Oregon Farmers, Ranchers Unite to Shape the Future of Agriculture

Author: Megan Fehrman, Friends of Family Farmers

Publish Date: Spring 2010

Family Farmers and Ranchers From across Oregon stand behind the Agricultural Reclamation Act

On the last Sunday of February, over 70 farmers and ranchers came together for the first Annual Farmer and Rancher Delegation, hosted by the nonprofit Friends of Family Farmers. These participants, representing a wide array of towns, cities and agricultural sectors, gathered together to lend their voices to the Agricultural Reclamation Act or “ARA” for Oregon.  The Agricultural Reclamation Act is a roadmap for future food and agricultural policy that prioritizes family-scale farms and ranches, food security and rural economic viability.

The Delegation was a culmination of a year and a half long effort to band farmers and ranchers together.  Over the past months, hundreds of agrarians have participated in 17 community meetings throughout the state. During these meetings, folks identified common challenges and obstacles that make it difficult to raise and produce food in their regions.  They also elected Delegates to represent them in drafting the Agricultural Reclamation Act in Corvallis last month, demonstrating the collective strength of Oregon’s independent family farmers and ranchers and connecting communities across our vast and diverse state.

Donna Smith, of Your Backyard Farmer, represented the Portland Metro Area and says that the opportunity to be a Delegate left her very excited.  She explained that the Delegation discussions had been “so passionate and so fresh.”  “A string runs straight through us,” she said, remembering the inclusiveness she felt, “connecting us all – a room full of passionate farmers.”

The Delegates discussed and deliberated a number of key issue areas where they hope to bring about change. A few of the topics discussed were lack of access to meat slaughter and processing, the fact that the current farming population is rapidly aging, and the lack of support and cooperation from the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Within each issue area discussed, the Delegates voted on three action items that can be taken to keep agriculture vibrant and economically feasible in our state.

 A major theme of the community meetings and the Delegation is that the status quo is not working for all Oregon farmers and ranchers.  Without immediate change, we risk losing a good deal of those who base their livelihood on the farm and contribute to the economic and cultural existence of our rural communities. Without a plan of action, the face of Oregon farming, as we know it, is set to drastically change over the next ten years.

The existing rules and regulations pertaining to food and agriculture in Oregon are set up to be “one-size” fits all, meaning that family-scale farms and ranches are subject to many of the exact same regulations that are required of industrial style farms.  For example, it would be silly to require a bicyclist to have a Commercial Drivers License to share the road with an 18-wheeler.  Yet when it comes to agriculture, regardless of whether it’s meat, cheese or vegetables, regulatory roadblocks interfere with the relationships between producers and consumers and make it difficult to get locally-produced food from our farms and ranches to the people who want it.

The Agricultural Reclamation Act strives to address these issues and ensure that public officials hear and understand the needs of farmers who are practicing a type of agriculture that respects the land, their workers and animals, sustains rural communities and contributes to the state's economy. A final version of the ARA, drafted by the farmers and ranchers who attended the Delegation, will be approved and made public in May.  From there, the group will take their recommendations to the Board of Agriculture and will be looking for broad-based support from the food and agricultural community.

The work in Oregon is the first of its kind, and provides a unique perspective to the growing national food movement that is focused on vitality, health and cultural connectivity. The Agricultural Reclamation Act has been supported by the McKenzie River Gathering and Farm Aid, with hopes that it can be replicated in other parts of the country where farmers are facing some of the same challenges.

“Farmers have always been the most creative and innovative problem-solvers. In fact, our farmers have the potential to help us solve many of our most pressing issues today,” said Farm Aid executive director Carolyn Mugar. “Farm Aid is proud to be part of the work that is happening in Oregon--farmers coming together to make policy not just for farmers, but for everyone in Oregon, and to serve as a model for the rest of the country.”  

Friends of Family Farmers is a statewide nonprofit organization building a strong and united voice for Oregon’s independent family farmers, food advocates, and concerned citizens who are working to foster an approach to agriculture that respects the land, treats animals humanely, sustains local communities, and provides a viable livelihood for family farmers. It is our belief that every person- urban and agrarian, farmer and eater- has the ability to make choices that can help regenerate our food system.

More information about Friends of Family Farmers and the ARA can be found at: www.friendsoffamilyfarmers.org.  To get involved, please call Megan Fehrman, 503.622.0161 or email megan@friendsoffamilyfarmers.org.