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No Farms No Food® Rally: The Time is Right to Advocate for Protecting Farmland

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Pandora Davis, Saratoga P.L.A.N.; NYS Assemblyman Michael Benedetto; Eliza Topham-White, Peconic Land Trust; Renee Bouplon, Agricultural Stewardship Association

Last week’s No Farms No Food® Rally was well-timed as Governor Cuomo and state legislators are in heated negotiations that are anticipated to result in a new state budget by March 21st.  On Wednesday, March 13, 16 No Farms No Food® lobby teams deployed to meet with over 70 state legislators to talk about the importance of protecting the farmland that lies at the foundation of New York’s vital farm and food economy. The No Farms No Food® Rally, held in the Legislative Office Building, was sponsored by Senator Patty Ritchie, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The message legislators heard was all the more powerful because it came from so many different vantage points.  “One of the No Farms No Food® Rally’s greatest strengths is the cross-section of people,” said David Haight, New York state director for American Farmland Trust, during the day’s opening remarks. “We are joined by young farmers, mature farmers, land trusts and conservation organizations, hunger relief and public health advocates and local food groups to tell our elected officials that farms and growing food in New York State matters.”

Darrel Aubertine, New York’s Commissioner of Agriculture, spoke at the No Farms No Food® Rally in support of farmland conservation. “One thing they are not making any more of is farmland,” said Commissioner Aubertine.  “Too often farmland’s final crop is a house. And, once farmland is developed it is out of production forever. Governor Cuomo understands the importance of agriculture here in New York.  Under his leadership, state government is making sound investments in food hubs, farmers’ markets and agricultural and farmland protection. “

Assemblyman Bill Magee, chair of the Assembly Committee on Agriculture is working with American Farmland Trust and its partners to draft a new bill aimed at identifying state-owned land suitable for agriculture, making it available to the next generation of farmers through leases, and protecting it with conservation easements if it is to be sold, keeping the land available for future generations to farm . “The focus needs to be on the next generation of farmers,” said Assemblyman Magee. “Whether they are farmers who have grown up on a farm or new farmers who are starting out fresh.–we all need to work together to get more people into farming and make sure farms get passed down to the next generation.”

No Farms No Food® Budget and Policy priorities the lobby teams advocated for include: increased funding for the Environmental Protection Fund and the Farmland Protection Program as well as a release of a new Request for Proposals for farmland conservation projects in Fiscal Year 2013-2014; support for S. 4061 (Ritchie)/A. 5102 (Peoples-Stokes) – legislation to encourage state agencies to buy food grown in New York; as well as new legislation under development to help the next generation of farmers secure farmland.

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes spoke about expanding the market for New York State grown food by encouraging state institutions to buy more food from New York farmers through passage of bill S. 4061 (Ritchie)/A. 5102 (Peoples-Stokes). “Don’t buy fruit and vegetables from Mexico. We grow them right here in New York State,” said Peoples-Stokes. “We need individual consumers to seek out New York-grown food but we need state institutions to seek it out too. At the end of the day farmers can only be successful if they are making money. This bill provides farmers with the opportunity to make money while feeding New Yorkers at state institutions good food. Our farms will be stronger. Our lives will be stronger. We will all be better off.”

“What better way to grow families and communities than to support New York farmers who are growing healthy food while conserving farmland and protecting open space and watersheds,” said Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, Chair of the Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy.

“This is democracy in action,” said environmental advocate Jeff Jones, lobbyist for the Land Trust Alliance, who worked with the Heritage Radio Network to coach No Farms No Food® Rally participants on advocacy prior to the day’s lobbying visits. “You are the people who the decision makers are working for,” he told the group. “There are a lot of people coming through Albany this time of year because important decisions are being made about the state budget, which is due at the end of the month. We have to come here and express our opinions or risk being shut out by other pressing interests. Participating in the No Farms No Food® Rally and expressing your support for farmland conservation and local food is an important way to directly engage in the democratic process.”

“Coming to the No Farms No Food® Rally empowers me as a citizen and as a voter to be able to come up here to talk to directly to elected officials about farm and food issues,” said Brooklyn local foods advocate Melissa Danielle  who traveled to Albany on the No Farms No Food® Rally bus from New York City, sponsored by Slow Food NYC and Food Systems Network NYC. “It’s really valuable and important to me to be able to have this opportunity to be civically and politically engaged at this level.”

“Farming is one of New York State’s most important and enduring industries, putting food on our tables and generating billions of dollars in economic activity each year,” said First Deputy ComptrollerPete Grannis, who spoke to the group during lunch. “Generations of New York growers have played an important role in producing the food we eat and as crucial shepherds of our environment and open spaces.  Agriculture is steeped in our history and its well-being has to be high on policymakers’ agenda.”


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