normal spring with no hard freezes or drenching rains, head lettuces should appear in mid-April, but we won't see any local fruit for awhile—local strawberries should be available around Mother's Day (May 14th this year) though Groundwork Organics and Riverland Family Farms (formerly Denison Farms) might have some as early as late April.
As always, Alberg reminds us that if there's a special item you need at the market for that spring dish, the best strategy is to go early because they can sell out quickly—it's not just you and I that are itching for spring!
Michael Guebert (the tall guy on the left, above), who with his wife Linda owns Terra Farma, a multi-species sustainable farm in Corbett, Oregon, went to Washington, DC, last week to lobby Oregon's congressional delegation and participate in a rally called "Farmers for Climate Action: Rally for Resilience." Guebert is a full-time farmer, an elected member of the Board of Directors at the East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District (EMSWCD), a farm mentor for the Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) and an advocate for better state and national policies regarding agriculture. Here is his report:
Let’s start with a simple one-question quiz: Can you name the #1 export from American soil in terms of tons per acre?
You might guess corn, soy, beef, wheat or a myriad of other products, but, in fact, the number one export from American soil is just that—topsoil. Across the nation, our farmland loses an average of over five tons of topsoil per acre every year, and with that, carbon that has been sequestered for generations is lost to the atmosphere and its potential to store carbon in the future could be permanently compromised. The impact from soil disturbance and erosion is a significantly under-reported driver of climate change, but also represents an opportunity. Our ecological systems are resilient, to a point, but the time to act is now, before we meet the proverbial point of no return.
So, in that spirit of resilience, on March 7th and 8th a broad coalition of farmers from across the country converged on Washington, DC, for the “Farmers for Climate Action: Rally for Resilience” and I was honored to be selected to attend. After last year’s Farm Aid concert, board members Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, and Margo Price came up with an idea to recreate the famous tractorcade of 1979 when thousands of farmers from across the country drove their tractors to the nation's capital in the hopes of bringing change to agricultural policy.
In 2023, clogging the streets with farm equipment would be impractical, so Farm Aid worked with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) to bring together all their affiliates and the farmers they work with for a rally and meetings with their senators and representatives. I applied for one of the handful of slots and found out last month that I was selected, and I was so excited for the opportunity, as well as my first-ever trip to Washington, DC.
Can you name the #1 export from American soil in terms of tons per acre?
This year is particularly critical because the farm bill is reauthorized every five years. A new farm bill will be passed before the end of this year, so dozens of similar groups from around the country brought hundreds of farmers to lobby for a farm bill that would reallocate money that is currently going to destructive industrial agricultural practices to instead go to policies that prioritize family farms, climate-friendly practices, and producers that have been socially or economically excluded from previous farm bill benefits.
The events began with a rally just east of the White House at Freedom Plaza where we listened to a speech by one of the organizers of that original tractorcade. (He even brought the tractor he drove here from Texas in 1979!) We also heard many touching stories of the struggles faced by so many in our farm community, like Marielena Vega, a farm worker in Idaho who described the plight of her family and community in the face of low pay, substandard living and working conditions, lack of health care and zero paid leave of any kind. Farm workers have almost always been excluded from policy considerations; it’s time for that to change.
Interspersed with speeches and the moderation of Ray Jeffers, a Black farmer turned newly elected member of the North Carolina legislature, the rally was highlighted by a video link of Willie Nelson and an in-person performance from John Mellencamp. We then took to the streets and, with a police escort, marched the mile-plus to the capital, ending at the front steps of the Supreme Court.
Farm workers have almost always been excluded from policy considerations; it’s time for that to change.
After training by NSAC on how to conduct our scheduled meetings with our congresspeople, we had the remainder of the evening to strategize and refine our message. While I was the only FACT representative from Oregon, I was able to meet up with two other Oregon farmers, Bashira Muhammad of Zoom Out! Mycology in Springfield and Willow from Valhalla Serenity Homestead near Klamath Falls. They were part of a small contingent from the Black farmers of Oregon (and Washington), but since they didn’t have a chance to get any meetings scheduled, I invited them to join me in my meetings in the offices of Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden, and Earl Blumenauer.
In each of the 30-minute meetings we introduced ourselves, reassuring them that we were actual farmers—they seemed to genuinely appreciate seeing actual constituents compared to the typical lobbyists they see day in and day out. We moved on to discuss the challenges farmers face from a changing climate, wildfires, competition from unsustainable industrial ag, and policies that leave out funding for smaller farms like ours.
They seemed especially concerned when I described how we had to give up selling raw milk at Terra Farma because drought, due in part to climate change, has caused the price we pay for hay to double in less than two years. Plus the fact that we had our liability insurance cancelled because we sold raw milk (which is completely legal for us to sell).
Then we moved on to our specific asks: The overarching priority from NSAC is the Agricultural Resilience Act, which focuses on farmer-led climate solutions, racial justice, and communities, not corporations. Two priorities from FACT were the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, which would provide funding to support pasture-based systems like those we use at our farm, and the Strengthening Local Processing Act, to address the critical need for animal processing for independent small farms.
I planted the seed for support for a crazy idea that I have: that Oregon should have its own farm bill.
I also added some of my personal priorities to support the work I do at EMSWCD, like increased funding for easements to protect farmland and dollars to support more urban agriculture. Finally, I planted the seed for support for a crazy idea that I have: that Oregon should have its own farm bill, and the federal farm bill should have funding for any state that wants to create something that is more specific to that state’s needs.
Fortunately, my job in these meetings was easy, as we are incredibly lucky to have the delegation we do here in Oregon; all three of them “get it” and, in fact, they brought up questions about some of the above-mentioned priorities even before I did. I left each of the meetings feeling very positive, though tempering my expectations because I know the reality of federal policy is that change is often incremental and slow. Some of the things we are asking for might not see progress until the next farm bill or two to be fully implemented—but if we don’t ask, the answer will always be no.
I closed each of the meetings with a sentiment I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately: Farming is a public service. But, unlike many other public servants who have job security, a middle-class paycheck, health care, paid vacation and paid sick leave; farmers have none of these things. Additionally, they are burdened with locating and maintaining land that is increasingly out of financial reach for most new farmers. So, even though we are an essential part of every human’s existence, we are burdened with all the risk of providing that sustenance.
Please join me in the effort to not only help climate-friendly agriculture survive, but to thrive. Not everyone is able to go to DC or the state capital to meet with their elected officials, but emails and phone calls are effective. More importantly, though, supporting farms that are employing these practices can do more than just keep a local business afloat. Their success will inspire others to follow in their footsteps, and building this movement from the ground up will undoubtedly affect future policy.
UPDATE: Yesterday the president released his proposal for ag spending for fiscal year 24, and while it increases discretionary funding for the USDA and the Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) program mentioned above, the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative that I wrote about in my story had its funding go from $14 million to zero. This underscores the need for lawmakers to hear from their constituents about the importance of this initiative and to push for a funding level of $50 million per year. Read the NSAC press release. And consider taking action today by asking your Members of Congress to cosponsor the bill.