The National Healthy Soils Policy Network is composed of organizations that advocate for state-level healthy soils policies with farmers and ranchers at the center. Since CalCAN originally convened this group in 2018, we’ve grown significantly, in both scope and representation across the country and we’ve now hired a coordinator, Margot Riphagen, to better support Network members. I sat down with Margot, who has nearly two decades of organizing experience under her belt, primarily as a health care labor organizer, to discuss this leap into a very different subject matter. I wanted to know what excites her most about soils and the Network.
Becca: You’re a career organizer. What made you want to switch from health care spaces into soils and climate change?
Margot: I’ve been organizing since 2003, building people-centered movements to create long-term sustainable change in health care spaces and workers, but I’ve never had the opportunity to dip my feet in this world. I was drawn towards health care because, similarly to agriculture and climate, it’s about meeting the baseline needs of our population. As the coordinator and working with organizers across the country, I’m excited about figuring out how to organize in this space and I’ve found that organizing is organizing. The subject matter may change, but mechanisms are normally all the same, no matter what you’re doing.
B: What most excites you about this space?
M: After organizing on the ground in over 30 states, I have a deep understanding of different legislative processes, policy change and social change, but this space of soil and climate is new to me. So, I think where I bring an interesting perspective is the experience in mobilizing people to create real change and applying all my lessons learned in moving policy all over the country while learning about the ins and outs of soil health. There is so much untapped potential in this work.
B: What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned while digging into this space?
M: Soil as a solution to climate change is both pragmatic and visionary, so in my organizer brain, it hits the sweet spot of something that real people want to do, that farmers and ranchers actually want to work on. It is a real solution that I find inspiring when thinking about mobilizing the general public and creating education around it. The solution is connected to improving work already happening on the ground. How do we change that narrative? How do we take all this work happening across the country and bring it to our legislators to enact policy change in a way that is people-based?
B: How do we change the narrative for the public?
M: The place to start is with what the network members are doing – enacting solutions on a small scale while working to change policy on the state level. It’s going to require the conversations that our farmers and ranchers are already having about extreme weather changing not only their daily practices but also impacting their communities. It’s making the connection between people who are already thinking about and going to be impacted by climate change, but maybe not thinking about soil health, with those who don’t even think about climate change. It’s building a new narrative about what people care about locally to communicate the importance of these pragmatic solutions – if it’s not climate change, then it’s resilient local food systems or something else.
B: What are you learning about network members?
M: There is no one-size-fits all for soil health policy or how to approach it. We have to learn from each out about things that go well but the Network also is a great opportunity to learn from our failures. All network members are different but there is a lot of commonality between members and we have to talk about the good and the bad. I’m most excited about the states that were unable to pass legislation this past cycle (mainly because the pandemic and economic challenges made it hard to move bills) but have positioned themselves to be able to move it in further years.
Policy leads to tangible changes on the ground, but in order for those changes to take root we have to organize between legislative sessions and sometimes it takes not passing the bill to make that change, because you have to do even more work on the ground. If you fail you have to try so much harder, which means you have to engage more people, which means the change is going to stick. In the organizing space more than other spaces, failure can be a better opportunity for growth than anything else because you have to go broader and really solidify what you’re trying to push.
Learn more about the network and say hi to Margot here!