On our recent SAFSF member call, Who’s Who at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), we discussed who is being appointed and hired to fill different positions within the Department. We came away from that call with the realization that we are seeing seismic shifts in the personnel filling key positions across the agency. One SAFSF member referred to the USDA team being put in place as her “dream team,” sort of like a fantasy sports team coming to reality.
Even a highly skilled and experienced dream team relies on an array of input from coaches and other experts. The perspectives those experts bring can influence the way the dream team plays its game. Imagine how different the game might look if the USDA dream team heard from a different, broader group of experts than has previously had access to administrative policymaking. Imagine how the game might shift if philanthropic funding gave marginalized communities the resources they need to show up in the policy space, to walk the halls of Congress (post-pandemic, of course) and meet with members and their staff to share their truth and insights about the way public policy has helped or hindered food sovereignty, economic opportunity and other issues in their communities. Imagine how different policy might look if the communities that usually get the short end of the policy stick were funded to do media outreach, to shape and control the narratives that are told about them but rarely by them.
If funders truly want to shift the dynamic of corporate-influenced farm organizations taking up all the seats at the table of public policy influence, it is imperative to invest real money in getting the communities and leaders with different viewpoints to the table. We know the next two years are critical to advancing federal policy opportunities to support just and equitable sustainable agriculture, food and fiber systems. SAFSF will be working to help funders identify nonprofits and grassroots organizations engaged in policy advocacy on key issues our members support, but whose work is often misunderstood by funders as being off-limits for support. There is so much non-lobbying advocacy work that funders are legally allowed to support yet surprisingly few funders do so. Moreover, foundations can support charitable organizations that lobby and in most cases they do not have to prohibit the use of grant funds for lobbying, and yet again, few funders utilize the law in this regard. Now is the time to change that.
So while it is no secret that public policy is largely shaped by those who have the privilege of power and money to show up, we can change that if we are willing.
Traci Bruckner, SAFSF Policy Program Director, provides insights into key policy issues for funders of sustainable agriculture and food systems in the monthly Policy Connection newsletter for SAFSF members.