This past week Matthew and I packed up the family and headed to Washington D.C.
Our farm loan company, Northwest Farm Credit Services, as part of the bigger Farm Credit Counsel, brought together Veterans from all over the country who have taken the leap into farming post military service.
While we were there we met with House Representative Mike Conaway (11th District of Texas) the chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and talked about the new Farm Bill (which as of this posting hasn't been agreed on by the House of Representatives and Senate). He mentioned a few things that really stuck out to us but, mainly, how farmer's representation in the House and Senate has changed over the years. It used to be, everyone who sat on the House Committee on Agriculture had a direct tie to farming. Either they owned one themselves or had a family member who did. But now, because America's tie to rural agriculture has changed, and fewer people are farming in general, frankly there's just less of us.
And so, visits like the one we just did to Washington DC, become even more important. Because, in case you forgot, our elected officials work for us. In their own words, "they are on our payroll." But they can't know who you are, and what you need, or what you stand for, unless they know about it.
Which is why it's also so amazing Matthew and I were able to sit down and talk with our three Representatives: Senator Patty Murray, House Representative Denny Heck (10th Congressional District) and Senator Maria Cantwell.
I had no idea what to expect in a 1:1 meeting with our Representatives...and I was pleasantly surprised in all of them. They spoke with us with true concern and interest over what it looked like for our farm to do business in Washington State. And of course, we didn't hold back. All three of them asked them why we got into goats. I answered that my first goat captured my heart so much I had to come up with the a job where I could have ALL.THE.GOATS and goat dairy just seemed like a great idea. Matthew answered that he married me and I came with a dowry of goats. They asked how much we had put into our dairy and we answered honestly with the (probably conservative) estimate of about $95k (not including the purchase of the land we farm or the cost of production (feeding animals, making cheese, etc.) They asked how we learned to farm, we said YouTube. We told them how our financial outlook has changed for the better since being picked up by the larger grocery chain PCC (we also learned that Senator Cantwell only shops at PCC!) and we told them how agritourism was a HUGE part of our farm. And then of course we invited all of them to goat yoga.
Last but not least, in a super professional move, our meeting with Denny Heck ended with me inviting him to the farm in case of a zombie apocalypse. I'm pretty sure he tucked that tidbit away for the future.
We also saw the unveiling of the new Homegrown by Heroes label, which now has a male and female on it (Yes! Women are Veterans too!) and heard from Stephen Censky, the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. His big thing was "Veterans don't know what they don't know." Censky was referencing all the benefits that are provided to Veterans, Young, Beginning, Female, or Minority Farmers. Matthew and I can attest to this as a true statement. Just while we were there, speaking with the other farmer's, we realized there are entire programs in existence that we can benefit from. My pledge to this website is to do my research and keep it updated with everything we learn so that those who come after us can also take advantage of the resources.
But maybe the best part of being in D.C. was getting to experience it with our kids. For me, as a military brat whose Dad was stationed at the Pentagon for multiple tours, D.C. is a large part of my childhood memories. Matthew had never been there before and of course our kids were seeing it for the first time. Luckily my mom was able to meet us there to take the kids while were at the Capitol so we could make it a reality to bring them.
We toured the Smithsonian, the Air & Space Museum, the Carousel, the National Gallery of Art, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, and the WWII Memorial. I know our kids are young, but we still talked to them about what those monuments represented. More than once I found myself choked up by the power of being in such a history-filled city. As kids, my parents drilled into us what it means to be an American, to have a government that works for you, and what our forefathers went through to get us here. My brother and I were raised to respect our country, but also to know that, if we want, we are capable of change. Matthew and I are raising our kids to know the same.