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January 2023 Newsletter

Welcome to NHSPN’s first blog post! This space will be used 1-2 times a year to share summaries of the collective work accomplished by the Network, as well as some individual highlights of our members. For any questions or follow-up, please refer to the contact page of the website.

2022 marked a significant year of growth for our Network. After roughly 2 years of the pandemic, our members successfully maneuvered through countless obstacles, adjusting their field/policy work strategies to many hybrid/virtual formats. Throughout these challenges, we were committed to maintaining relationships with our various agriculture communities, maintaining/establishing new relationships with policymakers, and our monthly meetings created opportunities to share new strategies and lessons learned from the field. One major focus for the year was on the opportunities presented by new federal climate and agriculture funding under the Biden Administration, including the Inflation Reduction Act.

Additionally, the Network was able to offer 2 rounds of mini-grants totaling $93,000 to our members to support farmer base building and organizing for 1) laying the groundwork for the 2023 Farm Bill, and 2) state healthy soils policy advancement. Below are some of the collective metrics supported by both rounds of this year’s mini-grants:

Events Hosted: 41 Event Participants: 1,150+ people, 40+ organizations Members of Congress Reached: 32 (24 Democrats and 8 Republicans) Calls to Policymakers: 100+ Farmer Meetings / Public Hearing Testimonies w/ Elected Reps: 8 Sign-on Letters: 4, w/ 100+ signatures Farmer Surveys: 3, w/ 200+ farmers engaged New Farmer Groups Launched: 4

Featured Media: 28 articles, reports, stories, etc.

Another significant takeaway from 2022 was the Network’s in-person gathering in Davis, CA, marking the 2nd time the group has met in person since our inception in 2018. 12 of the 20 represented states were able to join us, as well as a representative of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). Over two days, we discussed a range of topics, analyzing our individual policy and base-building practices, reflecting on the Network’s internal resources and strategies, and visioning for our immediate and long-term growth. We divided our time between discussing different state and federal-level strategies, and assessing our current and anticipated needs to advance healthy soils and climate-smart agriculture policies. These reflections have now guided our goals and priorities entering 2023, as the Network revisits our impact and direction of growth. Attendees expressed overwhelming gratitude and value in our time spent together, emphasizing the small-but-significant points of engagement, and new ideas derived from them, that naturally arise with in-person work together.

Our members advocated for a wide range of policies in their states this year as well, all designed to deliver resources to farmers to encourage their use of practices that enhance soil health. At the in-person convening, one full day was dedicated to giving members time to share tactics and lessons learned. Here is a sample of some of the policy approaches taken by members.

Dakota Resource Council (DRC), North Dakota There was no legislative session in 2022, so DRC focused on listening to farmers about soil health priorities to lay the groundwork for a future bill. They also worked on advocating for federal Farm Bill funding for climate friendly agriculture, sustainable and organic research, and on-farm renewable energy.

Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA), Illinois ISA won a state resolution to declare a “Soil Health Week” in Illinois in 2021, and then worked with their Soil Health Farmer Caucus to organize week-long virtual events highlighting the importance of building soil. Unsuccessfully tried to pass the Nutrient Loss Reduction Act, but secured $68 million in funding for cover crop insurance discounts, the Partners for Conservation Program, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and more.

Kansas Rural Center (KRC), Kansas For the third time, a bill (HB 2310) was introduced to create the Kansas Healthy Soils Fund and the Kansas Healthy Soils Initiative. It failed to advance, but KRC organized direct farmer feedback about the proposed legislation and engagement with elected officials, and raised awareness about the bill. They intend to seek a Republican co-signer and work with sustainable agriculture allies who have been reluctant to engage in policy advocacy so far.

Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC), Montana NPRC started a working group to develop a farmer-informed plan to advance soil health in Montana, collaborating with NRCS, the Montana Association of Conservation Districts, and Montana State University to develop surveys and focus groups to engage Montana producers about what they need to advance soil health in the state.

Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), New York They advocated for state funding to implement the Soil Health and Climate Resiliency Act (S4722A/A5386A) passed in 2021, with a focus on the Climate Resilient Farming Program and Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Funding for these two programs increased in FY 2022-2023 from $4.5 million to $16.75 and from $11 million to $14.5 million respectively.

Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network, Oregon OrCAN advocated for SB 1534, which would have defined natural and working lands and started a process to plan strategies and metrics for increasing carbon sequestration and resilience on the state’s natural and working lands. The bill did not pass but they accomplished more base building and organizing for future policy advocacy.

Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, Pennsylvania Pasa policy staff developed a Soil Health Policy Pathways report including 18 recommendations to advance soil health in PA. They educated farmers and policymakers about the need for more soil health funding, education, and research, and updated a never-implemented 1992 Sustainable Agriculture Act to address and fund soil health practices, research and education within the State Department of Agriculture and State Conservation Commission.

Vermont Collaborative, Vermont A range of farmer education and engagement tactics contributed to two victories. The Governor- appointed Commission on the Future of Agriculture released a report identifying a Payment for Ecosystem Services program as a priority strategy for growing Vermont’s food economy, and this was accompanied by a $1 million allocation in the FY2023 budget for continued development of a Payment for Ecosystem Services program that NOFA-VT, Rural Vermont, and the Vermont Healthy Soils Coalition have been helping shape for two years.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake Fair Farms Program, Maryland Fair Farms and their partners won passage of the Climate Solutions Now Act , which included $500,000 for the Healthy Soils Program. Their Farmer Advisory Council provided critical feedback and guidance on legislative goals, objectives, bill language, and strategies.

Lastly, we were fortunate to add 3 new members to our Network this December; Powder River Basin Resource Council, Western Colorado Alliance, & Michigan Food & Farming Systems.

Powder River Basin Resource Council advocates for the responsible development of Wyoming’s energy resources. Using community organizing, connections with scientific, policy, and legal experts, and coalitions with other organizations, they wage effective campaigns to protect Wyoming’s air, land, and water quality and to promote sustainable agricultural practices and policies in the state.

Western Colorado Alliance provides their members with leadership and skills training, then supports them as they identify issue campaigns with clear goals, plan strategies, and deliver on those plans. In this way, they seek to make positive change, strengthen democracy and develop leaders who will become the decision-makers of the future.

MIFFS is a farmer-based non-profit in Michigan that connects various regional and identity-based farming groups to federal resources, and advocates for sustainable food and farming systems in various capacities. We are excited to include them in the Network, and are looking forward to another successful year in advancing this work.

Stay tuned for more updates soon!


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