Why is Save Family Farming Needed?
There are many farm groups effectively representing farming on important policy issues. Save Family Farming helps this work by reaching out to the public to build support for our farmers and protect the support farmers have. Staffed by communication professionals with deep experience in public relations, broadcasting, and crisis communications, we use the current communication channels to reach the people most influential in the future of our farms. No other organization is focused on public communication affecting all types of family farming. It’s new and the past three years of experience shows, this kind of public outreach can make a big difference. We seek to unify farmers so we can speak with a strong voice in the public arena. We believe this is essential to secure a future for family farming in this state.
How Do We Reach Those Who Matter?
The internet has dramatically changed how we communicate with each other and even how we get news. The news media such as Seattle TV channels and newspapers across the state still are important and we work to build relationships and help with the stories they are working on. Today about half of our news comes through websites and social media. The younger urban voter relies on digital communications more than anyone. We need to not only speak their language but be present where they are present. This is a good thing because using digital communications like websites, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and more is much less expensive than traditional advertising. It is easier to target the people we really want to see our message and less expensive to publish it. This is another way we are unique among farm organizations. We know that it is working and we are pleased to see more and more farmers, especially younger ones, actively involved in public issues on social media. It’s what we need to protect farming’s future!
In speaking to our target audience in a way they will pay attention to and understand, sometimes we have to speak quite strongly. That is uncomfortable for some as farmers tend to want to be quiet, just keep their heads down and farm. While we vigorously respond to the false claims and criticisms of anti-farm activists, we always strive to show respect and speak the truth.
We believe it is essential that the false information be addressed and that ultimately the facts will win out.
What Issues are Important and Why?
1. Protecting the dairy community
The 375 remaining dairy farms in Washington are under severe stress from low prices. Added to that is continuing litigation supported by major environmental groups like Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Western Environmental Law Center. Much of the basis of the litigation is an EPA report in 2012 that falsely blamed dairy farms for nitrate contamination in the Yakima Valley. We are informing the public about the litigation industry’s assault on our farms and encouraging our government officials to follow the facts and science when it comes to dairy farms and the environment.
The plight of our local killer whales has generated much attention for the need to restore our Chinook salmon stocks. But science shows that the billions spent on habitat improvement are working and we now produce almost double the Chinook smolts that we did just forty years ago. But fish continue to decline? A little noticed NOAA study provides the answer: the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act led to an explosion in harbor seals, particularly in the Salish Sea (Northern Puget Sound where the struggling orcas live). Why here? Because our killer whales, unlike others, don't eat harbor seals. So the unchecked population of about 80,000 harbor seals eat 23 million Chinook smolts depriving our orcas of the adult salmon they need to survive. Habitat, dam removal, culverts –– all are politically driven "solutions" that avoid the uncomfortable reality of predation.
2. Chinook salmon recovery
Chinook salmon recovery underlies the Hirst decision, the “culverts” case in the Supreme Court and much state and tribal political and legal issues. Farmers have seen that this issue affect the future of farming primarily relating to water access. Taxpayers have spent billions in this state on habitat recovery and the payoff appears to be nearly double the production of chinook smolts over the past 40 years. Habitat is working but not resulting in more harvest and prey for orcas because of the unique problem of harbor seals in the Salish Sea as a recent major science study showed. We are building partnerships to actively encourage this administration, the Puget Sound Partnership and our Congressional representatives to take the science seriously and address the predation issue instead of focusing exclusively on habitat. We are also educating the concerned public and have seen the beginning of a shift in attention in government, the media and public discussion toward the issue of harbor seal predation.
3. Farmers and REAL environmental action
Farmers have said many times they are the real environmentalists, and everyday is Earth Day to a farmer. But the public doesn’t see it that way. Groups that claim to be for the environment are attacking farmers which, if successful, will contribute to urbanization that creates real environmental harm. They are undermining the trust in farmers held by the public since farming began. The Center for Food Integrity found that just 30% of respondents said they strongly agree that farmers take good care of the environment. Just last year 42% said they agreed – a very significant and troubling loss of trust.
Led by Whatcom Family Farmers, we are in the early stages of a campaign called REAL: Real Environmental Action and Leadership. We are launching a new website called www.farmersforreal.org. Here and on social media and print advertising we will provide a continuing series of videos and stories showing the real environmental leadership demonstrated in action by farmers across the state.
4. Water Quality and Water Access
Activists, politicians and lawyers use water quality claims and the need for more water for fish as a basis for threatening the future of our farms. The facts show farmers are doing great work and making great progress in improving water quality and making more efficient use of water. But we can’t farm without water. As farmers demonstrate more and more of a unified and strong public voice and increase our effectiveness with elected and agency leaders, we strengthen our ability to negotiate and secure agreements that will help ensure the future of our farms.
5. Farmworker Union Activism
Whatcom County is the home of a new farmworker union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ). This emerged out of the activism of a Bellingham group called Community to Community. This group viciously and unfairly attacked Sakuma Brothers Farms in Skagit County which is now a union farm. Public protests, strikes, boycotts and legal action resulted in severe damage to the farm and legislative and regulatory changes that have affected all farmers. Last year this group attacked Sarbanand blueberry farm in Sumas, Washington, accusing the farm of causing the death of a worker. They continue their false accusations and are continuing to protest farm worker conditions through marches, boycotts and legal action. They have also begun to include the much larger fruit growers in Eastern Washington.
