Growing Ideas into Action in Washington, DC

      Posted On: November 3, 2009

by Sharon Yeago, FMC President

Last week, our board of directors and staff spent four days in the nation’s capitol. Our schedule was jam-packed with meetings, strategy sessions, a reception with our nearby partners, and (of course) a visit to the Foggy Bottom Farmers Market.

We chose DC because of the palpable excitement and activity being generated there– from the White House Garden to the opening of the FreshFarm Market by the White House.  Through USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative (KYF2), we are seeing a dramatic shift in the way this agency works internally and externally in promoting our local farm products and the markets and other venues that support them. It is in this new context that the board of directors convened to review our strategy and prioritize for the coming year.

We were assisted in the annual strategic planning process by Jim Barham of USDA AMS, who was a patient, energetic, and engaging facilitator. That evening we headed to the Capitol Hill home of our own Bernie Prince (FMC Board member and FRESHFARM Market Co-Director) for a wonderful reception with locally sourced foods and foods that were shipped in by board members from around the country. Included in the delicious feast were Louisiana shrimp and satsumas, wild Pacific salmon, pecans and Benie Wafers from South Carolina, wild rice from Minnesota and much more!

On Wednesday, we headed to USDA headquarters, where we started our morning with a visit with Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, the leader of the KYF2 initiative and a champion of local food systems (see page 3 for a photo of our group with Kathleen). I was then part of smaller groups that met with Food, Nutrition, & Consumer Services Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, Deputy Under Secretary Janey Thornton, FNS Administrator Julie Paradis, and many others. It was a great opportunity to communicate the fact that efforts to equip markets with EBT technology must coincide with  investments in their overall capacity to operate sustainably in the long-term.

Along with our Executive Director Stacy Miller and fellow board members Diane Eggert, Andrew Stout, and Janel Leatherman, I also had to opportunity to meet with AMS Administrator Rayne Pegg and Errol Bragg, Director of the AMS Marketing Services Division, to discuss, among other things, the growth of the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP). I found all the staff at USDA to be overwhelmingly enthusiastic and encouraging of FMC, our members, and the work that we do.

That same afternoon, the board fanned out on Capitol Hill for visits with key staff members of House and Senate Committees relating to Agriculture and Ag Appropriations as well as the House Education & Labor Committee to talk about WIC FMNP, food safety, and other important issues.

Entering into our final workplan development session early Thursday morning, the board reviewed all that we had seen and heard throughout the week. We will continue to finalize our plans over the next few months and expect to publish our 2010 Strategic Plan early in the new year. The board, composed of hard working advocates from across the country, have talked, listened, deliberated, and crafted a plan for FMC’s future in this changing and challenging landscape. This plan is expected to provide more services to you, our members, your markets, your customers, and your communities.

Our opportunities are as vast as our challenges. Key issues in the coming year include EBT technology at markets, Farmers Market Nutrition Program coupon transition from paper to electronic distribution, food safety measures that make sense for small farmers, supporting the Farmers Market Promotion Program while making other federal funding streams accessible to farmers markets, and continuing engage leadership at the state level to build the capacity of state farmers market associations. This month in particular, we will be unveiling upgrades to the FMC Resource Library and invite you to share your tools– together, we can make this powerful tool better and better every day.

Even with a small staff and in times of economic hardship, we will transform ideas into action as we continue to support farmers markets as well as the farmers, customers, and communities they serve. As our workplan takes shape, the board will be reaching out to its members in search of leaders to serve on issue-specific task forces.  Can we count you in?