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NYFB Member Farmer Finds Inspiration in NYC Lobby Trip

‘We Have the Potential to Start from a Place of Mutual Understanding’

by Mike Swartz
NYFB Member /Dairy Farmer

In late February, I joined several other Farm Bureau members and staff from across the state on a trip to New York City a for multipurpose visit.

Our lobbying visits with the local offices of six different state representatives around Manhattan to discuss everything from labor issues to pesticide regulations and the extended producer’s responsibility bill. As anyone who has attended a lobbying event with Farm Bureau can attest to, there are sometimes visits where you may leave the room feeling as if the representatives have made up their minds on a particular issue, and that there’s no information you could provide them that would cause them to see things differently.

While it could be tempting and understandable to let this frustration lead us to thoughts of pure malice towards farming as the motivation for some of these anti-agriculture bills, I think it’s important to remember that often in these cases it really is just as simple as constituent pressure on legislators which leads to some of these proposed bills that we find so potentially dangerous. I was told as much during one of our meetings in New York and also heard a phone call come in supporting the Birds and Bees Act while we waited in the office of one of our adopted legislators in Albany. This is grassroots-level advocacy, just like we do with Farm Bureau.

This isn’t to say that we left New York feeling pessimistic. What I saw as the most important meeting of the trip was with Qiana Mickie and Evan Burr, Director and Deputy Director, respectively, of Mayor Adams’ new Office of Urban Agriculture. Qiana spoke at length of a “silo effect,” or a misunderstanding and perceived lack of charitability and extending the benefit of the doubt between the urban and rural divide, but that there may be some hope of mending the divide through agriculture. I very much agree with this sentiment.

While the direct lobbying that we have been doing with representatives should obviously continue, I’ve seen that by the time we’re discussing bills and ideas with lawmakers, they have often already heard from a large portion of their constituency and formed their stance on these issues. I believe this is why the top-down approach can often seem frustrating, but at the same time why I found our meeting with Qiana and Evan encouraging. By opening the door to a much more direct or grassroots conversation between farmers (both upstate and urban) and the consumers of New York City, we can hopefully continue the more productive bottom-up discussion.

By understanding that urban and upstate farmers are going to share a lot of the same problems and concerns, we have the potential to start from a place of mutual understanding, rather than what can feel like an insurmountable divide, and work together for the benefit of agriculture all over New York State. I left the trip energized and can not stress enough how important it was for Farm Bureau to initiate these conversations. I hope that this is just the beginning of an ongoing dialogue and would encourage more members to attend future trips.

Mike Swartz owns Swartz Dairy and Produce in Rensselaer County.