I recently traveled as a media member on behalf of Edible Columbus to Washington D.C. with representatives from the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation for the organization’s 70th annual County Presidents’ trip. The trip took Ohio farmers to our nation’s capital to meet with elected representatives to discuss agriculture, farm and food policy.
Walking through the marbled halls of Capitol Hill, elbow to elbow with agricultural leaders from Ohio, I was reminded of the great democracy that we live in. I felt how a rural producer is welcomed and invited to congressional offices as an important voice of the American populace. Amidst the concrete and congestion of urban Washington D.C., it was refreshing to see that food and agriculture remain at the heart of our society, as does respect for those who tend to this most precious resource. I witnessed smart, humble and kind men and women who boldly, yet respectfully, argued for agriculture.
Ohio farmers are doing important work. In our state, 1 in 7 residents are employed in agriculture-related jobs, making the industry the state’s largest job provider. Ohio’s producers farm more than 14 million acres of land and contribute $105 billion to the state’s economy.
The highlight of the trip was meeting these brave agricultural producers. In a period of declining farm incomes, these men and women took three days away from their businesses, important time that could have been spent preparing for the upcoming growing season, to represent our great state in our nation’s capital.
A Packed Itinerary
The highly debated GMO labeling issue was a theme in most of the meetings that we attended. On March 16, the second day of our three-day trip, the Senate rejected a bill that would have prevented any state from requiring GMO labels on food. Supporters of the bill were attempting to push national legislation that would have overridden Vermont’s recently passed GMO labeling requirement.
“We need to come to an agreement sooner rather than later. There is a public right to know. However, we can’t do it state by state. A patchwork of different state laws is too expensive and too confusing,” said Ohio’s Senator Sherrod Brown at a breakfast briefing with our group on the morning of the vote.
Senator Brown serves as Ohio’s first senator on the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry in more than 40 years. He also chairs the U.S. Senate’s Agriculture Subcommittee on Jobs, Rural Economic Growth and Energy Innovation.
We had the honor of attending an outstanding Farm Forum organized by Ohio’s Congressman Bob Gibbs. Congressman Gibbs, from Holmes County, is a member of the House Committee on Agriculture and the Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. The Forum featured a number of Gibbs’ colleagues in Congress, including Texas Congressman Mike Conaway, the Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. Additionally, Congressman Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, addressed participants at the Forum.
We also heard from a wealth of industry contacts working in the agricultural arena in Washington D.C., including leaders from the American Farm Bureau Federation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Global Food Security Project. Participants visited the French and German embassies to learn about agriculture and trade in these nations.
“The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s County Presidents’ trip was an absolutely enormous educational opportunity,” said Cindy Cassell, Clermont County Farm Bureau President who operates a bison ranch with her husband and daughter. “We learned how agricultural issues at the national and international level are connected to Ohio’s industry.”