Securing a Seat at the NEASDA / NASDA Table

CFF is working with Sustainable Agriculture and Food System Funders (SAFSF) and the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) to ensure the presence of ‘good food’ advocates at the annual meetings convening the heads of state departments of agriculture (read more here). The following letter is shared  on behalf of John Merck Fund, a partner in this work.

Dear Fellow Farm & Food System Funder,

With annual spending of some $135 billion, the federal government is the biggest funder of food and agriculture efforts in this country. A significant amount of this money goes through the states, via state departments of agriculture, public health and human services agencies, etc.  Founded in 1915 to “… promote the American agricultural industry, while protecting consumers and the environment”, the National Association of State Directors of Agriculture (NASDA) is the entity that facilitates consensus-building among its member commissioners around policy and program priorities related to this federal funding. Since philanthropic investment on issues of great importance to the sustainability, equity, safety, and healthfulness of our food system can’t come close to rivaling that of the government, ensuring that our NGO partners concerned with these issues are part of regular discussions with our public sector peers in NASDA makes good sense.

So, since 2014, members of Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Funders (SAFSF) have joined together to fund a top-level sponsorship for the annual NASDA national conference for a non-profit in the state where the meeting takes place. That top sponsorship includes registrations for six delegates, meaning the opportunity to attend is opened to the sponsor group and up to five peer organizations. These annual sponsorships have put our partners on the map alongside corporations such as Monsanto, Syngenta, ADM, John Deere, and ConAgra that have routinely sponsored NASDA conferences over the association’s 100-year history.

NASDA is divided into four geographical sub-regions: the Northeast Association of State Directors of Agriculture (NEASDA), the Southern Association of State Directors of Agriculture (SASDA), the Midwest Association of State Directors of Agriculture (MASDA), and the Western Association of State Directors of Agriculture (WASDA).  Each of these regional associations also has an annual conference in one of its member states.

It’s at these smaller meetings that the ag directors from particular regions come together to discuss issues confronting their states and to set policy priorities to take to their counterparts at the national conference each year.  Ensuring that the sustainable farming and food systems advocates we work with in our own states or regions get to participate in these regional NASDA meetings would help them establish and/or deepen connections to powerful state-level agriculture decision-makers.

The 2018 NEASDA meeting will be held in Newport, Rhode Island, in June. Because the Commissioner of Agriculture for Connecticut is this year’s NASDA chair, the national conference will also be in the NEASDA region, in Hartford, Connecticut, in September. The John Merck Fund has contributed to the NASDA sponsorship effort every year since 2014, regardless of where that meeting has been held.  We are thinking of 2018 as “The Year of the Two-fer” with regard to NASDA.  That is, we see getting our farm and food system partners to both the Newport NEASDA meeting and the Hartford NASDA meeting as two coordinated steps in One Big Push to get sustainable ag/food systems issues and ideas firmly at the forefront of state ag directors’ minds.  2018 being an important election and Farm Bill year makes it even more critical to think of these meetings in tandem rather than separately.

Although the national conference moves around the country every year, the regional meetings are rooted in place.  This means these regional meetings offer all of us Northeast farm and food system funders annual opportunities to support our local sustainable farm and food system partners in building relationships with their states’ ag decision-makers. You can learn more about how we are working with Community Food Funders and the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group to do just that.

The more farm and food system funders and our grantee partners interact with members of NASDA and its regional chapters, the better the prospects for increasing public sector understanding and support for sustainable agriculture practices and regional food systems thinking overall. As the saying goes, “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.”

Let’s not just be at the NASDA table, let’s help set to set it!

Strategically yours,

Christine James

The John Merck Fund

Here’s how you can get involved

We have already received funds from multiple partners across the northeast region, and we are close to reaching our goal of a top-level sponsorship. Any additional money raised will be used to fund scholarships to cover registration, travel, and accommodations.

  • Contribute to the sponsorships of the 2018 NASDA and/or NEASDA meetings
  • Provide scholarship funds so that more of our partners can attend beyond the few complimentary tickets that come with the sponsorship
  • Help us connect with your grantees and other food system nonprofits to participate in the organizing efforts led by NESAWG. A sustained presence at the yearly NEASDA meeting not only lends the opportunity to develop meaningful partnerships with our state agriculture leaders, but also provides a structure around which to mobilize our region and build a strong unified coalition of practitioners and advocates. Early-bird registration deadline for 2018 NEASDA is May 3rd.
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