It is important that farmers be involved in policy decisions at the local, state, and federal level because quite often those charged with making policy do not farm and may not realize the impact their actions have on the viability of farms in our state.
Farm families feel frustration toward government institutions that seem unresponsive on a range of issues, from crushing regulatory burden relief, to agritourism legislation affecting the hosting of lifecycle events, to inadequate access to educational outreach programming.
The way to cope is to get engaged and get heard. Effective communication with elected officials allows you to be heard on issues affecting your ability to farm.
Although farmers are a minority (less than 2%) of the U.S. population, elected officials care what farmers think, and need their input on many issues. The production of food is directly dependent on a group of aging but knowledgable individuals who chose the hard life that is farming. Food is at the center of many hot button issues in modern society: land use, resources, community development, jobs and labor, food safety, and family nutritional health and well being. Meeting food needs is essential for a Democracy – a hungry nation does not respect Property Rights, Civil Rights or Human Rights.
There are many ways to participate in the process of policy creation. Personal petition by face-to-face meeting, phone, email, or letter is most compelling. Civic events, farm tours, and board of ag meetings give farmers a way to personally convey their concerns and build relationships with representatives. Phone calls are typically taken by staff members; it’s important to ask to speak to the aide who handles the issue you would like to address. Communicating with your elected official via email has become increasingly popular since, as a consequence of the 2001 anthrax attacks, mailed letters must now go through a rigorous process that delays its receipt significantly. Nonetheless, letters remain the most popular choice of communication with a congressional office.
Know your Elected Officials and Advocates
Find your NJ State Assemblymen and Senators
Find your U.S. Representatives or Senators
New Jersey State Board of Agriculture
New Jersey Farm Bureau
Rutgers NJAES Board of Managers (appointment by Rutgers Board of Governors)
Tips for expressing views and requesting support for specific actions:
Use farm stationary
This sets your letter apart from the piles of form letters your representatives receive daily. If you do not have stationary, be sure to provide your address, phone number, and email with your signature.
Keep letters brief
Keep your letter to one side of one page. Your representative and especially their staff only have a short time to read mail. By keeping your letter to one page, you will hold their attention. If your letter is about a bill, refer to it accurately, e.g., House bill: H.R. ____, Senate bill: S.____.
Keep letters focused
Stick to one major issue or problem. The subject of your concern will be easier to remember and respond to if it is not buried by a list of concerns. Avoid complaining. State personal experiences or credentials you have regarding the subject of your letter.
Show a constituent interest
Tell your representative how the matter is important, how it will personally affect your farm, and other voters you know.
Request the action you want taken
Clearly state if you want support for or against a particular legislative action, policy, vote, or regulation.
Ask for a response
When closing, thank your representative for their time reading your letter. Officials receive large volumes of letters. Do not expect a response, and only politely request a reply if your concern requires.
There are several correct forms of address for a Member of Congress including “The Honorable” and “Representative.”
This article was originally published June 18, 2011.