How to Lobby for Saner Food Policies

In response to readers’ requests, renegade farmer Joel Salatin provides pointers for how to engage politicians about Earth stewardship and a sustainable food system.

| June/July 2015

  • Political Talking Points
    Author Joel Salatin deploys his political talking points at a public hearing in Augusta County, Va., to support a measure allowing backyard chickens there.
    Photo by Norm Shafer
  • Political Involvement
    Political involvement is important, especially when we disagree. Farmers listen intently as Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon speaks about drought and farm policy at a town hall meeting in Ewing, Mo.
    Photo by AP/The Quincy Herald-Whig; Phil Carlson

  • Political Talking Points
  • Political Involvement

We live in an era of sound-bite messaging. Bombarded with information, we feel pressure to make snap judgments and move on. Nowhere is this demand more apparent than in the political arena. The sheer number of words in a piece of legislation frequently precludes elected representatives from actually even reading a bill before voting on it!

Legislators need real-world information about issues in order to clearly understand how the laws they pass affect the day-to-day lives of citizens. Instead, much of their “education” comes from paid lobbyists. Homesteaders and advocates for a sustainable food system generally don’t have the resources to buy such access, so it’s up to us to lobby for ourselves. But most of us have no training in how to lobby and don’t know where to begin in developing our own political talking points.

My first experience with this conundrum occurred several years ago, when a member of the Virginia House of Delegates asked me to accompany him on a lobbying effort in the state’s general assembly building. The two of us spent the day visiting offices in an attempt to discuss with legislators a bill to exempt direct farmer-to-consumer food sales from government licensing.

Each time we could actually get 10 to 15 minutes with a senator or delegate, we got good vibes. But when a legislator was too busy to see us for more than a minute, we couldn’t make any headway. Plus, we couldn’t even begin to get around to all 100-plus legislators. At the end of the day, I commented to my host that if we could’ve had half an hour with each legislator, our bill would pass.

Shaking his head, the delegate gave me a piece of wisdom I’ve never forgotten: “That’s not how the system works,” he said. He went on to tell me that the system’s current design actually prohibits meaningful conversation. The often hectic pace and frenetic number of hearings require that politicians make up their minds in an instant. “This process doesn’t encourage thoughtful contemplation — that takes too much time. Usually, you have to figure out as quickly as possible which side you’re on so you can move on to the next bill,” he said.

That’s not great news for a deliberative process, but there you have it. It is tremendously important that we engage in the political process, however. No matter how frustrated you may be with the system, I’m confident that if you keep at it, you’ll manage to wrangle a few minutes of conversation with a policymaker.

6/15/2015 9:07:57 AM

Thank you for this article.My tiny little municipality is afraid of hens. They think if you own a chicken {or three} you MUST be in the cock fighting business. Heck! They can not even tell a rooster from a hen. It's a wonder that they have not mown over the vacant lot next to me that the neighbor & I have started homesteading as a small garden. This is the first year it has actually yielded more than peanuts,tomatoes,and sunflowers! We need to find ways to have lobbyist for the people and not Bonanza Farms,Big Pharm,and oil. The time is now if we want our home schooled and other children to grow up with out all the diseases that fake food bring.



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