This week over 60 independent family farmers and ranchers from 24 states met with their legislators in Washington to share their stories and urge Congress to restore funding for critical sustainable agriculture programs and pass a farm bill that advances the sustainability of agriculture, rural communities, food systems, and natural resources.

Faced with an expiring farm bill last year, Congress on New Year’s Eve passed a short-term measure that extends parts of the bill through September 2013 – but this last-minute extension left dozens of critical sustainable agriculture programs stranded without funding. Congress has the opportunity to fix this situation this spring through the Continuing Resolution, and farmers nationwide are urging them to take action.

Mac Stone of Elmwood Stock Farm in Georgetown, KY, is among those farmers making the trip to Washington. Stone has been farming for over 30 years and currently produces certified organic beef, poultry, lamb, eggs, and produce on over 300 acres of sustainably managed land. He is speaking with legislators about the value of conservation and sustainable agriculture programs both for his farm’s success and for other farmers in Kentucky and around the nation. Stone says, “a little bit of investment has spurred so much growth of our business.”

Stone believes that this “little bit of investment” in programs like the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program – which helps farmers afford the annual cost of organic certification – can make a huge difference in helping farms grow and succeed.

Farmers are meeting with over 100 legislators to help them understand how farm bill programs – particularly those left without funding – affect their farms and their communities. They will urge Congress to restore funding for key programs that boost rural economic development, leverage local initiatives, and support future American farmers in the Continuing Resolution that it debates in March. They will also advocate for passage of a new five-year farm bill that:

·      Invests in young farmers and ranchers by funding programs and improving policies that support beginners, and removing barriers that deter entry into farming.

·      Increases economic opportunity for farmers, food businesses, and rural communities by investing in the development and growth of local and regional food systems.

·      Improves natural resource protection and rewards farmers for good stewardship by increasing investment in and improving voluntary conservation programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Conservation Reserve Program, and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

·      Brings fiscal responsibility and transparency to farm policy by targeting commodity and crop insurance subsidies to working farmers and tying subsidies to basic stewardship practices.

Farmer Janet Aardema, who is also participating in the fly-in, is just starting her farming career – she and her husband just finished their third season operating Broadfork Farm in Chesterfield, VA. She and her husband have been able to access hands-on skill building workshops in Virginia thanks to the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which is currently languishing without funding.

“Our farm is a business,” she says. “Programs like BFRDP help us make strategic decisions and respond to growing demand for our products.”

Farmers are in Washington this week from 24 states, including:  Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin.