Movement Building Through Food and Farm Policy

Courtney Hendrix, Communications Specialist

If you were to ask me three years ago what the Farm Bill was, I would tell you that I had never heard of it before. It wasn’t until I came to CFJC in the fall of 2011 that I learned the Farm Bill is the primary piece of legislation that dictates our food and farm policies—providing roughly 90% of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) funding. The nearly trillion dollar omnibus legislation impacts so many aspects of our lives, yet in my experience, the average person has little to no knowledge of what is in the Farm Bill. At CFJC, we see food and farm policy as a tool to engage communities and build a movement, not only for equity in our public policy, but also for transformational change and social justice. Whether it’s holding Kitchen Table Talks, Farm Bill Workshops and presentations, utilizing online and social media to disseminate information, or talking with friends and family, CFJC works to bring the Farm Bill into everyday conversations.

In January, CFJC was invited to the University of San Francisco (USF) to present on the Farm Bill to Public Health graduate students in an Agriculture, Food, and Nutrition course. Walking into the classroom, I first noticed the whiteboard at the front filled with notes from what looked like a rich conversation on the various issues impacting the U.S. food system. Students came to the presentation with a basic idea of what the Farm Bill is, and they were eager to learn more. Being a guest lecturer, or providing a workshop for students, is something the CFJC team will always take the opportunity to do. It’s a chance not just to share our work, but also to build the movement, talk about values, talk about what kind of country we want to leave for our future, and reinforce that they are the leaders who have the power to bring the changes this country needs.

Inevitably, there is always those couple of students who have the “ah-ha” moments; where what we’re saying really clicks with their lived experiences. We see it expressed in different ways. Sometimes they’re nodding their head in agreement, engaging in the conversation, connecting with us after class, or reaching out afterwards. The USF students were no different. Some related the lecture to their personal experiences and knowledge, while others reached out to give thanks and voice their individual commitment to change—by supporting local farmers, learning more about public policy, or sharing the information they learned with a friend. In our work, this is where we see that transformation begins, with the individual. The transformation our country needs won’t happen overnight. But that’s okay because those who have come before us have already laid the foundation. Now, it’s up to us to actualize the kind of society that values all people and our Mother Earth.

The inequities and injustices that divide our country are too overbearing to ignore. People are ready for change, and willing to engage in new and different processes. For example, the GOAT process, which was formed in 2011 at the Community Food Security Coalition’s 15th Annual Conference in Oakland, California. The goal was to work collaboratively across sectors on the 2011-2014 Farm Bill re-authorization process. On January 30-31st, 2014, GOAT participants gathered in Washington DC for their 3rd Annual Convening. This was the first convening I’ve attended, and having less than five years experience in food systems work I deeply valued the dialogue and participation from all who were present.

Personally, the highlight of the convening was the lunch time presentations and dialogue: History of Farm Bill process over last three Cycles, and History of the Farm Bill, Diversity and other Initiatives. On the first day, Ferd Hoefner of National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition talked about the Farm Bill’s programs from a budgetary perspective, providing the monetary “theme” of the last three bills. We finished the session noting the importance of protecting the programs we have in the Farm Bill now. The second day focused on past efforts to create an equitable and inclusive Farm Bill re-authorization process. Civil rights leaders Savi Horn of the Land Loss Prevention Project and John Zippert of the Federation for Southern Cooperatives started the session by sharing their experiences and reflections on previous initiatives and processes. The conversation was insightful and grounding because people allowed themselves to open up and talk about the movement’s strengths and weaknesses, and successes and challenges in advocating for communities of color and low-income communities. For me, the session really hit on the root issues and struggles we have to collectively address—the power dynamics, particularly in the context of race, class, and gender. Recognizing that we all come with our histories and “baggage” and it’s important to honor and own that, while at the same time being committed to work with one another for the greater good.

It’s up to each of us to be and model the change we want to see. The work we have ahead of us won’t be easy, but is necessary. At CFJC, we believe the United States is at a critical moment right now to bring transformational change. I believe the growing interest in food and agriculture across the country provides an opportunity to build the movement for a more just and equitable society for all people.

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CFJC promotes the basic human right to healthy food while advancing social, agricultural, environmental and economic justice. Through advocacy, organizing and education, we collaborate with community-based efforts to create a sustainable food supply. We envision a food system in which all activities, from farm to table, are equitable, healthful, regenerative and community-driven.

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