National Dialogue Committee on Sustainable Agriculture

Sunrise Ranch, Loveland, Colorado


  • Doreen Stabinaky: Ca. Action Network CAN
  • Judy Glllan: New England Small Farm Inst NESFI, NE-SAWG
  • Loni Kemp: Minn. Project, Groundwater and sust. ag. MW-SAWG
  • Tim Atwater: Rural Vermont, NFFC member, dairy issues, BGH, new SAWG type group forming, Nov. meeting on policy is being planned
  • Jane Rissler: Nat. Wildlife Fed., Biotech working group, NWF
  • Will Allen: Ca. Inst for Rural Studies, organic farmer, rural toxics project (cotton study), transitional conferences, Nat’l organic cotton council being formed
  • Nancy Taylor: Poulouse Clearwater ___ ?, linking with Aero and other rural development groups to form an intermountain SAWG Bill Thompson: Rocky Mountain Farmers Union
  • Kathy Ozer: NFFC staff in DC, national sustag policy and coalition experience
  • Garth Youngberg: Inst, for Alternative Ag, new effort to create a center for policy analysis of sustag including land grant Institutions and sust ag programs
  • Roger Blobaum: Formerly dir. of AFS at CSPI, 4 conferences, now executive dlr. of Michael Fields Ag. Inst, and assoc.director of WSAA.
  • Hal Hamilton: has been dairy farmer, dir of Kentucky Comm. Farm Alliance, with Michael and Betty Bailey organized S-SAWG
  • John Matthews: organic farmer in Arkansas, trainer/consultant with rural farm groups, board member of OFPANA and pres of OFAC
  • Thomas Forster: OFAC exec, dlr., UNCED sust ag coalition
  • Michael Sligh: RAFI, monitoring biotech, coordinate S-SAWG, looks to opportunity to bring in broader community and common ground in effort to reform ag
  • Chuck Hassebrook: Center for Rural Affairs, committed to bringing grassroots coaltlon together with national organizations.

Where are we now?

Many gains and initiatives have been accomplished at state and local level. In DC things have not moved as well. Winning in the ag committees is only one third the battle. They’ll get you in implementation and appropriations If not in legislative battles. The 1990 Farm Bill had many new sustainable agriculture provisions that have not been appropriated. We need to expose what the strategies have been at USDA and on committees to subvert sustainable agriculture policy objectives. The battle is made more difficult by not having enough contact and championship by representatives who will go to bat for sustainable agriculture Initiatives and programs. For appropriations, there needs to be grassroots organizing to lobby committee members. A new administration may influence implementation, but approp. comm. needs new people. House of reps will have biggest shakeup in recent history with a new ball game. Stronger urban, environmental representation. An opportunity to forge new and more effective alliances. Example of envlro-ag pressure politics: methyl-bromide. If environmental presence Increases, there will be need to efforts to build new understanding. Environmentalists lean toward regulatory measures. More carrots are needed than sticks. Misunderstandings are rife in the environmental/consumer and agricultural communities. Farmers have strong ideas about environmental movement and yet have moved towards sustainable farming practices. Yet environmental movement is to be credited to support for farm policy. Different backgrounds – Coming together of environmental and farm groups despite the problems. Example of organic movement relations between farm and consumer/environmental groups. Suggest strategic objectives of building sust. ag movement and an agro-environmental movement. Proposal that organic and sustainable have reasons for separation. Separations have led to constraints In policy development. Reform farm bill should not be our sole objective. We should rather think of alternative titles which different coalitions can be formed around. We need to recognize both our diversity and our commonality in the sustainable agriculture movement. Now that conventional agriculture is calling itself sustainable, it will be clear that the original sustainable ag movement distinguish Itself. Efforts to define sustainable agriculture must fall between the poles of necessary educational/policy understanding and cooptation or muddying of all distinction between sustainable ag with integrity and merely a greenwash of conventional ag. Survival Issues are critical. All good managers are suffering. For the economic survival of good managers in family farm agriculture, there must be a real movement. We are now coming from the outside, trying to take agriculture back. We need t© have creative processes to build this movement – example of the MW-SAWG groups continually coming back to meet together to find common ground. Process we take to get to the goal of a truly sustainable agriculture needs to be ambitious and sophisticated. Example of the CA cotton conference bringing broad and diverse constituency together. International community of sustainable agrlcuture and policy development in biotech as well needs to be addressed. Corporate concentration in agriculture needs also to be addressed. Perhaps there should be a very sharp focus in a commodity area such as cotton. We should work cleverly with organizations which have internal reform efforts that can be worked with examples from all regions. A major question is how big should the circle be drawn initially and what Is the difference between dialogue and the Inclusion in the circle. How effective we are in true grassroots organizing will be critical.

