March 25th, 2023
In our last update, we shared that our bill had a hearing coming up in the Minnesota House Agriculture Committee. Thanks to our partners and some outreach, for our hearings we received over 22 individual letters of support, 47 organizations signed on to a group letter of support, and we collected over 30 testimonials from farmers. Read what they had to say here.
In the house, Representative Sencer-Mura of district 63A took to the stand as the Chief Author of our LEAFF bill, HF 1744 for the bills first hearing on March 1st. Our Farm Program Director, David VanEeckhout was joined by our testifiers KaZoua Berry, Farm Director of Big River Farms, and Jane Windspeger, a farmer who was part of LEAFF in 2023.KaZoua told the committee that at least 10% of LEAFF farmers are also a part of Big River Farms in Marine on St. Croix, where LEAFF is helping to support new and emerging farmers “The LEAFF program is not just run by people who have this infrastructure and space, but these are culturally competent people, which is super important in order for you to serve the amount of partners- speak multiple languages and be able to have that compassion and sensitivity to the needs of these farmers [….] (LEAFF) doesn’t just adjust market access for farmers, but it is also a gateway for farmers and encouragement for them to continue to support the local food system.”
Jane Windsperger testified next. An immigrant to the U.S. from Kenya, Windsperger lives in Ogilvie and farms in Lino Lakes. She got connected to The Good Acre through Moses Momanyi of Dawn2Dusk Farm in her search to find markets to sell her fresh homegrown produce. She spoke on behalf of many emerging farmers when she said “I cannot stress enough that there is no shortage of farmers like me who have the knowledge and ability to grow food. We want to find a market and the LEAFF program has helped us to do so. I ask for your support in this funding… now we have LEAFF and that’s who we (farmers) are focusing on.”
Public testifier Ben Doherty from Open Hands Farm also supports the LEAFF program to give local producers a market despite consumers feeling the hardship of increased food prices. Doherty says, “What these programs have done, which is always astonishing to me, and has made such a big difference in my life and for all these other growers’ life; has given us markets that don’t otherwise exist for our scale to compete with the biggest specialty crop growers in the country, which is who we are competing with every day.” And with that, the House hearing was complete and our bill was held over for possible inclusion in the Ag Omnibus.
The Chief author of our companion bill, SF 1727, is Senator Heather Gustafson. She also is the Senate author of the Universal Free Meals bill that got signed into law last week. Jane Windsperger returned to testify in the Senate Ag Committee telling members the importance of LEAFF. With her, Robert Lor, a farmer with 50 years of experience who also has been in the LEAFF program, called for increased funding for the program. “I would like to ask for the chair and members to support the LEAFF program for farmers to grow more vegetables and for more produce to get to the local community.”
Questions asked by both committees as testifiers sat included topics regarding administrative costs, how we select farmers to be in the program, how we decide on fair prices for growers, whether or not the program would be able to support more farmers, and questions about the pilot programs – David, who has been at TGA since 2017, answered all of these questions with aplomb.
So what’s next?
The Chairs of the House and Senate Ag Committees are busy working this weekend on getting their omnibus finance bills together. They will be released on Monday, March 27th at which point committees will do a walk-through and take public testimony. After that, amendments will be submitted, there is a final markup of the bill, and finally the bill will be passed out of committee before the legislature goes on their Easter break.
We don’t know what the bills have to say yet, but TGA staff is on standby to testify whether funding for LEAFF is in there or not. Regardless of what happens in hearing rooms next week, a harvest is coming. It’s only an eternal optimist that puts a seed into the ground and hopes for the best. What we have brought to the legislature this session are seeds of hope and transformation for a food system where food from here is for here. Our Minnesota Ag Committee members hold these seeds in their hands, let’s hope they plant them securely in their final omnibus packages.
If you have questions about the bill or would like to talk about getting involved with LEAFF, contact our Communication Director, Nikki Warner at [email protected] or follow us on social media to watch as we make our way through the final eight weeks of this historic legislative session.