GUEST BLOG POST By Margaret Hathaway, Ten Apple Farm
When I was elected to be one of New England’s delegates to the National Farmers Union convention this March, I was honored by the trust placed in me, but unsure what to expect from the convention. Our Ten Apple Farm is on a small scale, our main farm income is from agri-tourism, and I wasn’t sure if my perspective would be relevant. I participated in last September’s Legislative Fly-In, which was a wonderful experience, and I was impressed by the respect and inclusion shown within the Farmers Union to members of all backgrounds and scales of farming. I hoped that the convention, where the organization’s policy would be set and confirmed, would have the same spirit.
Flying into Wichita’s Mid-continent airport for the convention, the view on the ground was a patchwork of farmland, great expanses of adjoining green and brown rectangles marked by circles of irrigation and shot through with silvery creeks. My own farm in southern Maine was still under four feet of snow; it had been barely in the teens when I left, but when the pilot started our descent, he said the temperature on the ground was 78 degrees. At home, it was hard to believe that our farm would ever wake up, that our apple orchard would bloom, or that our goats would ever be out browsing in the pasture again. But spring had already come to Kansas, winter wheat was sprouting, and when we landed the warm air smelled of early blossoms, with a whiff of smoke from the controlled spring burning in the Flint Hills.
The convention was held at a hotel downtown on the bank of the Arkansas River, and farmers from all over the country milled about between sessions in the corridors, visiting with each other and the vendors who lined the walls. The North Dakota Farmers Union had come down in their own bus, which was parked prominently in front of the hotel. As a progressive organization, NFU is dedicated to gender equity in its policy, and it was heartening to see the numbers of young women taking part in education, camps, and youth leadership programs.
The programming for the convention began with a truly wonderful talk by Dr. Temple Grandin, who wove together the themes of animal well-being, brain development, and autism in a way that was inspirational. She received a well-deserved standing ovation. Other notable talks were the addresses by US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and a fascinating slideshow and discussion by National Geographic photographer and Kansas native Jim Richardson. Breakout sessions on climate change and finding farming—whose panelists included New England’s own Chelsea Kruse, who graduated from the NFU Beginning Farmer Institute at the convention—were also of great interest.
The most fascinating part of the convention, however, was the line-by-line discussion, debate and confirmation of the organization’s policy. Seated by delegation and following strict parliamentary procedure, we went through the entire policy book, proposing amendment, editing wording, and voting by both voice and clicker. The passages under review were projected onto screens at the front of the room, and members were recognized to give their opinions on proposed changes.
The discussions on the floor made it clear that we didn’t all agree about certain issues—a failed amendment to support funding for beaver introduction was particularly lively—and that there was great variation in regional concerns (to be expected, in our vast country). What struck me most, however, was though there were many perspectives in the room, everyone was concerned about accountability, stewardship of American farmland, and keeping farms in the hands of farmers.
On the whole, the convention was inspirational. Though my family’s farming operation has little in common with that of someone growing corn in Nebraska, our core values of hard work, dedication to our families and our land, and the joy we take in growing things, are the same.