Local farmer testifies before congressional committee


Liz Brownlee is used to sharing her story as a local farmer.

Most of the time, her audience includes potential customers at the Seymour Area Farmers Market or with chefs who are considering using products from her farm.

But Thursday, Brownlee had a much different audience: Congress.

The 32-year-old, who operates Nightfall Farm in Crothersville with her husband, Nate, testified June 5 before the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research.

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She testified as a farmer and a chapter president of the National Young Farmers Coalition before the 12-member subcommittee. Congressman Jim Baird, R-Indiana, sits on the committee and represents Indiana’s Fourth Congressional District in northwestern Indiana.

Brownlee shared her thoughts with congressmen and congresswomen on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposal to move the Economic Research Service and National Institute for Food and Agriculture offices from Washington, D.C., to Indiana.

She said that sounds like a good idea but testified that the agencies should stay in the nation’s capital.

Brownlee said the agencies do not directly serve farmers but work with lawmakers and administer grant programs.

“That work is best done in Washington, D.C.,” Brownlee told the committee. “I need NIFA and ERS to be productive, efficient and effective, and that means they need to be in our nation’s capital doing research that serves out nation’s farmers.”

She was the only farmer to weigh-in on the issue. The two others were researchers from universities.

That was a special moment for her, she said.

“I never thought I’d get to testify before Congress, and that thought never really crossed my mind,” she said, adding feedback from her posts on social media was positive and helpful. “It was really encouraging because it was so nice that they wanted to hear from a farmer. I also got a lot of encouragement from people in Crothersville and Jackson County.”

While participating in a political activity can often bring negativity, Brownlee said friends and social media users bypassed the issue and simply gave her encouragement. She said she felt people were more interested in the fact someone from their area was able to share their experience in the nation’s capital.

“The issue didn’t matter as much, but someone from Crothersville got to share our story,” she said. “I got to share what it’s like to live in southern Indiana in a smaller town and how their (politicians) decisions impact a farm girl from Indiana.”

Brownlee found out she would testify about a week before the hearing. She had four days to write her testimony and submit it.

All of that had to be formatted properly, which she received help from the National Young Farmers Coalition.

She also had to prepare an oral testimony where she got to speak for five minutes.

Then came all pf the practice.

Brownlee practiced in front of her brother-in-law’s home in Washington, D.C., where she stayed while there. There were multiple practice sessions alone in front of a mirror, too, she said.

The best practice spot? One of the most recognized places in the country: The National Mall.

“I went under a shade tree there and went over it several times,” she said.

Brownlee also had to prepare for questions from the committee on a variety of topics. All of the preparation and speaking took her back to her days in FFA when she participated in extemporaneous public speaking contests, she said.

Looking back, Brownlee said the moment is not one she will soon forget.

“I was really honored to do it,” she said.

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Read Liz Brownlee’s testimony before the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research at https://agriculture.house.gov/files/?CatagoryID=14894 and click on the PDF “Testimony from Ms. Elizabeth Brownlee.”


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