Report from the Citizens Lobbying Day 2011

Local food supporters from all over Texas gathered at the State Capitol on Monday, February 21 for the first Family Farms & Local Foods Day. The event provided an opportunity for Texas citizens, farmers, and ranchers to speak up for local food systems. Participants spent the morning learning about the legislative process, and then met with both their own legislators and others, acting as citizen lobbyists.

At the end of the day, we re-convened to compare experiences and discuss the next steps. For many people, this was their first experience in talking with legislative staff, something that many consider intimidating. By the end of the day, though, the response was incredible. Here are some quotes from some of the people who participated:

When first asked who wanted to go to Austin and talk to people about the raw milk bill, none of the children were very excited about going. But the trip to the capitol was made “mandatory” regardless of level of enthusiasm, since their wise parents knew it would be an unforgettable civics lesson. Once there, they really got into talking with the legislative staffers and were impressed that what they were doing could really have an effect on law-making. At the end of the day, they were all asking when we could come back and talked about their experiences on the long ride home, until they fell asleep exhausted from the excitement and long day. – The Hutchins Family

Showing up in person creates a relationship and an accountability that our elected officials cannot get away from. The staff is much more responsive to calls and ask for details about what it is we are concerned about. It makes so much difference after the visit, I hope we really fill the halls next time. This is where the changes will be made- face to face. – Nancy

After my experience the last time, I’m determined to do what I can to support the efforts of FARFA. At the first Family Farm and Local Foods day at the Capital, I was inspired and impressed by the number, determination and eloquence of the people who showed up. I was encouraged by the general receptiveness and willingness to listen displayed by most of the staffers with whom we spoke. There was one staffer who handled the interview as if there was no way I could understand the complexities of the issue. In response to the topic of changing the way urban farms are taxed, he straight out said ‘there’s no way that’s ever going to happen.’

I was shocked to perceive his narrow view and his unwillingness to consider different options. The up side is that this perception made me realize how very important it is for every citizen who is aware and cares about what’s going on with our food supply to become a lobbyist. To speak again and again and again to those who do not want to hear. To hold those who have authority to form public policy accountable for their responsibility to behave responsibly. To let them know that we are aware. That we are watching. That the old days of ‘Good Old Boys Doing Business as Usual’ are coming to a very quick end.” – Theresa

FARFA is organizing a second citizen’s lobbying day in Texas on Friday, April 29, 2011.

 

UPDATE ON 2011 TEXAS LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Below are bills that have been filed in the Texas Legislature that may impact family farmers and local foods. FARFA will be monitoring these bills and more throughout the session. You can also get additional information on the bills at the Texas Legislature’s website: www.capitol.state.tx.us/Home.aspx

Raw Milk: HB 75/ SB 237, by Representatives Flynn, Bonnen, Rodriguez, and Simpson and Senator Deuell, would legalize the sale of raw milk by licensed producers at farmers markets, farm stands, and through delivery. SB 237 has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Cottage Foods: HB 1139, by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, would exempt producers of low-risk cottage foods who sell less directly to consumers and gross under $150,000 from the existing commercial kitchen requirements. We anticipate additional bills being filed on this issue.

Eminent Domain: SB 18, to reform the eminent domain laws, has been approved by the Senate Committee on State Affairs and is expected to be approved by the full Senate as early as today.

Water: SB 449, by Senators Watson and Estes, would enable landowners to have their property valued as agricultural use if they meet certain requirement for “water stewardship”

Equine tooth floating: HB 721, by Representative Miller, would allow livestock tooth floating to be done without a veterinarian’s supervision, enabling horse owners to choose to use an equine dentist without the expense of also paying a vet. The bill does not allow equine dentists to use sedation or tranquilizers without a veterinarian’s supervision.

Community Gardens: SB 184, by Senator Nelson, directs the General Land Office to develop a plan for the establishment of community food gardens on real property owned by the state that is not being otherwise used.

We anticipate more bills related to local foods being filed shortly, so stay tuned!