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National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Helps KSU Share Their Story of Sustainability

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Washington, DC, March 17, 2016 – This week the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), one of the nation’s leading voices in food and agriculture policy, wraps up a month-long series of “farmer fly-ins” in an effort to raise legislators’ awareness around the importance of funding sustainable agriculture programs and policies in the FY17 budget. During the fly-ins farmers, ranchers, and program leaders including Marion Simon and Louie Rivers Jr., descended upon the capital to speak with their legislators about important food and agriculture issues.

“In our view, there are no better advocates for these critical U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs than the farmers who use and benefit from them,” says NSAC Policy Director, Ferd Hoefner. “Each year, as Congress prepares to develop its annual funding bills, we bring farmers and ranchers from NSAC member organizations to Washington to speak with their congressional delegations about what matters most to them. This year we are honored to host a great group of farmers and program leaders from across the country who can testify first-hand as to the importance of these programs.”

Simon and Rivers, sustainability leaders at the Cooperative Extension Program at Kentucky State University (KSU), both have a long history of working with agricultural conservation programs like the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (SARE) and “2501” program.

SARE is the only USDA competitive grants research program with a clear and consistent focus on sustainability and farmer-driven research. This is the first time in several years that the Administration has requested an increase in funding for the program, from $24.7 million to $30 million, representing an acknowledgement of the importance of cutting-edge research that is easily accessible, regionally appropriate, and farmer-tested.

SARE has been a critical part of KSU’s College of Agriculture for over a decade. Since 1995 KSU’s work with SARE has continued to grow; in 1995 Simon secured her first mini-grants SARE funds to showcase KSU research staff projects, currently she receives annual SARE Professional Development Program (SARE-PDP) funds to operate KSU’s celebrated “Third Thursday Thing.”

“The Third Thursday Thing is a signature program here at KSU,” says Simon. “Thanks to SARE-PDP funds we’re entering our 19th year of hosting this monthly workshop on sustainable agriculture issues. The Third Thursday Thing played a key role in developing the Center for Sustainability of Farms and Families at our Harold R. Benson Research and Demonstration Farm.”

The program is so popular it attracts interest far beyond the confines of KSU.

“Our records show that The Third Thursday Thing has had 22,000 participants from 20 states and seven foreign nations,” Marion said. “We’ve been able to help some 12,000 farms through this informal, hands-on educational program.”

Thanks to help from Simon and Rivers, KSU has also had major successes utilizing the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program, also known as the Section 2501, or “2501” program.

For decades, 2501 has served as the only farm bill program dedicated to addressing the specific needs of minority farmers and was recently also expanded to also serve military veterans. The 2501 program helps institutions and nonprofits provide critical resources, outreach, and technical assistance to serve these historically underserved producers. This year the President’s budget request included $10 million in discretionary funding, an amount that would restore total funding to the program’s pre-2014 Farm Bill level of $20 million. Advocates like NSAC, Simon, and Rivers, have conducted significant outreach to legislators to make sure they support this well-deserved increase.

“2501 has helped KSU tremendously in extending our outreach program,” says Simon. “We are able to serve nearly 25 Kentucky counties through the program, most of them in Strike Force and Promise Zones.”

KSU reaches an average of 7,500-9,000 farmers annually through their 2501 program funds, including refugee populations in Louisville and the Wounded Warriors Project at Fort Knox, with whom they have been able to develop gardening and pollinator projects.

“2501 is the backbone of KSU’s Small Farm Program,” Rivers says. “Because of this program we’re able to reach farmers one-on-one, as well as in group settings and at conferences. Even though a majority of the loans made are considered “high risk”, the Farm Service Agency in Kentucky has the lowest delinquency rate in the south. We believe this is due in no small part to programs like 2501.”

About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more: http://sustainableagriculture.net

About the Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension Program

Cooperative Extension is a nationwide, non-credit educational network. Each U.S. state and territory has a state office at its land grant university and a network of local or regional offices. These offices are staffed by one or more experts who provide useful, practical, and research-based information to agricultural producers, small business owners, youth, consumers, and others in rural areas and communities of all sizes.

Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension programs include 4-H Youth Development, the Third Thursday Thing Sustainable Agriculture Workshops, Small Scale Producers program, community health and wellness, food and nutrition education, family development and management, Hispanic outreach, and others.