Three Vermonters traveled to Washington D.C. in November to join young farmers from across the country for the annual Young Farmers Coalition convergence.
Damien Boomhower went to great lengths to put his young family and 60-head organic dairy in order so he could take the week off. “With the price of milk where it is, I couldn’t pass up the invitation to talk to our legislators in D.C.,” he said. Besides needing a stable price for milk, Boomhower emphasized the need for enforcement of USDA organic standards. “There’s no way that a 15,000 cow dairy in Colorado is meeting the pasture requirement the way Vermont farms do, and their milk is flooding our market.”
Jeannie Bartlett, manager of the Franklin County Conservation District, hoped to harness some of the optimism and energy of young farmers across the country. “With nearly two-thirds of U.S. farmland operated by farmers who will exit in the next 20 years, it can be easy focus on what we’re losing,” Bartlett said. “And it’s true, we are losing farmers and their wisdom. But there is also an energetic new cohort of young farmers – both first-generation and multi-generational. We need to do everything we can to get these passionate young people access to farmland and to set them up for long-term success.”
Graham Unangst-Rufenacht raises grass fed beef in Plainfield and is also a part-time field organizer at Rural Vermont. One of Rufenacht’s prime concerns is the effect of federal policy on small farms. “I don’t see why a small farm trying to do USDA-inspected slaughter should have to build a separate bathroom for the USDA inspector,” he said. “It’s wasteful, it doesn’t improve the safety of the product, and it’s a huge barrier to small farmers and processors.”
During three days of workshops organized by the Young Farmers Coalition participants shared organizing skills, discussed challenges and opportunities, learned about government resources, and prepared to meet with their members of Congress.
“One of my favorite parts was realizing how much we had in common,” reflected Bartlett. “Damien and Graham brought up points I wouldn’t have thought of, but that I agreed with entirely. It was energizing to see how our different experiences supported each other.”
The same was true for connections they made across the country. The three found commonality with a multi-generational Texas vegetable farmer, a first-generation Colorado root-crops grower, and a Baltimore urban farmer among almost a hundred others. The three will be reporting-back about their trip to the Vermont chapter of the Young Farmers Coalition, which sponsored their trip and holds events and advocates for young farmers across Vermont.
The final day of the trip, participants met with their U.S. legislators. “The staff were very receptive and knowledgeable about what we were talking about,” reflected Boomhower. “But then again, they should be.”
For videos and pictures of the convergence, visit https://www.facebook.com/youngfarmerscoalition/.