Want to raise backyard chickens or bees? Sell fresh produce from a roadside stand? Build a new structure or fence? When it comes to animals, agriculture and land management, farmers must comply with state and local laws.
Some laws serve farmers, such as Ohio Revised Code Chapter 931: Agricultural Security Areas which protects farmland from new development for nonagricultural purposes. Other laws, such as municipal ordinances that make it illegal to keep beehives in the city, deter urban farmers from doing something good for agriculture. “People are increasingly aware of bees’ crucial role in creating a healthy ecosystem, so I was surprised to learn a city ordinance prevents me from keeping hives on my property,” an aspiring beekeeper shared.
Another farmer vented that starting a farm is challenging enough without all of the laws and rules. “There are rules for building, maintaining, and removing fences, and dealing with plant pests — the list goes on an on! Don’t even get me started on the permits I need to sell my products!”
“My dream is to start a community food garden in a vacant city lot,” a gardener said, “but the municipal code has strict rules about leasing city land for agricultural use.”
Farmers often feel powerless to change rules and regulations. The voice of one farmer sounds small and insignificant in the boom of big government. However, farmers can cultivate change collectively through ag advocacy.
Ag advocacy is the answer
Advocacy is public support of a cause and recommendation for a policy solution. Beekeepers and poultry enthusiasts across the state have successfully advocated changing local laws to allow backyard bees and chickens. Farmers have worked together to advocate for laws favoring agritourism and to acquire agricultural easements to access farm fields.
Farmers also advocate to build awareness for new policy initiatives that protect landowners’ rights and empower rural communities. Examples include preventing timber theft, boosting broadband access and improving health in rural communities.
In short, advocacy brings people together around important issues. One farmer’s voice may sound small, but the united voice of many farmers is a loud and clear call for change.
How to advocate for your cause
First, clarify current rules and regulations governing the issue. Review applicable Ohio laws and rules and local Codified Ordinances. Educate yourself on all sides of the issue to gain an understanding of why the current code exists. Understanding the argument for and against a regulation will help you negotiate changes that satisfy everybody; thereby increasing the likelihood lawmakers will support your initiative for change.
Next, find allies that support your policy initiative. Farm-focused groups, clubs and organizations are a good place to connect to folks that share your values. The Ohio Farm Bureau is a grassroots membership organization that works to support Ohio’s food and farm community. County Farm Bureaus conduct policy development meetings inviting members to propose policy initiatives that benefit Ohio agriculture.
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Ohio Cattlemen’s Association and Ohio State Beekeepers Association have chapters near you. Your local conservation and farmers’ clubs are other places to find sympathetic allies and rally support.
Create a website using a free platform like WordPress or Wix. Having a website, even if it is a simple landing page, legitimizes your campaign and credibility. Use the web to build awareness and increase the visibility of the issue. Online community forums and Facebook groups good places to connect, get the message out and organize your campaign.
Third, work with allies to construct a clear message. A policy statement effectively communicates the desired outcome to lawmakers, local leaders and the public.
Last, organize a campaign for change. The goal of a campaign is to increase awareness of the issue and gain support. Call the county clerk’s office to identify local lawmakers and government leaders and obtain their contact information. Search for your district’s state representatives online at govtrack.us. Contact lawmakers by phone, email, and attend in-person meetings that are open to the public. Petitions show lawmakers a list of local supporters for your cause. Letters to the editors of local publications are effective. Radio and public television appearances are well received, especially when interviewees tell a personal story and share what is happening behind the scenes to cultivate change in the community.
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