This interview is based on responses from a tweet chat that took place on April 28, 2021. Answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
What experiences shaped your understanding of the importance of agriculture?
Sen. Kim Jackson (GA): As a sixth-generation Black farmer, I think about agriculture every day when I do farm chores! I raise goats, bees, ducks, and chickens and all kinds of vegetables. And, I eat food every day!
Rep. Brian Turner (NC): My grandma grew up in the mountain border of North Carolina & Tennessee. Raising livestock & planting row crops were a way of life for her. I’m grateful she passed those skills to me, and now I get to pass it on to my daughter growing our own veggies in the backyard.
Rep. Rebecca Mitchell (GA): At first: a square baler without a kicker. Loading 50- and 100-pound feed sacks at the mill. Outdoor water spigots in the winter in New York. Fiberglass fence posts (never. ever. again).
Later: working at the dairy farm next door. Fitting sheep at shows.
Professionally: ambulatory rotations in veterinary school and analyzing milk quality and pathogens from dairy farms.
Rep. Julie von Haefen (NC): Growing up in Iowa, I saw firsthand how agriculture can be an integral part of the economy, our community and our environment. My house was on the edge of a cornfield and detasseling corn was the premier summer job for teenagers!
Agriculture issues range from food insecurity to soil health—what are some of the agriculture issues in your district?
Sen. Natalie Murdock (NC): Food insecurity is an issue in my senate district. 16.5% of people in my county are food insecure, that’s over 45,000 people. Over 12,000 children are food insecure.
Rep. Julie von Haefen (NC): We don’t have a lot of farms, but urban agriculture is becoming more important! Urban farming is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around urban areas—an important tool to ensure our communities have access to fresher and healthier foods!
Sen. Rosemary Bayer (MI): My district spans a wide array of urban, suburban and rural areas. While we don’t have much farming in the district anymore, soil as a vital living system is important to all of us. From large rural farms to urban gardens, we all need healthy soil! Constituents all over the state & my district suffer from food insecurity and Covid has only made this worse. In addition to sustainable farming across the state, local sustainable urban and suburban gardens can help with food insecurity.
Sen. Kim Jackson (GA): In District 41, like many places in Georgia, people struggle with food insecurity. And for folks growing food in the city—often to address this very issue!—there can be many roadblocks.
I’m encouraged by efforts to bring fresh food to more people and support new growers. We need collaboration across sectors—and at all levels of government!—to decrease barriers to healthy food and urban agriculture.
Tell us about an agriculture, food, or rural issue you are working on in your state.
Sen. Kim Jackson (GA): I serve on the Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee. I’m working to support Black farmers across the state of Georgia and bring fresh, healthy food to those who need it most.
Rep. Brian Turner (NC): As a member of the Ag appropriations committee I’m working to make sure the preservation programs are funded and also fighting for improved broadband penetration so farmers can modernize, be more efficient, and so kids know they can farm and be connected.
Sen. Kirk deViere (NC): I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with veterans who have turned to farming as a career and therapy for post-military life. We have a responsibility to help and encourage small family farms that have been the cornerstone of North Carolina’s agricultural economy for generations. I’d like to see veteran farmers as a substantial part of those small farms.
How can agriculture be part of the solution to climate change?
Sen. Kirk deViere (NC): Incentivizing sustainable farming and regenerative agriculture is not only a smart long-term policy decision for farmers, but it’s much better for our environment as well. To be successful, agriculture must be a significant focus of climate justice.
Sen. Natalie Murdock (NC): As a previous soil and water supervisor, I know how soil health is key to combating climate change. Here in North Carolina we continue to work on robust soil health plans and need to fund regenerative agriculture programs.
Rep. Brian Turner (NC): Farmers love the land they work and want to keep it healthy so they can grow our food. Creating incentives to reduce fertilizers, stormwater runoff, and adopt more efficient irrigation tech helps. For more about local food growers visit the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
What do you wish more people knew about agriculture?
Rep. Julie von Haefen (NC): Agriculture and the environment go hand in hand. We must pay attention to how our North Carolina hog and poultry farms are operating and affecting the communities around them, and how they may be harmful to water and air.
Creating policy that benefits and protects both agriculture and the environment is important.
Sen. Kirk deViere (NC): One common misconception about agriculture is that all farmers are white. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As of 2017, North Carolina had nearly 2,100 black producers. We rely on minority farmers, namely Black farmers.
Rep. Brian Turner (NC): Agriculture is the #1 driver of North Carolina’s economy. We are #1 in the U.S. in sweet potatoes and soybeans, #2 in hogs.
Agriculture is bipartisan with rural and urban support. Most North Carolina farms are small family operations hoping the next generation will take over. We have a duty to help. No farms, no food.
How can people engage with agriculture issues beyond Earth Month?
Rep. Julie von Haefen: Contact your state legislators and sign up for our legislative updates! Sharing your priorities with your elected officials goes a long way towards advancing sound environmental and agricultural policies.
Sen. Kirk deViere (NC): If you live in North Carolina, you likely interact with agriculture much more than you realize. After all, agriculture is our #1 industry! It’s up to us to make sure that we continue to support the agricultural industry while fighting climate change.
Sen. Rosemary Bayer (MI): We all need to be conscious of good environmental practices – in pest management, water management, air and soil health and more. Remember, what you put into the air and ground travels. It’s never just about our own gardens or backyards. We are a world community. We have one planet and we need to work together to protect not only our own land, state and country, but our entire planet.