The Monadnock Food Co-op Goes to Washington

Unexpected opportunities often arise out of less than ideal situations; climate change is a perfect example.  Climate change offers us a chance to retool, rethink and re-imagine our society and our world.  And while big change can be scary and intimidating, it also presents incredible opportunity to imagine a world that better serves everyone and everything, including the natural ecosystems that surround us.

An unexpected opportunity arose for me when our co-op received an invitation to join the National Business Climate & Clean Energy Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. The invitation grew out of our co-op having joined over 1,000 other companies in signing the Business Backs Low-Carbon USA statement. The statement encourages our government to remain committed to the Paris Agreement on climate, which sets a global action plan to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, an important threshold to reduce risks and impacts from climate change. The invitation to DC included the goal of delivering a strong message to Congressional policymakers:

“Climate change is a fundamental risk to the nation’s economic success, human health and environmental security and Congress must take concrete steps to reduce carbon pollution and support the transition towards a clean energy economy.”

This message resonates with our co-op for many reasons revolving around our Ends Statements. Our Ends Statements are our guiding principles; why we exist. When staff and management or our Board of Directors contemplate decisions, from issuing patronage refunds, to increasing local sales, to our donations program, they are weighing these decisions against our Ends Statements and whether or not the decision will serve these Ends.

The Monadnock Food Co-op is cooperatively owned and operated by people in our community, and exists to meet our community’s need for:

  • An accessible, community-owned downtown food market
  • A marketplace that welcomes and connects community
  • A healthy, sustainable food system
  • The support of local farmers and producers
  • Appropriate education and training for the community
  • A strong, sustainable and improving local economy

We will not be able to execute this mission, to fulfill our Ends, if climate change goes unchecked; if we do not start planning and adapting to expected impacts now.

Since our business at its core is aggregating and distributing food, we think a lot about how climate change will impact farmers. The list of climate change impacts on farmers is long — on a local and global scale. We’re seeing increased severe weather events, flooding and droughts as well as new pests.  We know farmers will need to diversify what they grow and be flexible and nimble to continue their livelihoods as we move into uncharted waters with our climate. But these principles are often contrary to the way farming is practiced around the world — it’s inherently a difficult industry in which time is at an absolute premium and it’s hard to make money no matter how hard, or how smart, you work.

Farmers often need to plan years in advance — think of orchards, berry farms, and coffee and cacao farmers.  Being nimble and responding quickly to change is fundamentally difficult, and a single new disease, like coffee leaf rust can destroy a farmer’s profits for not only one season, but for years to come.

Coffee Leaf Rust. Photo courtesy of www.scaa.org.

Adding insult to injury, these farmers are often already making very little profit on their crops — a bad year or a new pest or disease can be too much to cope with. During New Hampshire’s severe drought last year, we lost 19 out of 120 dairy farms who sold milk to the wholesale market. Many farmers are living harvest to harvest, a missed harvest can put them out of business. Ironically, farmers are underappreciated and underpaid even though their market is inherently large and stable — our global population of nine billion must eat.

Given all this, how could we not go to DC and bring the message that climate change is a fundamental risk to the success of our community and our business?  A conversation or two later, and I had a flight booked to DC.

Advocacy Team # 7 (from L to R): Kevin Fitzwilliam, Joule Energy, Katie Clark, Happy Family Brands, Grant Carlisle, E2, Megan Straughen, Monadnock Food Co-op

During our day of training, I was encouraged to hear the idea echoed several times that climate change would be “depoliticized” soon.  Helping pave the way is the Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives, a bipartisan group exploring policy options that address the impacts, causes and challenges of our changing climate.  New Hampshire’s own Annie Kuster recently joined the Caucus which is currently comprised of 19 Republicans and 19 Democrats (one democrat and one republican must join together to ensure its bipartisan nature).

The Caucus will serve as an organization to educate members on economically-viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our nation’s economy, security, infrastructure, agriculture, water supply and public safety.”

Our day on Capitol Hill began with remarks by Democratic Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Ed Markey (MA).  Afterwards, seven teams set out to speak with dozens of representatives in a whirlwind of back-to-back half hour meetings, from 9am – 5pm. I was able to meet with the offices of Congressional Representatives Cedric Richmond (D-LA), David Young (R-IA), Mark Sanford (R-SC), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and more.

Sen Sheldon Whitehouse

Sen Ed Markey

Every representative we met with voiced support for clean energy policy in one way or another — either in a general sense or as it related to jobs and industry in their districts. It was encouraging to hear widespread support for clean energy and its related funding. We also encouraged more action from the representatives, asking many of them to consider joining the Climate Solutions Caucus or signing the Republican Climate Resolution (if applicable).

Megan Straughen on Capitol Hill.

Being on Capitol Hill was an absolutely incredible experience.  I am so grateful for our co-op’s commitment to environmental stewardship, locally and globally, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to represent the co-op in our Nation’s Capital. Given our Ends Statements, we must fight for action on climate change so that we may continue to fulfill our mission and support a thriving and resilient community.

During our time on the Hill, we heard over and over again that phone calls and visits to representatives really make a difference. Phone calls take just a couple minutes and you don’t need to be an expert or have all the answers. Simply voicing your opinions and concerns helps Representatives understand what their constituency wants and needs. Interested in calling your representatives? Click here for information. To sign the Business Backs Low-Carbon USA statement, click here.

 

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