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Spring for Change: Tell Congress to Prioritize Sustainable Agriculture

We’re getting giddy waiting for spring here on our Wisconsin farm.  From digging in the garden to savoring that first pea tendril, this time of year jump-starts a fresh breeze of energy and optimism for us passionate about healthy food. 

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 people passionate about good food needs to be heard in Washington D.C., particularly this spring when key funding issues will be decided.”

Over the next two months, members of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will be finalizing the list of programs they will champion for fiscal year 2010.  “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.

Here’s what you need to do to cook up some change . . .

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 and Research 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 economic opportunity.  Despite growing demands for these grants, VAPG 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, an enthusiastic gardener of Monroe, Wisconsin in Green County.  I am calling to express my strong support of funding sustainable agriculture during the appropriations process.  Specifically, I want to see  . .. “  Be polite yet personable.  Sharing your food 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 for announcements in your local newspaper.

Pump up your volume and grow support for sustainable agriculture this spring – alongside those peas.

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