Oct 15, 2018
The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) is a network of over 500 organizations and thousands of individuals involved with farm and food system enhancement initiatives throughout Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland,
The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) is a network of over 500 organizations and thousands of individuals involved with farm and food system enhancement initiatives throughout Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Washington D.C. The group’s mission is to “harness the power” that exists within its broad network to affect meaningful impact and change toward “a sustainable and just food system.” NESAWG’s goals are to cultivate one robust network that crosses county and state lines, embodies and shepherds equity, facilitates regional power and influences policy. HVADC has collaborated with NESAWG and other participating organizations on a number of programs in the past, and HVADC’s Farm and Food Funding Accelerator program was recently featured in NESAWG’s “Success Stories from the Field” report which illustrates through case histories, how state and federal programs support farmers, fishermen, food entrepreneurs and consumers in the Northeast.
Since policy making is an important facet of NESAWG’s focus, rather than run its own campaigns or create coalitions, it engages its network to support campaigns and coalitions created by partners; prioritizing the issues that matter to the network. Partners in 2018 include HVADC, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Rural Coalition, Good Food For All, and other regional and national groups. One high-priority issue is that the 2018 Farm Bill includes programs, funding, and support for equitable and sustainable agriculture in our region. HVADC is a partner supporting the agricultural-components of the Farm Bill. “We are working with NESAWG to highlight the importance of funding and programs at both state and federal levels,” said Todd Erling, HVADC Executive Director. Erling has been providing the working group with examples of federal programs that support agricultural projects in HVADC’s region as well as across the northeast and building support for state and federal programs on viable farms and regenerative and resilient food systems.
One such example of a project in receipt of state and federal funds that Erling is strongly advocating for is the New York State Greenmarket Regional Food Hub (also known as the Hub), funded primarily by New York Empire State Development with additional funds coming from U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, New York City Council, Farm Credit East and private philanthropy. The Hub, which will completed in 2020, will serve as one location where farmers can market their product to food processors and retailers that place a premium on buying New York State produce. Through its development, HVADC has been connecting growers to the Hub.
NESAWG Executive Director Tracy Lerman said that although “sustainable agriculture” is a part of the acronym in NESAWG, the organization includes a wide spectrum of food system participants, basically all “The systems between getting the food out of the ground and to people’s mouths,” she said. Lerman pointed to the group’s strong emphasis on food systems justice, the impact of which is highlighted in the NESAWG 2018 conference theme “Cultivating A Transformative Food System.” The 2018 NESAWG conference will be held October 25-27 in Philadelphia, Pa.
“We are focused on uniting farm and food systems practitioners to create a fair and just food and sustainable systems –fair wages, farm worker justice, efficient transportation, fair wages, economically viable and just,” said Lerman. She said that although every entity involved might not agree with one another, that most are motivated because of shared or similar values.
Lerman said their current advocacy work is concentrated on adding voices to the Farm Bill to increase funding for a suite of programs within their mission, such as those that support conservation, help financially disadvantaged farmers, Farm to Institution New York State (FINYS), Supplemental Nutrition Act Program (SNAP) and more. Lerman said one highly effective way NESAWG organizes around policy initiatives is to create advocacy around Congressional districts – particularly in districts where the Congressional representative is on the Ag Committee.
Lerman said another area of critical importance is NESAWG’s work with State Agricultural Commissioners. In addition to attending conferences annual conferences with National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and North Eastern Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NEASDA), NESAWG collects and presents the Ag Commissioners with supporting stories and narratives from their districts. “We like to illustrate how they are working on same values as NESAWG,” said Lerman.
“HVADC has a lot of credibility and legitimacy with farmers, as well as strong New York state presence and good relationship with the State Department of Agriculture,” said Lerman, who added that HVADC was instrumental in collecting and telling some of those stories for state Ag Commissioners.
Lerman explained that since NESWAG is not a food “production-focused” organization their partners who are production-focused are valuable within their network. “We are interested in bringing a food systems lens and connect to farmers in that way,” she said. “HVADC has helped us establish getting knowledge about what farmers are interested in.” Lerman cited the dairy farm crisis as one example where HVADC’S access to farms and farmers and regular work with dairy farm issues aptly facilitates understanding of what’s most needed to help.
HVADC’s Erling said, “How NESAWG and HVADC work together illustrates how organizations with similar environmental, sustainability and food justice issues can collaborate to develop holistic solutions and market opportunities that benefit the entire region.” Erling pointed to how much like NESAWG, HVADC serves as a network or “connector” as well. “Connecting is what we both do as a network; we are connecting people to each other and doing introductions and keep track of what other organizations are doing,” Lerman concurred.
For more information about NESWAG, please visit http://nesawg.org.
Photo source: HVADC
Logo Source: NESAWG