The Farmers Union Has a New Worker Bee
This summer it was my honor to be voted in as the Northwest Farmers Union's newest president, along with a new board of hard working professionals to co-lead this organization.
Kendra Kimbirauskas, a farmer from the Willamette Valley joins as VP, Allie Hymas, a farmer from Southern Oregon, will serve as secretary, and Sherry Olsen-Frank, an Idaho beekeeper, has taken on the role of treasurer. We have all stepped into these positions as volunteers, and will also continue to do our “day jobs.”
My relationship with the National Farmers Union (NFU) started in 2015 when I attended the spring farmer and rancher "fly-in," in Washington DC. I was mentored by a team of rock stars including current NFU VP, and Wisconsin dairy farmer, Patty Edelburg. I think Patty actually took the below picture as we literally ran across Capitol Hill (multiple times) to discuss policy with law makers.
In the last four years the Farmers Union has done a stellar job keeping me involved. I’ve been privileged with invitations to participate in an array of events, as a speaker and a listener. As a listening audience member, and a participating round-table member I’ve grown to better understand how I can be the best advocate possible for good farm policy. This work has been well-worth my time, as farm policy inevitably rolls down to what you and I covet most, our bees.
This year I was honored to transition from participating member to leader. While researching the roll of president, I attended the 2019 NFU Convention in Bellingham, Washington. It was a formative few days for me, one that developed an even stronger relationship with the NFU. I was completely impressed by the progressive, real, and honest tone from the array keynote speakers, panelists, and workshop leaders. Topics spanned from fair trade, to climate change, to immigration, to integrity in national leadership, to soil, to farmer suicides, to global and national economics, and everything in-between. Seeing as how I have heavy disdain for small talk, I was in heaven.
I was also invited to attend the NFU board meeting in Minnesota this spring, where I got to rub elbows with the other presidents, and meet Farmers Union staff members from all over the country. I was blown away by their capacity and ability to drive positive change, and by the powerful grassroots networks they employ. Especially the “Dairy Together” campaign!
I’d like to share a few of my take-aways, and answers to FAQs, from the last few months:
1. The Northwest Farmers Union (NWFU) encompasses Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
2. The NWFU maintains sovereignty, but is under the umbrella of the National Farmers Union (NFU), based in Washington DC.
3. Therefore, the NWFU shares core values with the NFU and is also a direct line to DC for farmers from the NW (more on this later).
4. The mission is to advocate for family farmers and their communities through education, cooperation, and legislation.
5. What really stands out to me about the Farmers Union is:
The fact that this is a workers union, it was founded on the same principals, and has the same strong values to protect its people that other workers unions have.
Their support of beginning farmers and women farmers. While at the national convention an NFU leader commented on-stage that “farming will be better off once more women move into positions of power; both inside and outside of the organization,” which received supportive chuckles, claps, and head nods.
Their work is to understand and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Their work is to end extreme consolidation, and support small family farms. What that means.
Their forward-thinking support of the regenerative agriculture movement.
Their commitment to talk about the realities of our current farm crisis, to be open about US farmer suicides, and to have open, hard, and vulnerable conversations about it.*
Their fascinating democratic process to write their Policy Book, which helps inform the Farm Bill. Delegates from every state go through this nearly 200 page document, using “Roberts Rules of Order,” to facilitate lively civil discourse (for almost two solid days). During my tenure, I’m excited to go through the pollinator policy with a fine-toothed comb, and to make some changes!
6. This brings me back to my final point. Though we will more thoroughly define our strategic plan during our board retreat this fall, the NWFU leadership has outlined our current vision.
We would like to be of service to the farming community of the NW by:
Supporting good policy that aids small family farmers,
Advocating for climate change solutions,
Organizing listening sessions, and
Building commitment for, and affiliations with, other organizations who share our mission and values (such as Friends of Family Farmers, the Farmer Veteran Coalition, and Carbon Washington).
I’m confident that we can be a strong coalition for positive change in our state capitols and in Washington DC, and steer good farm policy for NW farmers, soil, and bees.
In just a few short days I will be heading back to Washington DC for the Farmers Union “Fall Fly-In.” This time NWFU board members Allie and Sherry will be with me. I know what those “first trip to The Hill butterflies” feel like, and I’m already beaming with pride from watching these two get ready of “fly.” Wish us all luck as we have hard, exciting, and (hopefully) productive conversations in DC!
As our goals and objectives become more defined in the coming year, you can look forward to hearing from myself, and the NWFU team, on how you can get involved. For now - connect with us on Instagram @ https://www.instagram.com/northwestfarmersunion and learn more about the Farmers Union here.
* Farm Aid Hotline: If you are, or know, a farmer in crisis and at risk of suicide please call 800-FARM-AID. I took a workshop from Farm Aid’s “Farmer Advocate,” Joe Schroeder, and was so moved. He and his team will be there for you to find solutions. They really, really care. For even more resources: https://farmcrisis.nfu.org