Iʻve never seen so many men in ties. Nor have I distributed/collected so many business cards. And who knew how far the House and Senate were away from each other until you walked back and forth between the Hart, Cannon, Russel and Longworth buildings in heels. These are my first overwhelming (and candid) observations on “the hill”. But in all seriousness, the exposure and experiences outside of our comfort zones is an example of one of the beauties of the Ag Leadership Program (ALP).
I am thankful ALP brought me to to DC to learn about how Federal level decision making affects food systems home in Hawaiʻi and how our visit and dialogue serves to remind/educate our Representatives and Senators of local level issues and solutions. Luckily, others in our cohort know their way around and set-up a day full of opportunities: we visited the offices of Representative Mark Takai, Senator Brian Schatz and Senator Mazie Hirono. We also met with staff on both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees.
As much as our delegation supports agriculture, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to receive less than 1% of the countryʻs budget. Many may not realize that nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program is part of the USDAʻs responsibilities and uses 70% of that 1% budget.
Herein lies a cycle of problems from my humble observations. That the less we invest in agriculture and the food systems of the country, the more and more people will be hungry…
I cannot help but think back to the famous Kaʻala Farm quote: “If you plan for a year, plant kalo. If you plan for ten years, plant koa. If you plan for a hundred years, teach the children aloha ʻāina.” It is no coincidence that Hōkūleʻa is here on the Potamic River in DC, directly spreading the message of Mālama Honua and aloha ʻāina.
And along that encouraging note, Ag Committee staff pointed us to this helpful beginning farmer toolkit: https://afsic.nal.usda.gov/farms-and-community/beginningnew-farmers –> Check it out!