Community Food Systems at the Legislature: OCFSN member reports from the 2017 legislative session

Anya Moucha and the OCFSN Policy Working Group

For some OCFSN members, policy and advocacy are at the heart of what they do. For others, it can be hard to know where to start. To help the rest of us learn what this work looks like, we asked four OCFSN members to share their experience at the Oregon Legislature this year: Nellie McAdams, Rogue Farm Corps; Megan Kemple, Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network; Ivan Maluski, Friends of Family Farmers; and Phillip Kennedy-Wong, Oregon Food Bank.

Were you active at the Legislature this session? Share your experience.  

Nellie McAdams, Rogue Farm Corps

From her start as a legislative assistant, Nellie McAdams has been active at the state legislature since 2008. Now, in her role as Rogue Farm Corps’ Farm Preservation Program Director, McAdams helps the organization advocate for policies that promote farmland succession and access by beginning farmers, and preserve farmland for future generations.

In this last session, McAdams primarily worked on HB 3249, also known as the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program. OAHP funds farm succession, a study of Oregon’s estate tax, and voluntary conservation programs that help with farm succession, like working lands easements. Similar bills had been in the works for six years. The current version was developed by diverse stakeholders over the last two years and was vetted through seven listening sessions around the state.

Ultimately, the program received nearly $200,000 to establish the program’s commission and rules, but unfortunately it was not allotted enough funding for project implementation. Supporters will be looking for this funding in future legislative sessions.

McAdams also worked with fellow OCFSN member organization 1,000 Friends of Oregon to oppose two bills that promised to erode land use policies in Oregon: SB 432 and SB 644. While SB 432 died, SB 644 passed, allowing mining as an outright use on farmland in Eastern Oregon counties.

Stakeholders pose in front of a tractor in support of the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program.
OAHP Lobby Day in June 2017. Photo courtesy of Nellie McAdams.

“Oregon currently has a model land use system, and we need to be diligent to prevent it from being weakened. 1,000 Friends of Oregon serves a critical role as the state’s leading advocate for this program” noted McAdams.

But McAdams pointed out that the work isn’t over. “The programs we create are only as good as the outcomes we can demonstrate to the legislature in the next session. We need to continue to make the case for the money to be allocated to these programs in future sessions.”

The legislature can be overwhelming, and knowing what bills to track can be time consuming, but as McAdams noted “the beauty of a network is that everyone plays a different role. There are many ways that organizations can support legislation, from social media to submitting testimony.”

Megan Kemple, Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network

The Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network (OFSSGN) has been involved in advocating for state legislative policy since 2007. Megan Kemple, the Director of OFSSGN, noted that this year required extra involvement from the OFSSGN because the organization took the lead for most of the session this year, a role that Upstream Public Health has played in the past. The OFSSGN’s priority was to pass and maintain funding for Oregon’s Farm to School Bill (HB 2038).

Funding for the bill was unclear for most of the session. In the last days of the session, the bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously with full funding!

The bill allocates $4.5 million (the same amount as last session) for schools to purchase Oregon grown and processed foods and for food, agriculture, and garden based education. The intent of the program is to increase school districts’ purchases of Oregon grown and processed products, and so this round, the bill was strengthened with an amendment which does not allow schools to use these grant funds to purchase products they were purchasing prior to participating in the grant program, with some exceptions.

“The legislature heard from us loud and clear, with personal stories from all over the state, that this program is valued by Oregonians and makes a difference for our kids, farmers and communities!” said Kemple. “Support from our partner organizations and stakeholders was critical.”

Kemple will now begin working on supporting the Oregon Department of Education with implementing the policy, which has some new rules. She believes it’s important that the legislature continues to fund the Farm to School Grant Program into the future.

Ivan Maluski, Friends of Family Farmers

Each legislative session, Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF) tracks or works on numerous farm and food related bills. This session, some of the group’s priority bills were successful, while others were met with mixed results.

A bill to allow on-farm production and sales of hard cider and new agritourism opportunities on farms with at least 15 acres of apple or pear orchards (SB 677), was passed into law. And HB 3116, a bill to allow the farm-direct sales of ‘ungraded’ eggs or under consignment at farmers markets as long as they are properly labeled was also passed into law.

Two students hold up a sign in support of HB 2038.
‘Family Farms Mean Business’ rally in April of 2017. Photo by Megan Kemple.

Friends of Family Farmers also worked in support of the Farm to School bill, which got $4.5 million for the next biennium, a big win in Oregon’s very tough funding climate this year.

However, other bills were less successful.

The Oregon State University Statewide Public Service Programs, which include Extension and Agricultural Experiment Stations important for farmers of various types, needed $9.4 million to maintain current service levels. In the end, these programs received $5.6 million, a shortfall which OSU believes could result in the loss of seventeen full time positions.

Another top priority for Friends of Family Farmers was a beginning farmer tax credit bill (HB 2085), intended to encourage landowners to enter long term leases with beginning farmers and to help with farm succession.

But in an effort to save the state money, the final ‘omnibus’ tax credit bill the Legislature passed actually eliminated or curtailed a number of existing tax credits instead of adding new ones. One legislator remarked it was a rare tax credit bill that actually generated revenue for the state instead of reducing it.

To find money for the beginning farmer tax credit and other programs, Friends of Family Farmers pushed to reform or eliminate a manure digester tax credit that primarily goes to the state’s largest dairy farm, linking continued funding for this credit to the need for better regulation of air emissions from the state’s largest dairies. While another FoFF priority bill to create an air emissions program for large dairies died in committee, the ‘bovine manure tax credit’ was allowed to stay in place until the end of 2021, with a cap set at $10 million per biennium.

Looking back on the session, FoFF’s Maluski said it is frustrating to think that the state could budget $10 million per biennium for manure management aimed primarily at helping the state’s largest dairy operation, but that more wasn’t done to help out beginning farmers.

But, he noted, “we’ll be back again with the beginning farmer tax credit proposal, and if the state’s budget situation turns around, I’ll be much more optimistic about its future prospects.”

Phillip Kennedy-Wong, Oregon Food Bank

In its mission to end hunger, Oregon Food Bank doesn’t just distribute food to local agencies across the state, it also addresses the root causes of hunger through policy advocacy.

Phillip Kennedy-Wong is an advocate for Oregon Food Bank at the state legislature.  For the last six years, he has lobbied on legislation that is part of the food bank’s broader effort to root out hunger. This involves tracking a diverse set of issues such as food systems, affordable housing, healthcare access, welfare programs, transportation access to jobs and services, and other inequities that lead to food insecurity.

This particular session in light of declining state revenue, Oregon Food Bank focused on securing funds for basic food services. Oregon’s economy improved over the past few years, but personal income growth is not keeping up with the cost of living and thus has not translated into greater food security. The number of Oregonians relying on food assistance remain at recession-levels. The Oregon Hunger Response Fund is a critical state program to Oregon’s network of 20 regional food banks’ ability to distribute food cost-effectively.

Oregon Food Bank educated lawmakers about how the state’s affordable housing crisis has led to higher food insecurity. In addition to more funds to the Emergency Housing Account/State Homeless Assistance Program for the 2017-19 biennium, the Oregon Legislature increased the state’s investment in the Oregon Hunger Response Fund to $4.2 million.

Oregon Food Bank believes the Legislature must understand that addressing systemic inequities is critical and necessary to root out the causes of hunger, specifically for those stigmatized by race, class, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, geography and other devices that deter people from meeting their basic needs to live.

Thanks to our OCFSN colleagues for sharing their experiences during the session. If you have a story to share about your organization’s efforts and experience at the Legislature this year, please let us know.