Democracy School #4

Democracy School – Using Your Voice!

Theoretically, we live in a democracy – it’s fragile, it’s not perfect and it’s not even guaranteed, but a democracy nonetheless. That means people – you, me, your favorite neighbor and that Uncle with whom you never agree – get to have a say in the rules we agree to. I’m referring to generally agreed-upon rules of society, like who gets to do what, when and where. 

As covered in the first Democracy School post, in Oregon, we elect our State Representatives every 2 years and our State Senators every 4 years. Together these Representatives and Senators make up the Oregon legislature. These people get together every year and they make formal decisions that affect our lives.

When in Session, our legislators address things like education, roads, hunger, health care, police accountability, economic development, racial justice, environmental issues, procedural dilemmas, forestry, coordination (or not) with neighbor states, government accountability, and more. Indeed, legislators have a lot of different concepts to work on in a short amount of time. Sometimes over 1000 bills are introduced in a legislative session, and individuals or groups are behind many of them, hoping they’ll move forward.

Sometimes stakeholders work for years behind the scenes, and around kitchen tables, to propose new rules about a gasoline tax, or education funding, or the regulation of GMO’s. Citizen advocates feel their ideas are important or necessary and they present their concepts to a State Representative or Senator, and if the legislator agrees with the advocate’s perspective, they may agree to sponsor – or champion – the legislative concept. Legislators still need to hear from more citizen advocates to maintain and grow support for the legislation, which is why responding to FoFF’s Action Alerts is so important.

Friends of Family Farmers has traveled the state every other year for the past 14 years, visiting with Oregon’s small and mid-sized ecologically-responsible farmers and ranchers to hear about their challenges and policy priorities. We’ve heard from producers from Medford to Astoria, Salem to Joseph, the Willamette Valley, Central Oregon and the Columbia River Gorge. After compiling the input, issues that rise to the top are what FoFF turns into legislative concepts with the hope they will become law, and ultimately, impact our local food system for the better.

For many years, a top priority was getting rid of the outdated, onerous regulations that prevented small farmers from making low-risk, value-added products like pickles and jams in their own homes for direct sale to consumers. FoFF worked diligently with then-Representative Peter Buckley and others to ensure the bill kept moving, and the Farm Direct Bill was ultimately signed by then-Governor Kitzhaber. Thanks to FoFF, what started as an idea from farmers gathered around Grange halls and public libraries during a Listening Session is now a law, and anybody in Oregon can legally buy homemade Raspberry jam, extra spicy salsa or pickled dilly beans direct from their favorite farmer! Read more about that here.

When we talk with Oregon legislators, we help them understand our ideas and our values. And when the opportunity arises, we hope we can count on your help. Legislators want to know what you, their constituents, think about the bills they have to vote on. They are, after all, representing you.

FoFF has many priorities and ideas gleaned from our Agricultural Reclamation ActListening Sessions, and surveys, and we plan to keep promoting them to decision makers. We want to see policies that benefit small family farmers, promote ecologically-based agriculture, improve access to land for beginning farmers, increase locally grown food in our schools, and ensure a vibrant, equitable, healthy local food system. Export-based and “Big Ag” mono crop farmers have corporate-funded lobby assistance to move their bills through the legislative process. We have YOU.

We might not all be farmers, but we’re all eaters, and together, we are a major constituency. We need your help so that legislators and agencies know we exist and are passionate about the big impact small farms can have. FoFF wants Oregonians eating food grown by Oregonians. We can do this, but we all need to participate in our democracy to make it so.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 2020. Ballots must be received (not postmarked!) by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Please plan to vote early!

DISCLAIMER: FoFF is a 501(c)(3) public charity. Contributions are tax-deductible. FoFF does not support or oppose candidates for public office. These resources are shown for educational purposes only.