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Charlotte Amalie
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USVI and Puerto Rican Farmers Build Support in D.C. for the Agriculture Resilience Act

On March 7 and 8, the V.I. Good Food Coalition and a delegation of U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rican farmers and food system advocates traveled to Washington, DC, to participate in the Farmers for Climate Change: Rally for Resilience and build support for the Agriculture Resilience Act to ensure climate change is a priority in the 2023 Farm Bill.

L-R: Sommer Sibilly-Brown, Shelli Brin and Lindsey Simmonds stand in front of the V.I. flag. (submitted photo)

The local delegation joined hundreds of farmers, ranchers and farm advocates from across the country to meet with congressional representatives, participate in community outreach and demonstrations on climate-friendly farming practices, and relay the message to lawmakers that farmers and ranchers must be part of the efforts to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.

The Agriculture Resilience Act, sponsored by Maine farmer and Representative Chellie Pingree and New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich, sets a bold vision of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. agriculture no later than 2040 by providing farmers strategies and goals to mitigate climate change and increase agricultural resilience through agricultural research, soil health, farmland preservation and viability, pasture-based livestock, on-farm renewable energies, and food waste management.

The ARA is a proposed marker to the federal 2023 Farm Bill; an omnibus bill reauthorized every five years. The Farm Bill covers programs ranging from crop insurance for farmers to healthy food access to low-income families, and beginner farming training, with a projected budget of $1.4 trillion, the equivalent of $140 billion per year for 10 years. The Bill governs most of what happens with agricultural commodities, trade, EBT benefits, etc., in the nation. The marker bill process helps build consensus around related pieces of legislation getting attached to the Farm Bill for funding.

The V.I. and PR delegation included V.I. Good Food Coalition Founder and Executive Director and food system advocate Sommer Sibilly-Brown; St. Thomas Farmer, Shelli Brin of Que Sera Farms; St. Croix Farmer, Lindsey Simmonds of Mystical Farm; and Jade M. Algarín Corcino, Food and Climate Justice Organizer and Open Society Foundation Puerto Rican Youth Fellow.

L-R: Jade M. Algarín Corcino, Lindsey Simmonds, Shelli Brin representing the V.I. and Puerto Rico in Washington D.C. (submitted photo)

While in DC, the VI-PR group met with several members of Congress including the office of Congresswoman Stacey E. Plaskett, the office of Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC), the office of Congressman Darren Soto (FL), representatives of National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and ranking USDA executives.

The trip was an exercise in advocacy as it created an opportunity for the VI-PR delegation to join voices with other farmers and farmer-focused agencies. Along with sharing the unified message of the Rally for Resilience, which included farmer-centered solutions to climate change, racial equity and communities over corporations, the V.I.-PR delegation focused on addressing equitable representation and services to territories, commonwealths and other geographically isolated islands.

The V.I.-PR group built new partnerships with farmers and agencies and invited them to help spread the word that Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the remaining commonwealths and territories ‘matter’ and that there is a need for increased representation, more accessible programs, and the creation of an Office of Territorial Affairs within the US Department of Agriculture.

The trip was made possible through the support of V.I. Good Food Coalition’s partner, Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, a national nonprofit that was founded in 1990 and serves farmers and advocates for farm communities in the southeastern U.S. – and now serves farmers and farmer-focused agencies in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition is really grateful for our national partner, RAFI-USA, and the coordinators of the Farmers for Climate Change: Rally for Resilience. It was our first time engaging in advocacy for the Farm Bill 2023 – and the fact that we had female farmers and community organizers on the frontline with us was amazing,” said Sibilly-Brown.

The experience made an impact on St. Croix farmer Lindsey Simmonds of Mystical Farm, who said, “I made a promise to look for ways to engage with and hold accountable both our elected leaders and my community in between election years. This is the continuation of that promise. There are many ways to use your freedoms in a democracy, and our vote in an unincorporated territory is worth much less than we realize if those elected officials are not answerable to us until we use our freedoms to hold them accountable. Our presence in a conversation and our voice in a situation carries a great deal of power and influence. We need to help inform our policy makers of our truths and experiences so they can make decisions and policies that are inclusive – and we need to help inform ourselves as citizens of our community to understand the importance and wide-reaching impact of federal programs like the Farm Bill. This trip to DC proves that it can exist, and should be fostered and taught to the people of the VI in a greater capacity.”

St. Thomas farmer Shelli Brin of Que Sera Farms shared that the DC trip “was a great experience, and it was encouraging to see so many good people working on such critical issues, such as food security for our communities.”

Shelli Brin holds a sign at the Rally. (submitted photo)

“With it being VI history month, every Virgin Islander needs to take a moment and examine what culture they are fueling with every bite they take. We have a food legacy that fueled unsustainable economic growth for first-world countries that sacrificed our ancestors’ health to produce what? Sugar was a cheap food product of that time, so when we buy cheap food today, we need to examine again whose economies are we fueling?” Brin added.

Jade M. Algarín Corcino, a food and climate justice organizer and Open Society Foundation Puerto Rican Youth Fellow, said that her “major takeaway from being engaged in the process of envisioning a Farm Bill was how revolutionary it really is to do so from the vantage point of a colony. The process, the novelty, and frustration forced all involved to acknowledge that the Farm Bill was not and has not been crafted to address the unique needs and desires of island and territorial communities. The trip, however, was also filled with sparks of hope in our conversations with congressional representatives and staff but more so even with other farmers and food system advocates from across the country that see their struggle and story in that of the VI. Solidarity is our first step towards securing our collective well-being.”

“What we are seeing as an organization is that our role at VI Good Food Coalition is to continue to support education and advocacy and create opportunities for Virgin Islands voices to become drivers towards change. This trip is just one example of what that can look like. Our reality is that we need more voices across our diaspora to engage with their representation in Congress and the Senate and harness the power of being part of their local, mainland constituencies. We want to encourage Virgin Islanders living in the U.S. to engage with their state congressperson and state representatives to encourage them to build support for the Virgin Islands. If Virgin Islanders are part of any national affiliation, Greek, professional associations, or any organization that has a voice, we need their help to start taking up our causes – from the mainland. We need to build the cohesion of thousands of Virgin Islands living abroad to help bring attention, resources and informed policy changes to the USVI, Puerto Rico and other territories and commonwealths,” Sibilly-Brown added.

VI Good Food Coalition is a place-based nonprofit organization that is dedicated to cultivating a thriving and just local food system that supports Virgin Islands farmers and producers and ensures that healthy good food is accessible to every resident in our territory. The VI Good Food Coalition is a project of the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development and can be found online at www.goodfoodvi.org and on Facebook at @goodfoodvi.

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