Writing about sustainable agriculture and food can be a depressing job. I regularly have to research legal hurdles farmers face, multi-million-dollar GMO labeling fights, new diseases wiping out livestock herds and other difficult subjects. But there’s a silver lining: For just about every one of these topics, there’s an organization working toward a positive outcome for the sustainably minded among us. Additionally, agricultural groups publish educational materials and host events so we can continue to improve our farms. For all of these organizations, I’m supremely thankful.
Having just attended the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference and met leaders from several of these groups, I’d like to introduce you to eight you might like to get to know better.
When there’s a farm versus public/government controversy, FARFA is probably involved. This organization works nationally to support independent farmers and a productive food system, focusing on policy development for local, diversified agricultural systems. Some of the issues FARFA gets involved with include raw milk legislation, the Farm Bill, animal identification systems and right-to-farm laws.
Good food, clean water and the protection of natural resources for everyone are FAWW’s concerns. These large topics encompass sustainable energy production, industrial farming practices, food safety, water-system privatization and more. Only around since 2005, FAWW directs grassroots advocacy, produces films for consumers, and compiles guides and fact sheets for each of the issues it works with.
When I first looked for a sustainable-farming apprenticeship, I turned to the NCAT apprenticeship listings. The options outlined were overwhelming—and it isn’t even their main focus. NCAT hosts the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service—called ATTRA, confusingly enough—which offers educational guides for pretty much any sustainable-farming subject you can imagine. There are fact sheets, webinars, farmer profiles, disaster-assistance links, marketing tutorials, organic seed and feed supplier lists, and way more. Some of the publications are available for a fee (most are free), but if you don’t have the means to purchase these guides, the organization will try to work with you to make them available.
If you read one of my blog entries and it has something to do with federal farm policy (like the Farm Bill or the Food Safety Modernization Act), it probably also has something to do with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. This organization works with grassroots groups, develops public-education campaigns and makes itself known in government offices in Washington to create a better outlook for sustainable agriculture in this country. While sustainable farmers don’t have the lobbying power that the industrial-farming complex has, we do have organizations like NSAC getting to know our legislators and guiding individuals like you to become involved in the system. I did a fun video with NSAC and the Rural Advancement Foundation International (explained below) about contacting your legislators—look for it in an upcoming News Hog blog entry!
Don’t let this name fool you—the National Young Farmers Coalition is for farmers of all ages who are just starting out. (I’m a member!) It’s also for anyone who wants to help support these farmers in this crazy-difficult endeavor. Land access, a student-loan-forgiveness campaign, training and farm-credit resources, and other great things are all happening here.
I go to a lot of conferences, and I hear a lot of speakers, but the speakers from RAFI are always among my favorite. Because I’m an ag-issues blogger (see complaints at top of post), I have to go to conference sessions that I’d rather not go to. I want to hear about organic goat dairies, not Farm Bill funding allocation. Alas, to the Farm Bill sessions I go, and I’m relieved when RAFI speakers are there.
This group works on creating policies and programs to benefit the small-scale, sustainable farmer and sustainable food systems—particularly for North Carolina and the Southeast, but also nationally and internationally. RAFI works directly with farmers as well as with policy makers and is called upon to help shape legislation and agricultural-program reform.
As the name implies, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education is an organization dedicated to sustainable-ag research and education. They offer grants for on-farm research projects; educational programs based on the results of these grants; and books, bulletins and fact sheets that get down deep into the roots of sustainable farming. No worries if you’re not in the South! Every region has a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education group.
SSAWG—the host of the most recent conference I attended—works with farmers, consumers and communities for an ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just and humane food and farming system. The annual conference is one event that does just that, plus the organization works in cooperation with other groups to offer training programs, virtual farm tours and ag-policy alerts for everyone’s benefit. There’s also a Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group and a Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.
One organization not mentioned here is the cooperative extension. There were several state extensions represented at the SSAWG conference, but I’m guessing you already know all about yours.
I hope you’ll get involved as a member or supporter of some of these groups! The food- and farm-policy work they do is stuff we can’t accomplish as individual farmers, and the education and training they offer can change your farming life.