So far, 2017 has been a whirlwind year for our Contract Agriculture Reform Program. We held two premieres of our documentary film, Under Contract: Farmers and the Fine Print, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC and at Anthology Film Archives in New York City, and we later held screenings across the country that reached more than 500 people. We’re still riding that wave of initial success to expand our program and our impact.
In March, we expanded our staff by hiring a Contract Agriculture Case Manager, Tyler Whitley. This new position assists in the one-one-one farmer interactions that are critical to our success. In this role the case manager travels to farms across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, meeting farmers where they are and ensuring that their voices are heard. Since the premieres, we have also distributed more than 150 copies of Under Contract: Farmers and the Fine Print to farmer organizers working in Nebraska and Kansas, journalists around the world, other nonprofit organizations, and universities. Under Contract has been featured at nine additional screenings and events, including the West Virginia International Film Festival, sponsored by our friends at West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition.
Since March, we have traveled thousands of miles listening to farmers, advocating on their behalf, and crafting policy to bring relief to American farmers. This year we extended our ability to serve farmers in need, taking on farmer financial crisis cases totaling more than $5 million dollars of assets at stake. So far this year, we’ve traveled to nine states helping farmers in crisis. We now work with farmers in more than 11 states, soliciting their opinions on the issues affecting them and how we can better work to address their needs. Over the past few years, and especially during the filming of Under Contract, we developed a network of farmers whom we call on to guide our policy recommendations. At the beginning of 2017, our farmer advisory network was roughly 16 members strong, spread across six states. With RAFI’s expanded capacity we now have 40 members across 13 states, comprising farmers, former FSA officials, and other farmer advocates.
During 2017, thanks to an FSA cooperative extension grant, we produced “A Poultry Farmers Guide to FSA Loans.” This guide is intended to answer questions farmers may have before deciding to finance a contract poultry farm. We highlight questions to ask before deciding whether to sign a poultry contract, information necessary to make the best financial decision, an overview of the process, and what to do if things go wrong. We presented this guide through three workshops held in North Carolina and one held in partnership with Hmong National Development in Arkansas. We were fortunate enough to reach more than 40 farmers and distribute more than 150 physical copies of the guide through our partners’ network. This guide provides valuable information, not found in other sources, to inform farmers to help them decide if a contract poultry farm is right for them.