photo credit: Jamie Tiralla, Used with Permission
When was the last time you read about your county supervisors’ meeting? Or a city council meeting? Do you make it a point to meet with your city council member or reach out to your mayor? Local government has a huge impact on our day-to-day life and the development of our communities. And yet, too often, we take them for granted or leave it to others to participate. We truly cannot afford to do that.
There’s a reason many of the services we rely on most – from utilities and waste collection to schools and emergency services – are governed at the local level. It’s because we know our local communities better than anyone else, and the people who live and work in the community should be making the decisions that will impact us directly, not bureaucrats who have never stepped foot in our towns and neighborhoods. We should never discount the big difference we can make by engaging with our elected leaders at the local level.
As I’ve traveled across the country, I hear from farmers and ranchers frustrated about changing zoning laws, roads that can’t handle farm equipment, and the challenges that come with urban expansion. These challenges, and many more, require solutions developed at the local level. Unfortunately, we sometimes encounter officials on local boards and commissions who don’t understand agriculture, even with farms a few miles down the road. Often these officials have good intentions but they just don’t realize how new ordinances or regulations could drive a family farm out of business.
We cannot expect our elected leaders to make decisions that are supportive of agriculture if we fail to engage and help them understand how issues impact our farms.
I encourage you to look up when the next city council or county board meeting is scheduled and attend. Make it part of your routine. I’m confident it won’t be long before an issue arises that has implications for agriculture. That’s your chance to explain how such policies affect your ability to farm. If you can’t attend a meeting, send an email or letter to members of the council or commission. Local government leaders are often easily accessible and familiar with your community. When issues arise, it’s important to convey how much we care about our communities, just like they do. Often times, we also have the opportunity to explain how agriculture is part of the solution, not part of the problem, and remind them that our ultimate goal is to feed families in the community and across this great country.
Local governments are responsible for zoning laws, land use regulations, and fixing roads. And rural water districts, electric boards, and irrigation districts have a tremendous impact on how we farm and develop our communities. Making our voices heard at the local level can also prevent bad policies from bubbling up to the state and even federal levels.
When I speak with members of Congress or officials in the administration, I make clear that a one-size-fits-all “solution” to almost any problem just doesn’t work for agriculture. Every state and region are different. Heck, every farm is different! That’s why we’ve advocated for states and local jurisdictions to have more control and not for federal edicts like the new WOTUS rule. Just as we are vigilant at the federal level, we have to pay close attention to what is happening at the local level and, of course, in our state capitals. From funding agricultural research to developing and implementing regulations, we must work to ensure that state officials understand the importance of supporting agriculture.
The bottom line is that we cannot expect our elected leaders to make decisions that are supportive of agriculture if we fail to engage and help them understand how issues impact our farms. Engaging with our elected officials at the local and state levels is an important part of ensuring a sustainable future for agriculture and for our nation.