National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Carries Voices of Sustainable Farmers to Washington
October 1, 2012 | Noelle Swan
“If you step back and look at the big picture, there is a major concern with federal agriculture policy that basically directs a lot of money to one type of farming.”
–Susan Prolman, Executive Director, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition strives to serve as a voice for the small, mid-sized, and mixed-use farmer. According to the coalition’s website, their mission is to foster an agricultural environment where “a safe, nutritious, ample, and affordable food supply is produced by a legion of family farmers who make a decent living pursuing their trade, while protecting the environment, and contributing to the strength and stability of their communities.”
Although the NSAC has only existed in its current form since 2009, Prolman says that some iteration of the organization has been around for over 30 years. The current coalition is the result of a merger between the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a farmer-based grassroots organization formed in the wake of the farm crisis of the 1980s and the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, a federal lobbying group established in 1994 to promote sustainable agriculture policy. Over the past four years, NSAC has continued both of those efforts under one umbrella.
Keeping in line with the original missions of the two preceding organizations, the NSAC takes a two-pronged approach to advocacy. Over 90 member organizations connect directly with small and mid-sized farmers at the grassroots level. Prolman’s office in Washington, DC hones their needs and concerns into cohesive talking points to bring to policy makers in Congress and at the USDA.
Prolman says that current federal subsidies and policies tend to support large farms that grow just one crop in a concentrated area. She maintains that smaller, mixed-use farms are more efficient and more adaptable to changes in weather than monocrops. “We support small, mid-sized, and mixed use farms because those are the kind of systems that we think are sustainable.” She adds that those systems do not tend to fair well under current federal agriculture policy.
Prolman says that the coalition and its predecessor organizations have celebrated many successes. “We have helped to create, improve, and keep funding many vital programs,” Prolman says. In 1985, the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition helped to create the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education grants and education program. Today, NSAC continues to lobby for additional funding for this program. In 2002, the coalition helped to develop the Conservation Stewardship Program, which supports agricultural producers electing to conserve a portion of their land. During negotiations for the 2008 Farm Bill, the coalition also helped push through assistance programs for farmers looking to transition into organic farming and maintain organic certification.
Over much of the last year, the coalition has focused on making sure the 2012 Farm Bill addresses the needs of sustainable farmers. The NSAC Farm Bill platform includes several bills that have been kicking around the congressional floor, such as the Rural American Preservation Act, which would divert federal farm payments from so-called, “mega farms” to smaller farms, and the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, which calls for investment in local and regional food markets and infrastructure. The coalition is also continuing to push for programs facilitating market entry for new farmers and has called for full inclusion of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act into the Farm Bill. We are well aware that the average age for a farmer is 57,” Prolman says. “It’s a real problem. There are so many barriers to new people getting into farming.” The Beginning Farmer Act would help new farmers access land, credit, and insurance while providing training and mentoring opportunities.
While the U.S. Senate passed the 2012 Farm Bill in June, it has stalled in the House of Representatives. NSAC continues to press on members Congress to pass the bill before the upcoming November election and urges members of the coalition and others interested in sustainable agriculture to contact their legislators. When the farm bill is finalized, NSAC will be ready and waiting to help communicate to member farmers what the passed language will mean for them and continue to communicate their concerns to Washington.