Brownlees, other young farmers visit nation’s capital

By Nate Brownleee

The heavy wet snow started overnight. Midway through the day, the snow would transition to steady rain — not an improvement.

As a farmer, I am quite accustomed to dealing with inclement weather, but this day was unusual: I was in Washington D.C. on Capitol Hill to meet with congressional representatives, which meant a suit and tie instead of boots.

When I think of meetings, weather doesn’t play too much of a role, but Capitol Hill is an exception to that rule. For starters, our bus could not get very close due to traffic restrictions, so all 100 of us were wheeling and carrying our luggage down several snowy streets before ducking into the National Young Farmers Coalition offices.

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The NYFC offices served as our headquarters for the day. One hundred beginning farmers from across the country had come together for the annual NYFC Convergence. We shared stories from our farms, learned from speakers and workshops and enjoyed the camaraderie and fellowship of young farmers who are off-farm.

Because this year’s Convergence was in D.C., our focus was policy. We invited people from many organizations to lead workshops for us: the USDA, National Farmers Union, FarmAid, etc. And since we were in the capital not long after the Farm Bill expired, most of our time was spent discussing the programs that we want to see passed in a Farm Bill. We were then able to take this discussions over to the offices of our House and Senate Members.

Which brings the weather back into the story. Our NYFC offices are next to the Supreme Court, and so quite close to the Capitol. The House offices are on one side of the Capitol, and the Senate office buildings are on the opposite side of the Capitol. I had five meetings in four different buildings, so picture Billy from the Family Circus leaving the dotted line trail behind him as he scurries all around — the only difference is that he always has sunny weather for his adventures.

But really the takeaway for me was not the weather. Capitol Hill is a busy place, and we only had a quarter of an hour for most of our meetings. What felt important was less the policy acronyms and programs but more the personalization of these policies. Telling our stories and letting our members know how certain policies affect us may just lodge in their minds, a small snapshot, so that when they are processing their day, discussing inclusions to bills, or voting — perhaps they will think of us, will connect constituents with legislation.

You never know how or if this will work. But in my case, my first meeting of the day was with Senator Todd Young — who just happened to be on my flight back to Indiana that evening; he recognized me and we had a short chance to talk while our bags were being tagged. I can’t say he would remember me the next time our paths cross, but the hope is that he’ll think of me when he’s looking through Farm Bill issues.

That way, Senator Young can work in D.C. for small farmers and I can work on the farm at home.

Nate and Liz Brownlee operate Nightfall Farm in Crothersville. Send comments to [email protected] indiana.com.