How to Be a Food Policy Advocate in Your Community  - Modern Farmer

How to Be a Food Policy Advocate in Your Community 

Food policy experts offer simple steps that anyone can take to create positive change.

Photography courtesy of NSAC.

It’s an election year in the United States, which means that national news outlets are fixated on presidential politics. But although who Americans vote into the top office does have ramifications for food and climate policy, making a change for the better in your local community doesn’t have to wait for November. In fact, there are plenty of ways to begin today.

Food policy experts Sarah Hackney and Jamie Fanous have advice for those who feel overwhelmed or unsure about how to make a difference. Hackney is the coalition director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) in Washington, D.C., where she works with grassroots organizations to advocate for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources and rural communities. Fanous is the policy director at one of these organizations, a California-based nonprofit called Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF). Together, Hackney and Fanous offer guidance on simple steps that we can all take to create positive change around us, in ways both big and small.

Join CSA programs and support food cooperatives 

Besides doing the research to elect officials who advocate on behalf of these priorities, the best thing we can do to support farmers year-round is to be just as conscientious about how we vote with our dollars. “Sign up for a CSA, go to the farmers market or co-op, purchase your produce from farmers directly. Go the extra mile to do that,” says Fanous. “If you’re going to a big box store, the produce is probably not from a small-scale farmer or a local farmer, so it’s really not supporting local economies. Joining a CSA program is a great way to build a relationship with your farmer and know where your food is coming from.”

Educate yourself and amplify your actions

For those looking to engage more deeply in food policy advocacy, Hackney and Fanous recommend tuning into social media platforms and newsletters from a mixture of national agricultural organizations, such as NSAC, and local ones, such as CAFF. 

“NSAC is one of the best places to get into the nerdy details of food and agriculture policy,” says Hackney. “We have a very active blog and a weekly e-newsletter where we highlight big food and ag policy news from D.C., along with free analysis you won’t find anywhere else.”

When it comes to understanding issues closer to home, Hackney says, “There are over 150 member organizations within NSAC, most of whom are state or regionally focused, and all of whom work in relationship with farmers and eaters in their communities. Almost all of them have active websites and social media accounts and some specifically have farmer- and consumer-led volunteer teams that help review and develop policy ideas both at the local and national level.” She recommends checking out the membership lists of a coalition such as NSAC or one of its peers, such as the HEAL Food Alliance, to see if there’s an active member organization in your state or region. 

Call Congress

Once you start following political and agricultural news, you may come across the occasional public request for citizens like yourself to contact local representatives in Congress to advocate for or against certain bills. 

“We share calls to action at key junctures in the policy process when there are opportunities for folks to make their voices heard directly with lawmakers,” says Hackney. “It’s absolutely possible for individual calls, emails and messages to make a difference: Lawmakers track and monitor who’s reaching out to them on issues that matter locally. When it comes to shifting food and farm policy toward more sustainable, equitable outcomes in our communities, we need those voices. We’re up against entrenched, well-resourced corporate interests and lobbying firms, and one of our best tools to push back is our willingness to speak up as voters, eaters and community leaders.”

“If organizations like CAFF or others ask—make the phone call. It makes a big difference,” says Fanous. “We very rarely ask people to make calls to their members, but when we do, it’s serious and we need that support. If you can’t make the call, repost the request on social media to give it more life.” 

Vote every chance you get

Besides the four-year presidential election cycle, there are congressional elections every two years, as well as annual state and local elections. Register with to receive notifications about upcoming elections so that you never miss a chance to vote. 

“The coming 2024 election cycle may shape the fate and contents of the still-to-be-reauthorized farm bill,” says Hackney. The so-called “farm bill” should be passed by Congress every five years and pertains to much more than just farming. This package of legislation defines our food system, determining what we eat by how we use land, water and other natural resources. 

“Congress didn’t reauthorize the 2018 Farm Bill on time last year, instead opting to extend the old bill,” explains Hackney. “If Congress doesn’t complete the reauthorization process on the bill before the fall, that could shift farm bill passage timing into 2025, which means potentially new and different lawmakers sitting on the committees that draft the bill and new lawmakers in leadership positions to drive the process. While the farm bill is intended to represent the needs and issues of farmers and communities and families nationwide, the representatives and senators who sit on the House and Senate agriculture committees, who themselves only represent a slice of the country’s landscape and electorate, get to do the lion’s share of shaping that bill.”

If you’re not sure whether to vote yes or no for a particular bill, Hackney has advice: “If there’s a bill that focuses on an issue you care about, you can look up its authors and cosponsors—these are the lawmakers willing to go on the record with their support for a bill.” Keep an eye out for the names of politicians who are familiar to you and try to determine if their values align with yours, then use their judgment to guide your own. 

“For example, at NSAC, we’ve been organizing for several years around the Agriculture Resilience Act. It’s a bill that would address climate change by reshaping much of the US Department of Agriculture’s programming toward climate change action,” says Hackney. “It would increase resources and support for practices on farms that build diversity of crops and livestock, integrate perennial crops, keep the soil covered and integrate livestock into the landscape—all highly effective climate and agriculture solutions that can reduce emissions and build resiliency. Lawmakers who’ve endorsed this bill are essentially telling us: I support tackling the climate crisis by finding solutions through sustainable agriculture and food systems. You can find a bill’s cosponsors by using free, publicly available websites like or”

Diversify your approach 

“If we could fix our food and farm system by simply voting with our forks or making one quick call to Congress or growing our own food, we’d be there already,” says Hackney. “The truth is it takes action on multiple fronts—especially if we want to get to the root causes of the problems in our food and farm system. That means both doing what we can with our individual food choices—within our means and our communities—to support food and farm businesses operating on values of sustainability and equity and choosing to engage politically to improve food and farm policy.”

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3 months ago

Title should read: ‘How use the violence-backed aggression of the State to impose your food preferences on others’.