SAFSF & NASDA: 10-Years of Opportunities

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) represents the elected and appointed commissioners, secretaries, and directors of the Departments of Agriculture in all fifty states and four U.S. territories. The national entity is further organized into four regional associations: NEASDA, MASDA, SASDA, and WASDA, and several issue-specific committees.  

A core function of NASDA is to facilitate consensus-building among its members around agriculture policy and program priorities they seek to influence at the federal level. Of course, state Departments of Agriculture are also responsible for administering dollars that come through federal legislation – including the farm bill – directly to the states. 

Additionally, good policy ideas and public-private partnerships are often started at the state and local level, eventually forming the basis for new and improved federal policy. 

Thanks in large part to the generous support of the Vatheuer Family Foundation, SAFSF has been engaging with NASDA since 2014 to raise awareness and build a voice for just and equitable sustainable agriculture and food systems issues. Now, a decade later, we are reflecting on that work and exploring opportunities for continued collaboration.

Background and overview of SAFSF’s partnership with NASDA 

SAFSF members have joined together on several occasions to fund sponsorships for the annual NASDA national and regional conferences. Through these annual sponsorships, SAFSF and our partners have been on the map at NASDA alongside multi-national agriculture corporations, such as Monsanto, Syngenta, ADM, and Bayer. We have historically organized a delegation of non-profit leaders and funding partners to attend the national NASDA meeting, NASDA Winter Policy Meeting, and some of the regional NASDA meetings. In addition, we have organized and hosted site visits as part of the national NASDA meeting to facilitate learning and build connections. Our strategy for this work has been two-fold and with a long-term horizon:

  1. We are working to build a voice within the NASDA structure that will increase public-sector understanding and support for sustainable and organic agriculture and food systems that foster diversity, equity, and inclusion; and
  2. Make connections across public and private funding partners to strengthen funding opportunities for sustainable and organic agriculture and food system initiatives.

In turn, NASDA staff have attended SAFSF meetings, both the annual Forum as well as our Policy Convenings. We feel confident that these meetings have exposed NASDA staff to the broader world of philanthropy and the broad set of just and sustainable agriculture and food systems issues and conversations happening on the ground, and not necessarily in the halls of Departments of Agriculture across the country.

One outcome from this work is that there are now two current State Department of Agriculture leaders, Kate Greenburg (CO) and Amanda Beal (ME), who were part of previous SAFSF delegations attending the national NASDA meeting. Amanda is now part of the NASDA Board of Directors, serving as second vice president, meaning she will be the President of NASDA beginning in September 2025 and will host the national NASDA meeting in Maine in 2026. This provides us the opportunity to make that longer-term impact and build strong partnerships with state departments of agriculture, NASDA, and philanthropy to further sustainable agriculture and food systems issues. 

SAFSF attends NASDA’s 2023 Annual Meeting in Cheyenne, Wyoming

SAFSF Senior Director of Public Policy, Traci Bruckner, and Public Policy Associate, Maggie Mascarenhas joined NASDA’s annual meeting in mid-September. In addition to attending a rodeo, a tour of local distilleries, and a dinner at the Wyoming state capital, we connected with long-standing SAFSF relationships and forged new ones.

In particular, we shared information about SAFSF’s sustainable fibers policy options for the current farm bill with state Department of Agriculture staff in Maine, Pennsylvania, Washington State, and New Mexico to name a few. We are proud that New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte shared a quote in support of the marker bill we have developed with Senator Ben Ray Luján’s (D-NM) office to ensure sustainable fibers farmers and processors are eligible for USDA’s Local Agriculture Markets Program. This quote represents a  major outcome of our NASDA affiliation, our relationship-building efforts with members of Congress, and our shared goals to influence federal policy. 

Other meeting highlights include meeting USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Xochitl Torres Small and connecting with one of USDA’s Lead Grants Management Specialists overseeing the Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure Program

Opportunities for continued SAFSF and funder collaboration with NASDA

We foresee several exciting opportunities to continue to build relationships with NASDA and its members and to turn these relationships into action in the coming months and years. 

Leveraging funding in the Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure Program 

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocated $420 million to the Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure Program (RFSI) with the overall goal of creating more and better processing, aggregation, and distribution options for local and regional producers across the specialty crops, dairy, grain (for food), and other sectors. In other words, to strengthen the middle of the food system so exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. All state Departments of Agriculture will work in partnership with USDA to make competitive sub-award investments in the supply chain infrastructure to food and farm businesses and other eligible entities. 

Conversations at NASDA’s Annual Gathering made clear that this funding is a fantastic start to a longstanding gap, but there is a huge need for continued investment in the sector. While philanthropy can never entirely plug holes left by the federal government, funders can prioritize additional funding to support resilient food system infrastructure and ensure that federal dollars are accessible to historically underserved farmers and ranchers.

We will explore how this could move forward and where partnering with philanthropy could be helpful. We hope to connect with some key states once their plans are approved to get a sense of where we might best work together so stay tuned for information in that regard.  

Promoting Digging In and its Key Messages

SAFSF’s first documentary film, Digging In, produced in partnership with Nathan.works and the Vatheuer Family Foundation, helps audiences begin to explore the wide-ranging effects of land access (or lack thereof), consolidation, and climate change on farmers and rural communities. We hope the film will be a tool to start new conversations with state Departments of Agriculture and spark systemic solutions that funders, nonprofits, farmers, and policymakers can work toward together. 

Connecting with NEASDA’s Regional Gathering in June 2024 

Amanda Beal, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, will be hosting the 2024 NEASDA meeting. The NASDA Foundation has also been selected by USDA to establish the Northeast Regional Food Business Center. As we plan our in-person gatherings for 2024, we will be looking for opportunities where we might converge with the NEASDA meeting and the NASDA Foundation.

It is worth noting that the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG), has had great success in organizing a non-profit delegation to attend NEASDA meetings in the past, with support from Community Food Funders and SAFSF. We are proud to help further important equity conversations within the NASDA network. This will be a great opportunity to bring those non-profit leaders and funders together with the state departments of agriculture in the northeast region. If you are a funder who is located or funds in that region, stay tuned!

These opportunities will continue to evolve, just as new ideas will spring forth. If you have ideas about how SAFSF could engage with NASDA and its members going forward, please let our policy team Traci Bruckner or Maggie Mascarenhas know!