National Organic Coalition Fly-In Recap

NOFA-VT was in Washington, DC last week advocating with other organic stakeholders from around the country for a farm bill that supports organic farmers, a healthy planet, and a just, equitable food system. Our trip was part of the National Organic Coalition's (NOC) annual fly-in, where members of the coalition take to Capitol Hill to meet with their Representatives and Senators (or their staff). Over the course of the week, coalition members met with 50 different members of Congress to share NOC's priorities for the next farm bill. 

NOC is unique in that it has members from every sector of the organic supply chain. Farmer organizations, organic certifiers, retailers, environmental advocates, consumer welfare groups, and organic food companies all took part in last week's fly-in.

This collection of interests across the organic sector coming together is powerful. At NOFA-VT, we are often speaking to policymakers about the needs of organic farmers - and that perspective alone is incredibly important. But when we can demonstrate how the needs of organic farmers directly align and overlap with those of people buying organic food, our power grows significantly. One example of this is our work to promote organic integrity: organic farmers here in Vermont want a level playing field in the way organic regulations are implemented across the country, and organic consumers want to know that the organic products they buy were produced in ways that meet their expectations for ecological and human health.

This year I was honored to have Melanie Harrison, an organic dairy producer from Addison, Vermont, join me in DC. Melanie and her husband Patrick own Harrison's Homegrown and ship milk from their jersey herd to Organic Valley. During the fly-in, Melanie was able to speak directly to members of Congress, including Vermont's own Senator Peter Welch and Congresswoman Becca Balint, about how improving data collection for organic dairy farms (a priority of NOC's for the next farm bill) would directly benefit her farm and many others like it. Stories from farmers like Melanie are so important, and help bring home exactly why the policy change we push for is so needed on the ground.

We met as a full group with two of our biggest organic champions in Washington - Vermont Senator Peter Welch, and Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who is herself a long-time organic farmer. We heard about the challenges of writing and passing a new farm bill in a deeply divided Congress, and how Democrats are holding the line on maintaining funds for conservation practices through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) while also protecting SNAP from proposed cuts, while Republicans are seeking to raise prices paid to farmers through certain commodity payments. For all those wondering when we will have a new farm bill, unfortunately, the answer is still "wait and see."

A smaller group stuck around until Friday to meet with officials within USDA's National Organic Program. We thanked them for their work to get important organic rules finalized in recent years, and emphasized that organic farmers simply can't wait a decade into the future for loopholes like the one addressed by the Origin of Livestock (OOL) rule to be closed. 

I'm grateful for opportunities like this one for NOFA-VT to work in partnership with organizations and individuals from around the country who share our vision for a food system that invests in our farmers and rural communities, rather than extracting from them. Visiting Washington is always a good reminder of just how important (and often unheard) voices of those impacted directly by policy choices are – and of course, it's always good to be home.