Written by Jock Gilchrist, an FYFC Policy Committee member.
Are we, the Flatirons Young Farmers Coalition, in support of lethal prairie dog control? How can we help redress the historical marginalization of some farming populations? Should farmers be allowed to house laborers, slaughter animals, and compost on their land?
Such questions tend to avoid straightforward answers. But since our organization aims to create a more ecological, inclusive, and financially prosperous farming environment, having a stance on them is important. Interfacing with local (and sometimes state and federal) policy venues is essential for leading positive change.
For these reasons, in 2020, the FYFC Policy Committee set about to form the chapter’s official policy platform. The committee aimed to lead a democratic, open, and grassroots process to understand our members’ needs, concerns, and preferences, and then to synthesize this information to create the final product.
The first step was drafting a near-comprehensive survey about farming issues pertinent to Boulder and nearby areas. The writing and editing of the survey offered a lesson in the importance of precise language and avoiding verbal cues. For example, we realized we should word all questions in the affirmative to weed out any of our biases.
The survey clocked in at over 60 questions and covered topics ranging from soil health, GMOs, and local food labels to season-extension infrastructure, land access for BIPOC communities, and land use code reform. We had almost 30 responses to the survey, a number undoubtedly enhanced by McGuckin’s offer to give us $50 gift cards to award to three survey takers.
The Policy Committee then went through several weeks of discussion and analysis of the results. Some questions revealed a strong consensus among members. For example, 90% of respondents agreed that Boulder City and/or County should lead or support programs to improve soil health. Other questions had a more mixed response. There was no clear consensus, for example, on whether paying farmers for carbon sequestration is the responsibility of local government.
Policy Committee members first produced an internal memo that attempted to summarize the areas where there was a strong consensus amongst members. We knew that our final policy platform would not take positions on a comprehensive list of policy issues, so we aimed to prioritize the ones that mattered most to members.
We decided that the priority areas could be categorized into four “planks”:
Creating regenerative food systems for ecological wellbeing;
Improving access, sharing power, and building capacity;
Expanding the local food economy through increased market opportunities; and
Reworking regulations to strengthen farms’ resilience.
At this point, we were finally ready to write the platform itself. It was intensely collaborative and surprisingly painstaking. Finding the right wording to express a nuanced idea is challenging in itself – and is even more so when this wording aims to represent the official stance of this organization and speak for its members as a whole. The Policy Committee had several Zoom work sessions over the final 3 months of the year. We also recruited community leaders and subject-matter experts to weigh in on the content, structure, and language of the platform.
Just a few days before the New Year, we arrived at the final version of the FYFC policy platform. It was passed by the chapter with unanimous approval.
Our vision is for this document to unite the chapter under one voice, thus guiding FYFC policy advocacy and organizational priorities over the coming months and years. Its results reveal a chapter of farmers and advocates who are deeply engaged with local issues and invested in their communities. We are passionate about regenerating land, improving equity and access, fostering a thriving local food economy, and reimagining local regulations to simplify farmers’ lives.
By itself, the policy platform does not effect change, but it is an important tool in helping us do so. If the community effort required to write the platform is any indication, then creating the food and farming system that we collectively envision is certainly within our grasp.