Goals of meeting:

  1. consensus on process, structure
  1. consensus on goals

Suggested goals:

  1. building sustainable ag movement
  2. building connection with consumer and environmental sectors
  3. Heal separation between organic/sustainable ag groups
  4. Look towards the future-2000 Farm bill
  5. Develop structure for working together & identify differences

National convention planning options:

  1. Have the convention in 1994 and allowing the organization in regions to tie in and build support in their conferences to the 1994 National dialogue conference.
  2. Identify the groups and their currently scheduled conferences to ask if they can commit some of their agendas to this idea of a national dialog conference.
  3. Keep the liaisons between the regions going to each others conferences to move the dialog.
  4. We need to have coordinating and planning meetings in addition to piggybacking on regional conferences.
  5. Lets design a package, video, or questionnaire to distribute as a marketing tool within regions; states etc. to inform people about this national dialog effort and organize input.
  6. 1994 conventions may be too late. We may not have enough time to get other organizations involved* We may be overshadowed by the oppositions efforts. We should be peaking with our efforts in 1994.
  7. We may want to organize organizational committees within regions to work on a national taskforce in developing farm bill platform and offer guidance to the process within their regions or states.
  8. We may want to have a conference in 1993 on the national level to initiate the process and rely on regional efforts to educate and develop their positions. In addition to having a 1994 conference to have a concrete policy plan.
  9. Organization in some areas may be from scratch. How will we address this?
  10. We may need the assistance in marketing this concept.
  11. In the Interest of analytical needs to develop this process, we need to start as soon as possible in order to utilize the IAA Center idea (Youngberg)-by March 1993.
  12. Bring to the table regional reps with their positions in March 93, and then have a policy conference in late 93.
  13. Do we have enough resources to do local/state organizing.
  14. We need to utilize existing/past local/state resources.
  15. We need to develop a policy concept to guide discussions.

Phase process:

1) Grassroots/Regional organizing & development:

– Bring In all constituencies within regions
– Have smaller focus meetings
– Build support at the local/state/regional levels
– Develop an informational framework kit:Format and Issue

2) Regional coordination March 93 meeting

– Get input from regional reps on Issues
– Identify differences and common positions on issues
– Identify policy and research needs the consortium can work on (think tank) on data gaps or questions to be answered.     — Regional Policy group
reps will work with the consortium to develop policy in addition to working with local and state groups to bring their opinions to the table,
– develop coordination committees: Political/strategy committee, organizational committee.
– Start to integrate policy options

3) National Convention Late 93

What needs to happen prior to Convention in terms of issues

Brainstorm of regional meetings/annual meetings before March 93:

Pelouse Enviro Council – November

NE Regional SAWG – November

July 31-Aug 1 – Midwestern SAWG;

Regional Midwest – Nov/St. Louis

October – Pesticide Action Network

January ’93 – Consumer Federation of America Annual Assembly Southern SAWG

March – NWF – forum/dialogue

NFU – South Dakota Annual Meeting (state meetings)

Institute for Alt. Ag – March ??

Steps to Prepare for March, 93:

  1. Develop grassroots kit – framework for grassroots discussions; include options and choices

– December deadline; kit

  1. Grassroots phase (local, state and regional)

– Meetings done by February ’93;

(-continue two tracks – Implementation and appropriations -put pressure on for bushel based s/m and TOPS program -ag research priorities) **needs to be moved

  1. March 1993 – pull input together
  2. National Convention – Late 1993

-refinement on policy options – getting a sponsor – bill development; closure on the options
-Bills introduced as goal

  1. Late 1994 – Election – maybe field hearings
    -lobby day; staff lobbying; kick-off event
    -get cosponsors;
  1. January/Feb 1995: Administration budget will be submitted; go fast; House will go fast; Bill

Political Strategy: 1985/1990/triggering events—Roger Blobaum/KO –

Organizing Tasks/Networking Tasks: recruit additional organizers
-understanding of traditional enemies; who are the new players?

Commodity Groups: how/when do we interact most effectively?

Next steps: agreed upon issues/educational efforts/what is it used for??
-95; not one-shot deal; Strategy meeting – fly-in – how we go about it?

Hill partners on their agenda;

Omnibus versus individual sections; Policy Options –

Overarching links role; flexibility on the structure; network versus coalition

Environmental organizations – coordinated work to do in advance of 1993; goal of key package being supported by consumer and enviro resulting from the tensions;

How can the environ/sustainable ag bridge be built to avoid barriers;

NWF: very close touch on coalitions; keep on working to avert surprises; need to know up front;

Grassroots events: invite in local folks from NWF, Audohon, PIRG’s, use their grassroots on rural perspectives;

Environmental movement: reach out – not a monolith; Invite local groups;

Broaden participation by: labor, farmworker and organizations of color

General Organizing Strategy:

Structure to liaison work; canvass commitment versus membership; Who delivers most strength?

What is the role of the grassroots by the March meeting; conflicts/trade­offs – What other questions may be brought to 3/93 meeting: How are divisive issues dealt with?

Grassroots: give a set of 6-12 policy issues relating to s/ag; format response to consensus of that group; a) facilitated local process, b) resolutions that come out of it, c) highlight/common ground – what’s missing? piggy-back on existing projects – use of questionnaires; -structure common format; make room for enviro/consumer/ldeas/exchange -broaden proposal

Challenge of the movement is making policy relevant; Alternative US Citizen Report for UNCED as another model; lead groups in different regions about the Impacts of certain policies; life-stories of situations driving action; need to creatively get our message across;

Group brainstorming; What do you want? What’s your vision? categories? getting folks engaged?

