Farmers, ranchers advocate at state Capitol


Issue Date: March 14, 2018
By Kevin Hecteman
Humboldt County Farm Bureau member Gary Rynearson, left, and Del Norte County Farm Bureau member Vanessa Alexandre, right, meet with Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, center, and one of his staff members in Wood’s office at the state Capitol. Farm Bureau members from around the state visited 103 legislative offices as part of the California Farm Bureau Federation Leaders Conference.
Photo/Kevin Hecteman

Sometimes you need to park the tractor for a day and work the legislative fields in Sacramento instead.

That's what scores of Farm Bureau members from around California did, trading work clothes for suits and knocking on doors in the Capitol as part of the annual California Farm Bureau Federation Leaders Conference last week.

"Just the fact that we're in the room is a big deal, whether we're meeting with the senator or Assembly members themselves, or just with their legislative aides or staff members," said Vanessa Alexandre, whose family runs a dairy north of Crescent City in Del Norte County.

The goal, she added, was "trying to pinpoint the three, four, five biggest issues that we as Farm Bureau in California are facing and how they can work with us, parties aside."

During the course of the day, 136 Farm Bureau leaders visited with 103 legislators and their staff members, CFBF Political Affairs Manager Chelsea Molina said. On the minds of Farm Bureau members were topics including water supplies, coastal agriculture restrictions and vehicle regulations, among other issues.

"Days like today are the core of Farm Bureau's advocacy efforts," Molina said during the legislative visits. "It takes all of our members' voices, working together, to truly make an impact, and we saw that with a record number of participants."

Some were veterans of the Capitol halls, such as Tom Rogers, a Madera almond farmer who serves on the CFBF Board of Directors. He's made the rounds in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., on several occasions.

"The visits are really important, because if you don't come up and put a face to it, they can ignore you because you're just a number," Rogers said. "It's the human being coming up here and presenting their story. It's the story that will get people."

Rogers said the visits are a two-way street, because while lawmakers and their staffs can learn from the farmers, the reverse is also true.

"It's an education for us also," he said.

Participants in the legislative visits also included first-time visitors to the Capitol, such as Ginger Sarvinski, a dairy farmer and vegetable and pork producer from Ferndale in Humboldt County.

"In general, it went really well," she said. "Everybody loved to hear from the farmers themselves and was very receptive to what we had put forward."

Several participants spoke of connecting with lawmakers or staffers who represent urban districts.

"A lot of people, especially the staffers, have never met real farmers," said John Vevoda, a dairy and beef farmer from Ferndale. "We all went in with a positive attitude, and I think we all came out with a positive attitude."

Alexandre said she used her family business as an icebreaker.

"You just kind of relate to them (at) whatever level you can relate to," she said. "Today, it was the fact that we were organic farmers selling milk down in L.A. That's what's going to keep them listening. And then you pull in the issues that we as farmers, we as Farm Bureau, are facing, and hope that we can mesh together."

That work must happen continuously, Molina said.

"It is important that each of us in agriculture continue to educate ourselves and connect with urban legislators as we were able to during the legislative visits," she said.

Rogers said connecting with legislative staff members can also leave a lasting impression.

"I think the most important thing we did was make a connection with staffers, and let them know that farmers are human and that we care for the environment, care for our workers, and want what's best," he said.

Sarvinski said follow-up with legislators and their staffers will be important.

"We planted a seed," she said, "and now we need to go forth and give them more literature, maybe, or keep in contact with them, keep this alive."

The sheer number of Farm Bureau participants didn't go unnoticed, Rogers said.

"There were an awful lot of Farm Bureau members out walking the hall," he said, "and people couldn't avoid us."

In remarks to the Farm Bureau members prior to their legislative visits, CFBF President Jamie Johansson thanked the farmers and ranchers for coming to Sacramento.

"Legislators need to hear from us," Johansson said. "You're making a difference."

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant ditor of Ag Alert. He may be reached at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.