Digging Into Farmers Market Policy: How to Use FMC’s Advocate Toolkit

Posted by Jen O'Brien on April 18, 2012
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By Natalie Roper, FMC Research & Education Intern

With the next Farm Bill well under way and legislation affecting farmers markets and our food coming up for review, it’s easy to see that voting with our forks and food dollars is not enough. Having the tools and confidence to dig in politically may be more important than ever. I know what you may be thinking: “I’m no policy wonk– I leave that for the political people.” But here’s a proposition: we are all political people in this food debate. The Farm Bill helps determine what our kids will eat for lunch in school every day. The Farm Bill writes the regulatory rules governing the production of meat in this country. The Farm Bill determines what crops the government will support and, consequently, which kinds of foods will be most plentiful and affordable, and what farming practices will predominate. BUT it also has the power to provide much needed funds to reverse these trends and support local and regional entrepreneurship, biodiversity, water quality, nutritional assistance, healthy school lunches, living wage job creation, and more. If we don’t weigh in, however, legislators have no choice but to listen to well-heeled interest groups that see profit as the only bottom line.

FMC has just created a Farmers Market Advocate’s Toolkit designed to provide guidance in communicating to legislators the importance of farmers markets. It’s easy to run from words like “lobbying” and “legislator” but it’s important to remember that you are the expert here. This toolkit consists of a series of one-pagers to help you communicate that local food system expertise to those who need to hear it most.

The first one pager, A Farmers Market Advocate’s Guide to Lobbying, clarifies confusion about what counts as direct or grassroots lobbying, helping you make a distinction between lobbying and education.

The second one pager in the Toolkit, A Farmers Market Advocate’s Guide to Bonding with Your Legislator, breaks down the process of keeping your Senate and House members up to date on things going on in your community into five steps. Be sure to check the calendar on the back of this document which shows when the Senate and House are out of in 2012 and therefore likely to be in their home district offices.  These dates offer great opportunities for you to participate in town meetings, visit legislators’ offices, or invite them to special events at your farmers market.  It’s not too early to plan on inviting a legislator to speak at your National Farmers Market Week events between August 5th and 11th.

The third one pager is a summary of the current Farm Bill process. This document outlines the steps required for the bill to become a law as well as farmers market-specific provisions that your legislator needs to know you support.

The last piece of the Farmers Market Advocate’s Toolkit is a template for an op-ed article. This template is designed to centerpiece Farmers Market Promotion Program grantee success stories, but we hope that you will be able to use the structure and information as a guide to share any successes of your market. The FMPP program is diverse and varying, with projects covering a wide array of farmers market issues. The template provides a few different options for differing introductions, results, and conclusions to make sure that they are personalized to your market’s project. Just like communicating directly with legislators and lobbying, getting published in print or online (and circulating it!) is an important way to educate legislators, and fellow voters, about the importance of farmers markets in your region.

Let’s work together to make sure that the legislators don’t leave farmers markets out of the equation.  This spring, I hope you’ll join FMC in weighing in on important federal policies, and that this Toolkit will make that process a bit easier.

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