While they focus on farmers using the H2A guest worker program, we have seen the “publicity” they generate having an impact on state and federal labor policies and actions. Through their outrageously false accusations against farmers and their effective community, they are contributing significantly to the loss of trust in farmers. Federal and state labor agencies have shown support even levying a massive fine on the Sumas farm because of activist “publicity.” For these reasons it is essential that farmers get involved in countering the false accusations.
Save Family Farming responded on a limited basis by launching a social media and website called Protectfarmworkersnow.org (formerly farmworkerjusticenow.org). We have produced videos, conducted media outreach, communicated with government officials and contacted community members supportive of the group to help improve public understanding of the guest worker program and farm worker pay and protections.
Lynden, WA berry/dairy farmer Landon VanDyk and his daughter Merritt are two reasons why Save Family Farming and its affiliates exist. Dairy conditions and the trade issues affecting raspberries may spell the end of this fourth generation family farm and the hopes and hard work of the farm family. Click here to see Landon’s story.
Why Public Outreach?
First, because other farm groups focus on and are doing a good job of lobbying. We don’t lobby, but we know that our elected and agency officials pay a lot of attention to what voters think about these issues. Ultimately, voters choose. They choose our representatives and Governor. And our Governor chooses heads of agencies. In Washington, Democrats lead our state and may do so for a long time to come as in California. Most voters now live in urban areas far away from farms. These voters are particularly susceptible to the rising voices criticizing farmers. Voices from environmental groups, vegan groups, anti-corporate activists (to them our family farms are mega-corporations!) are all loudly appealing to those urban residents and voters. The urban-rural divide that separates us nationally is very much at work in Washington state. We need the understanding and support of the younger voter who is far from our farms but who holds the political power in this state if farming is to thrive. We need to understand and accept that environmental protection is extremely important to those living in our cities, and how their food is produced is also very important.
What Has Save Family Farming Accomplished?
The public outreach effort that evolved into Save Family Farming started in mid-2015 in Whatcom County. Major new dairy regulations, litigation against farmers, threats to shut down irrigation water, false accusations about farm pollution, and a biased and unfair news report from a Seattle TV station prompted farmers of various types to unify and start speaking out. When the What’s Upstream EPA funded campaign for more farm regulations emerged with its lies about farmers, farmers saw the need for a state-wide unified response.
Here are some accomplishments:
What’s Upstream discredited. Through numerous media accounts and social media outreach,145 members of Congress complained to EPA Director. The profile this attack on farmers received helps ensure it won’t happen again. We were recognized with President’s Awards in 2016 by the Washington Farm Bureau and the Washington State Dairy Federation for its work on this issue.
Regulatory and legislative impact. Our agency leaders and legislative leaders know us well and we have strong indication that our communication with them and public outreach has affected important decisions such as the terms of the dairy CAFO permit. Farmers relate their work with regulators is more positive due to our efforts.
Anti-farm activists false accusations countered. Lies and false accusations are aggressively countered. Some anti-farm groups have seen donations fall by exposing their false accusations.We also seen conservation and salmon enhancement groups coming forward to offer to work together on the important environment benefits farmers offer.
Increased public understanding and support. While hard to measure, we see from the response of government leaders and in social media interactions that we are making progress in building understanding among the public. There is much to be done but indications are that we are on the right track.
How Are We Managed and Funded?
Save Family Farming, a non-profit corporation, and its affiliates in Whatcom, Skagit and Yakima have three full time and one part time staff. Our president is a dairy farmer. We have an eleven member governing board made up of members of each of our three affiliates plus others. In addition, we have an Advisory Board of mostly farmers but also some farm supporters or representatives of other farm organizations. Various types of farming are represented. Funding comes from farmers, farm groups or associations, farm-related businesses and from concerned citizens.
A Message from President Larry Stap
Farmers and farm supporters from around the state are unifying and speaking out as never before. That’s because the pressures on our family farms keeps growing. Sad to say, but more and more are finding our farms convenient targets for their non-profit fundraising efforts and litigation. We are seeing government leaders and regulators respond to their false accusations and activist tactics as anti-farm lawyers and activists continually seek to take away the trust farmers have earned over the years.
A opinion survey showed that while last year 42% of those polled said they thought farmers did a good job of taking care of the environment, this year just 30% did. A 12% drop in just one year! Yet, farmers do more than just about anyone to care for the earth and ensure our farms, land and air are left better than we found them so the next generation can thrive.
If you are a family farmer, a farm related business or a concerned citizen wanting to see our family farms thrive for the future generations, we need to hear from you. Tell us how we are doing. Get involved and as you get to know us better, consider contributing to Save Family Farming or our local affiliates. Let your fellow farmers, family members, friends and business associates know about Save Family Farming and what we are doing to help preserve a future for our farms.
According to the Puget Sound Partnership we have already lost over 60% of the farmland in the Puget Sound. Urbanization pressures are driving up land costs making it harder and harder for farmers to farm. Add to this, the unnecessary and counter-productive activism coming from so-called environmentalists. We need the help of everyone who is concerned about family farming and the numerous environmental benefits our farmers provide.
What you can do to help