Farmers Descend on Capitol Hill

Posted on Tuesday, November 21st, 2017 by Guest Blogger

California Organic Farmer Javier Zamora Makes the Case for Farmer Training Programs

CalCAN is a member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) who recently organized a “farmer fly-in” in Washington DC to discuss the farm bill with members of Congress. With the support of CalCAN, farmer Javier Zamora attended from California.

Farmers know that when it comes to policymaking, if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on it. In order to make sure that the voices of family farmers and their communities are heard as Congress debates the 2018 Farm Bill, Javier Zamora of JSM Organic Farms in Watsonville, CA joined 19 other farmers and food advocates as part of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) “farmer fly-in” last week.

“Farmers are at the front lines when it comes to farm bill advocacy,” said Greg Fogel, NSAC Policy Director, “but the farm bill isn’t just important to farmers. The farm bill will impact every single one of us in a profound way. If you eat, this is something you should be getting involved in.”

On Wednesday, November 8th Zamora – who is both the owner operator of JSM Organic Farms, as well as a board member of the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) – took time away from his family, employees, and farm to come to DC and speak with key California Members of Congress: Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Representatives Jeff Denham (R-CA), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), James (Jimmy) Panetta (D-CA), and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Zamora also joined a group of growers who met with the office of Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to discuss their 2018 Farm Bill priorities.

“With all the work I have to do on the farm, I really don’t have time to come to DC and do this,” said Zamora, “but I feel like it’s a must-do to give back to my community by advocating for the programs and resources that will help other current and future farmers succeed. My goal for being here is to engage with the folks making decisions about food and farm policy in Congress, and to let them know what’s needed.”

Javier Zamora speaking at CalCAN’s 2017 Summit

Javier Zamora has had a lifelong love affair with agriculture, one that started in Mexico on his family’s farm and continues today in central California. At age seven, while going to middle school in Michoacán, Mexico, Zamora got his first taste of farm management at the school’s garden. Much later in life, after Zamora had moved with his family to California, he would find the opportunity to return to the land thanks to a farmer-training program. The Farmer Education and Enterprise Development (FEED) Program that helped Zamora get his start was led by ALBA, and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers (“Section 2501”) program.

“I started in 2012 with virtually nothing,” said Zamora. “Thanks to the skills and resources I got from the FEED program, I’ve been able to build my business into a 100-acre operation that supports dozens of employees. Today, farmers just getting started come to me for advice. I help a lot of farmers directly by sharing my experiences and through my work with ALBA, but I can help many more by ensuring that programs like BFRDP and Section 2501 are around for future generations of aspiring farmers.”

For decades, Section 2501 has served as the only farm bill program dedicated to addressing the specific needs of minority farmers, and was recently also expanded to also serve military veterans. The program helps institutions and nonprofits provide critical resources, outreach, and technical assistance to support historically underserved producers.

BFRDP is a broader beginning farmer and rancher program that supports a range of projects, including: financial and entrepreneurial training, mentoring, and apprenticeship programs; “land link” programs that connect retiring farmers and landowners with new farmers; vocational training and agricultural rehabilitation programs for veterans; and education, outreach, and curriculum development activities to assist beginning farmers and ranchers.

“The 2018 Farm Bill should be on every farmer’s mind right now,” said Fogel. “This single legislative package has the power to shape the face of American agriculture for many years to come, so we’re especially grateful that these 20 farmers and advocates took the time to be here in person to speak with legislators about their needs and the needs of their communities.”

As part of their efforts to support beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, NSAC and Zamora are calling for increased investment in Section 2501 in the 2018 Farm Bill. The program suffered severe funding cuts in the 2014 Farm Bill and needs permanent baseline funding to serve its stakeholders. They also requested support for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (BFROA), which was recently introduced by Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE). BFROA will help to better facilitate the transfer of skills, land, and resources between current and future generation of producers, ensuring that our next farm bill is a farm bill for the future.

“I feel that we accomplished a lot today,” said Zamora. “We informed the Congress Members about what’s going on, and we asked for their support. It’s great to see how my relationships with some of the Members have grown since my first fly-in in 2016. I’m proud to be the one who makes them see what farmers like me do, and teaches them what they can do in D.C. to support us.”

Zamora has also worked with USDA conservation and organic-focused programs on his farm, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. NSAC would like to thank the members of their California Caucus for sponsoring Zamora’s participation in this fly-in event.

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