Monday, August 09, 2010

Policy Workshops for Organic Farmers coming to Massachusetts, Nebraska and California

JoelLooking to add to your summer to-do list, or help an organic grower with his or hers? Here's an idea: take a few minutes to alert your organic farming friends and acquaintances to an upcoming series of workshops designed to explain how organic growers can apply to serve on State Technical Committees or Local Working Groups, and why it's crucially important that they do so.
The 2008 Farm Bill contains several provisions that expand federal support for organic agriculture, especially around conservation and natural resource issues. Successful implementation of these new organic provisions requires the expertise of those who best understand why and how the new provisions matter - organic farmers and ranchers themselves! For this reason, we're urging organic producers to share their expertise by serving on their State Technical Committee (STC) and/or Local Working Group (LWG).

Want to learn more? Workshops on how to participate on STCs and LWGs will be held at key locations and conferences around the country in August and November.

  • The first occurs at the Northeast Organic Farming Association's (NOFA's) summer conference in Amherst, Massachusetts, August 13-15. The NOFA workshop, called "Growing Organic in USDA Conservation Programs," is being held this Friday, August 13th from 4:00-5:30, and put on by Farm Aid partners the Center for Rural Affairs and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Farm Aid's Alicia Harvie will be in attendance, and can be contacted for more details via email.
  • Another workshop on STC and LWG participation will be held at Ponca State Park in Ponca, Nebraska, on Monday, August 23rd. For more information on this one, contact Traci Bruckner at the Center for Rural Affairs at (402) 687-2100 or tracib@cfra.org.
  • Finally, in November, a third workshop will be held, this time in Davis, California, at the UC Davis Agriculture and Natural Resources Building. The date and time for this workshop is TBA, so stay tuned.
Meanwhile, here's a primer to get you started.

State Technical Committees serve in an advisory capacity to the Natural Resource Conservation Service and other USDA agencies, providing information, analysis, and recommendations directly to USDA officials. These recommendations significantly shape the way federal conservation programs are prioritized and managed within the state and how dollars are allocated to pay for these activities. Since 1996, STCs have been required to include producers who represent the variety of crops and livestock raised within the state, including the increasing number and diversity of organic producers. What this means is that organic producers throughout the country have a greater chance than ever of serving on STCs and advocating for organic interests.

Organic producers can also serve on Local Working Groups. LWGs are, in effect, localized subcommittees of the STC charged with providing recommendations on local natural resource issues and criteria for conservation activities and programs. Serving on an LWG gives organic producers the chance to share their expertise on land, soil, and water stewardship in their region.

Interested organic producers (or groups, including sustainable and organic farming organizations and conservation groups) should submit a request directly to the NRCS State Conservationist in your state. Requests should explain your interest and outline your relevant credentials for membership. Contact information for your State Conservationist can be found on your state's NRCS website. Visit www.nrcs.usda.gov to find a link to your state's NRCS website.

Also, a new handbook, "A Guide for Organic Farmers and Ranchers to Participating on USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service State Technical Committees and Local Working Groups," will be available soon on the websites of several groups Farm Aid has been working with (thanks to a generous grant from Organic Valley's Farmers Advocating for Organic Fund) to urge organic producers to get involved in shaping USDA policy concerning organic agriculture. You'll be able to download the new "Guide" (and share it with your organic producer friends!) at any one of these sites in the coming months (we'll keep you posted!): National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; Center for Rural Affairs; Organic Farming Research Foundation; Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service; and, of course, Farm Aid.

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