Over 50 people convened at Keene State College on July 10th for our “Policy on Your Plate” Forum. Policy, planning, government and nonprofit sectors as well as farming, health, education, and community services were represented in the crowd.
Invited speakers Rhett Lamb (City of Keene), Beth Hodge (NH Farm Bureau), Tara Sad (NH House of Representatives, Environment & Agriculture Committee), Bob Hoefner (NH House of Representatives and NH State Grange), and Annette Higby (New England Farmers' Union) presented their experiences with food policy, such as establishing agriculture commissions, conducting policy action alerts, advocating for legislation that supports the local food economy, and working with State and Federal agencies to change food safety regulations that hinder the growth of small farms. Participants worked in groups to develop recommendations for advocacy activities at the Federal, State, and local levels, which included questions and challenges for stakeholders to address in their communities, and for MFCC address as a coalition.
The Forum covered several policy and planning initiatives currently underway. In the City of Keene, a nascent Agriculture Commission has been moving toward an alliance with the Keene Farmers’ Market, supporting the development of more community gardens, and exploring ways to protect agricultural soils. The NH Farm Bureau, which helped preserve the NH Department of Agriculture as its own agency, informs citizens about recent and upcoming legislation related to farm and food policy through its newsletters. The NH House Environment & Agriculture Committee recently passed legislation to allow dairy farmers to sell up to 20 gallons of raw milk and related products directly to consumers from the farm or at farmers’ markets, and is currently working on legislation to allow farmers to sell their chickens to NH restaurants, and to have them inspected by a NH inspection program instead of the USDA. The New England Farmers’ Union (NEFU), acting on behalf of the six New England states, has been advocating for a Farm Bill that makes sense for smaller scale and seasonality of New England farms.
The Forum also served to connect MFCC’s Strategic Plan with the work of its member organizations and stakeholders. One of the goals identified by MFCC’s Steering Committee is to advocate for policy in support of its mission and vision. This includes promoting the development of Agriculture Commissions in towns within the Monadnock Region, and strengthening advocacy work nationally, state-wide, and locally.
The July Forum provided an opportunity for MFCC and community members to meet and interact with advocacy leaders in food and farm policy, and produced a targeted list of implementation activities. The list includes State-level advocacy activities, such as educating MFCC members on the legislative process, establishing a Policy Committee, and creating a speakers bureau of local policy advocates.
It also includes Federal-level activities such as reviewing the NEFU candidate survey to understand where candidates stand on farm and food policy, determining a process to hold policy makers accountable to advocating for policies that are supportive of local agriculture, and keeping members up-to-date on federal legislation by sharing information from the presenting organizations and others.
And it includes locally-based activities to support Agriculture Commissions, such as creating a regional Agriculture Commission or networking between Commissions, and increasing awareness of local resources (Cheshire County Conservation District, soil survey maps, interns from local universities, etc.)
Attendees reported on their member organizations' recent milestones and initiatives currently underway. Sarah Harpster was recently hired as the gleaning coordinator for the Keene Community Kitchen, and Hazel Gershfield organizing the gleaning effort in Hillsborough County with support from The Cornucopia Project. Jen Risley from Monadnock Food Co-op is organizing a kick off showing of A Place at the Table, an advocacy tool for hunger issues. Nancy McGartland, the new Double-Up Veggie Bucks coordinator, put out a call for volunteers to staff a booth at the Keene Farmers' Market, and Linda Rubin of Cheshire Medical Center reported on the Champions program, which promotes nutrition education and healthy foods in schools, among other health and nutrition initiatives in the Monadnock Region.