By Olivia Taylor-Puckett
“For decades upon decades, Farmers Union members have made an annual migration to Washington to make their case for smarter, fairer farm policies,” said National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson. The annual National Farmers Union Washington D.C. Fly-In is the very definition of grassroots politics. This three-day event draws Farmers Union members from states as far as Alaska and Hawaii to meet with top officials of the USDA and, more importantly, their elected state representatives. The goal of these meetings is to remind those in D.C. of the issues their farming and rural constituents face back home.
Joining 275 National Farmers Union members for the 2015 NFU Fall Legislative Fly-In, September 16-18, were seven Kansas delegates: David Heiens, Abilene; Jeff Kindel, Aurora; Roy McCoy, Chanute; Don Stull, Lawrence; Olivia Taylor-Puckett, McLouth; Stephanie Teske, Wamego; and Donn Teske, Wheaton. This year’s group were all fly-in first timers, with the exception of Donn Teske who served as team captain.
As president of KFU and vice president of NFU, Teske has been on multiple fly-ins and is no stranger to D.C. but calls his fifth generation beef cow-calf and cropping operation outside of Wheaton home.
Heiens had not been to the capitol since the late 70’s when he participated in the month long American Agriculture Movement’s Tractorcade. He has been involved in KFU for most of his life after growing up in FFA. Today David and his wife Ramona raise grains, hay and hogs organically; have been accepted into the Conservation Stewardship Program and devote partial acreage of each farm to wildlife preservation.
Stull, a recently retired University of Kansas professor, was invited to become more involved with KFU through his activity as treasurer for the Organization for the Competitive Markets, of which Teske and other NFU officers are board members. During his tenure as a professor, Stull taught a graduate level course entitled “Meat and Drink in America” which introduced hundreds of students to the social, environmental, economic, political and moral issues related to our food and where it comes from. His book, Slaughterhouse Blues: the Meat and Poultry Industries in North America was required reading for the class. Stull co-runs a 240-acre grain farm in Western Kentucky with his brother.
Stephanie Teske, daughter of KFU president Donn, has been involved with the organization ever since she can remember. Between youth camps and attending events whenever possible, she has an intimate understanding of the influence KFU can have on rural communities and the politics that affect them.
Olivia Taylor-Puckett is the Communications and Project Intern at KFU and the daughter of KFU staffer Mercedes Taylor-Puckett. Although she did not grow up on a farm, she has been aware of and involved with the sustainable food movement and family farm advocacy from a young age.
Roy McCoy and Jeff Kindel rounded out Kansas’ advocates, both as farmers themselves and as Midwest Regional Agency insurance agents.
While in D.C., National Farmers Union members visited the office of every House and Senate member, either to drop off a NFU informational packet or to have meetings with aides or the representatives themselves.
The meetings and informational packets covered top issues for family farmers such as: Voluntary Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and Trade Enhancement Act of 2015 which requires meat to be born, raised and processed in the United States in order to be labeled as a product of the USA; opposing any changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard while rejecting the EPA’s changes which would keep ethanol levels below the required amount; urging congress to reject the Trans Pacific Trade agreement; support for a Senate Agriculture Appropriations Amendment requiring a comprehensive risk management plan for foot and mouth disease before resuming trade with Argentina and Brazil; and further opening agricultural prospects in Cuba.