Over 50 local food system practitioners and advocates convened for the WV Food and Farm Coalition’s second annual Advocacy Training in Summersville on June 16, 2015 to discuss a variety of challenges they face related to building and sustaining food and farm businesses and increasing the public’s access to local food in order to improve the health and well-being of the state’s population. The WV Food and Farm Coalition is working with these local food stakeholders to overcome these challenges by pursuing related state level policy changes.
The Coalition is excited to be partnering with Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. The law clinic will aid the Coalition in prioritizing and researching potential policies for the 2016 legislative session. To get participants thinking about impactful food policy, Ona Balkus, staff attorney for the clinic, and Hannah Nicolson, a legal intern with the clinic, presented the group with a diverse platform of policy changes that could have major impacts on West Virginia’s local food sector.
The Advocacy Training featured several exercises that aided the group of stakeholders and the Coalition in narrowing down the potential policy changes that will have the most impact on strengthening local food systems in the state. This included group discussion and brainstorming on potential policy changes that will alleviate challenges related to markets and processing, access to locally grown, healthy food, aggregation and distribution of locally produced food, and land use. Individuals were also able to show their policy priorities by voting for their top policy needs.
Participants received valuable training from Jim McKay, Director of Prevent Child Abuse WV, on how to use written and broadcast media to expose the public to policy change initiatives and best practices for getting impactful messages out. A few training participants role-played media interviews, which provided the audience with real life examples of questions the media may ask, the ideal length of responses, and how to get your message out under pressure. The exercise also provided some comic relief during the agenda-packed day.
The group also learned about the Coalition’s 2015 legislative successes. A panel of those involved in pursuing the expansion of the agricultural producer code to allow food, farm, and related businesses, not just producers, to form as cooperative businesses presented background on how and why this change was achieved. Panelists included Elizabeth Spellman, Executive Director of the WV Food and Farm Coalition, Jeni Petigrew, Owner of Ms. Groovy’s Kitchen, Emmett Pepper, Executive Director of Energy Efficient WV, Senator Ronald Miller, WV State Senator from District 10, Sam Petsonk, Attorney with Mountain State Justice, and Warren Hilsbos, student at WVU College of Law and WVFFC intern. Steve Coleman, board member of the WV Farmers Market Association, explained how changes to the farmers market permitting regulations were achieved.
Participants concluded the day by deliberating on action plans for pursuing particular policy changes. The Coalition will continue to narrow down which policy change initiatives they will pursue for the 2016 legislative session by conducting another round of prioritization voting among its network. After the 2016 legislative agenda is finalized, the Coalition will work with the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic to research each policy and compile the 2016 WV Legislative Packet. Stakeholders will be involved every step of the way by adding their input to the policies outlined in the 2016 WV Legislative Packet and advocating for the policy changes at the state capitol during the session.