By Nate Brownlee, Nightfall Farm
November is a fun month on the farm. We have made it through the biggest push of our season and are starting to see the rest at the end of the race. We have fewer animals and thus more time to be working on projects.
Some of those projects are simply responding to the season and preparing for winter. I take great satisfaction in cleaning up the pasture and preparing equipment for the dormant winter months. It always gives me a sense of a job well done, of taking the time to enjoy the season’s accomplishments.
This November, though, I’ll be missing some of that time on the farm. This November, I’ll be leaving the farm for a whole week to fly to Washington, D.C. My brother lives in D.C., so I get to visit him, but, sorry Jeremy, you’re not the reason I’m headed to the Capitol.
I’ll actually be headed to the Capitol, where I’ll join 80 other young farmers from across the country. We will sit down with our representatives to talk about the realities of being a young farmer, to talk about the ways our government can help ensure the success of farms across the country, and to express our disappointment that we don’t have a Farm Bill.
I value that the Farmers Union does so much good work lobbying for members like me. I’m proud to be part of a community that stands up for good farming practices and policies.
I’m also a part of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition, which is one of 41 chapters of the National Young Farmers Coalition. NYFC is the only national organization to specifically represent and work on behalf of young and beginning farmers (meaning those working within the first 10 years of farming). Each year, NYFC hosts a Convergence: Each chapter sends two delegates to attend workshops, trainings, farm tours, community parties, and since this year is in D.C., meetings with Congressional representatives.
I’m excited about all of these components to the Convergence. Our keynote speaker will focus on racial justice and equity within the food system. One of our community parties will include governmental staffers, area farmers and farm supporters, and maybe some representatives. It is open to anyone who wants to attend (which means I invited my brother!). But I have to say that there are two aspects to the Convergence that excite me the most.
Farming, for me, can feel pretty isolating. I spend a lot of time working alone or with Liz, and I can go days without seeing someone I’m not related to. In fact, most of the time I do see other people it’s on farm business—farmers’ markets, trips to the butcher, etc.—and so it feels different than simple social time. I’ve spent months looking forward to the chance to spend several days in a row with other young farmers, people who share similar realities, routines and rewards.
The other main attraction for me is the chance to meet with my representatives on Capitol Hill. I know that this is an option available to everyone, anytime in theory. In fact, I’ve been invited to several fly-ins through Indiana Farmers Union, but the timing has never worked out for me to leave the farm. In practice, it’s not easy to get away from your world and travel to D.C. In my case, it has taken this Convergence (combined with that chance to see my brother) to draw me away from the farm. I’m very excited to have the chance to test out this facet of our nation’s representational government.
Especially since I have something to say. I’m positive that months ago, when NYFC started planning this event, they weren’t hoping for us to have to spend so much of our meeting time with representatives to have to focus on our national lack of a Farm Bill. For those of us in the farming community, our current situation is unacceptable.
Young and beginning farmers have had access to some amazing, supportive programs that the 2014 Farm Bill funded. Had Congress simply extended that Farm Bill, those programs could have kept going. Many of these programs are now in limbo, uncertain as to their futures, not knowing if they will be able to continue to assist the future of this country’s agriculture (i.e. if they will exist). As a young farmer in Indiana, one who has used Farm Bill programs multiple times—and has seen fellow farmers make the decision to stop farming for various reasons—I believe that our federal policy should support beginning farmers who are attempting to establish and sustain the farms that will feed our communities going forward.
And so I leave the farm at this enjoyable time of year. I’ll be out of state for the whole last week of our turkeys’ lives. In fact, I will fly in well past farmer bedtime and wake up early the next morning to drive them to the butcher. This is not how I would normally spend my time in November. But this is not a normal November, and I’ve got a pretty good reason to head to D.C.