10 minute video; economic and community survival issue;

Background, separate pieces – fact sheets;

5/6 key policy questions:

  1. Food safety debate from contents to production methods; -biotech/BCH
  2. Incorporate European Incentive program – Would you support policies that either tax or penalize based on chemical use?
  3. Everybody eats; policy issues on safe food; every facilitator would have crystallized issues?
  4. Concept of whole farm management plans – nitrogen use/integrate concerns from the clear water issues
  5. How do we take food policy issues – room to relate to food issues
  6. Bias against organic/sustainable – how to get at it?
  7. Providing incentives in farm bill – what will really work to make the transition?
  8. Assuming deficiently payments will be reduced -how should the cuts be distributed
  9. Should there be conservation based supply control program – greater link
  10. What will happen to CRP after 10 years
  11. Fair trade versus free trade needs to include sustainable agenda
  12. Should federal research agenda be refocused towards family farmers
  13. Access/diversity beginning farmer and minority farmers
  14. Do we want to trust food production policy to corporate giants? this is the model that will continue to happen unless things change??
  15.  NEED for video to get circulated to help with outreach; -Check out Public Media/Esprit connection; -Dirty BIZ issue, labeling;
  16. Farmer/consumer impact – what is the real cost of food? who’s paying the cost? resource uses – enviro use; natural resource base
  17. Capitalize building critical base – farmer friendly diet; capture critical mass; migrant workers who get doses;
  18. Forces of Darkness; – wipe out farm-programs; defensive research ; why should we pay farmers not to farm? – there is a good reason for farming sustainably
  19. Social costs/ economic implications

What do we want out of the meetings:

  • needs assessment, bring concerns to the surface
  • answers to questions (what’s bugging you on food and ag?)
  • develop resolutions on the way to policy
  • brainstorm process

What is in the kit?

  • introduction to project
  • suggested guidelines for facilitation
  • video contrasting different ag alternatives
  • list of issues
  • question/fact sheets related to Issues with options
  • facts/figures on trends in farming/food issues
  • history of the alternative farm movement in terms of relation movement to policy to programs
  • history/purposes of farm bill
  • critical perspectives on food issues

The kit should be simple, perhaps addressing multiple audiences

The experiences of those participating should be brought in.

How will the kit be designed to allow it to be self administering?

We do not want to be merely taking input for “our” agenda, but developing true local/regional participation in the issues.

Key questions that may help guide group discussions:

  1. How can 95 FB help you solve problems you are concerned with?
  2. How sustainable agriculture has many of the answers.

Should we have generic fact sheets for whole country? Eg. Vermont dairy folks need sensitivity to California water problems.

How do we make this happen? Who is going to do it?

One suggestion is to have one organization In a region take a lead to move the process, facilitate meetings, raise funds for additional meetings,

SAWGs may be a good vehicle for development but have no staff and may be too limited in some regions to initiate the process.

Perhaps a joint process of introducing the agenda with leading organizations across farm, environmental and consumer sectors.

The alliance around sustainable agriculture for environmental movements needs to be persuasive. So far it is not.

The objective is to give and take between ag and environmental groups

Importance of early work with enviro groups

Packet should be organized to address the concerns of environmental and consumer issues (cosmetic standards)

Eg: coming up with commodity programs that are good for family farms and wetlands

Some important players in Washington do not have membership eg Public Voice and CSPI and others

We need to work with DC sustainable ag coalition players, meeting in Fall 92. These groups are likely to want to be be included.

There are two tracks: the grassroots and the leadership need to be worked simultaneously.

Safe Food and Water, Wetlands and wildlife, Healthy farming and rural communities.

Let us be clear whether the effort is equally driven by sustainable agriculture, environmental and consumer communities or primarily driven by sustainable sustainable ag community.

Perhaps this will emerge in the course of dialogue. But it will be Important to realize there are different needs to manage the dialogue at different times.

Property rights movement and sustainable ag movement needs to be focused on. Farmers and enviros will lock horns on property rights. Environmental measures are being weakened nationwide because of property rights…

Question of working with mainstream agriculture. Case by case different organizations may be very supportive. At the farm level there may be potential for new alliances.

Reformers in conventional agriculture organizations can be included at specific stages in development of the coalition

Suggestion to start with 25 organizations that beat the House Ag Comm on the House floor on the organic bill

We need to distinguish between those we may influence and those we include in the coalition.

There is real merit in pulling progressive elements in farm movements with environmental and consumer groups, regardless of what the proportions may be.

Unless environmental and consumer groups realize that their goals are reachable through alliance with the sustainable agriculture movement, there will not be a lot of interest In such an alliance.

Institute for Alternative Agriculture is considering a series of roundtables in 1993 on sustainable ag issues to bring together people working on these issues.