Agriculture and Climate Policy Listening Session with Congresswoman Annie Kuster
Stonewall Farm hosted a listening session with Congresswoman Annie Kuster, NH farmers, and business leaders to discuss the impact of climate change on food and agriculture in NH, and how to address it. Stonyfield Organic’s Britt Lundgren facilitated a panel discussion about the effects climate change is having on food production, how farms and businesses are adapting and helping to mitigate climate change, and how federal policy can do more to support their efforts. Panelists included: Roger Noonan, Middle Branch Farm/President of New England Farmers Union, Jess Baum, W.S. Badger Co., Julie Davenson, Stonewall Farm, Beth Hodge, Echo Farm Pudding, and Steve Normanton, Normanton Farms.
There was a wide-ranging discussion of regenerative agriculture with a focus on carbon sequestration and various methods of pastured dairy and beef production (practices that can help build the soil microbiome and lessen compaction - thereby storing up water in the ground and lessoning harmful run-off). There was some discussion of low till and no till methods, including a brief warning that some no till methods are dependent upon herbicides such as Roundup (glyphosate).
There was mention of the need to be wary regarding words that are being used in careless or deceptive ways (i.e. the importance of going beyond labels such as sustainable, organic, regenerative, etc. and really learning about the practices behind a particular food or product. Hence the benefit of knowing one’s farmer!).
There was talk about the impact of loan policies on specialty crop production and the advantages of short, responsible supply chains (for example, Beth Hodge's organic dairy which produces Echo Farm Pudding, sends its cow manure to nearby farms to be transformed into organic compost for their hayfields. This frees those farms from dependence upon energy-intensive and polluting synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. This in turn, generates locally-grown fodder for the dairy cows.
Jess Baum from Badger Co. described the need for socially and environmentally responsible international supply chains. She discussed Badger personal care products’ methods for obtaining key organic ingredients from overseas farmers through a just and equitable sourcing process. Badger Co. is a B Corp. like Stonyfield Organic, with ‘cradle to grave’ production considerations and a commitment to ethical social practices.
There was a conversation about the need to change growing methods (including perhaps more irrigation and even the cultivation of different plant species or varieties) to contend with extreme weather events. The difficulty of obtaining accurate production data and the suppression of federal scientific studies and research were also considered.
Overall, the most encouraging message coming from the panel was that localized, regenerative/organic agriculture can actually help stave off or even reverse some of the damage being caused by climate change. There was further consensus that thoughtful regenerative agriculture (a term which encompasses organic methods) together with ecologically and socially-sound business practices can help reduce the emissions of destabilizing compounds into the air and waterways. Such practices can also increase local economic vitality, food access and security, plus overall regional ecological health and biodiversity. Of course, these constructive changes require cooperation and support from the buying-and-voting public and our elected officials at all levels.
Representative Kuster, who helped write two Farm Bills and is now serving on the Energy and Commerce Committee, expressed strong support for sustainable local agriculture and sustainable production.