Riverhead farmer in D.C. ahead of Farm Bill update

Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, owner and farmer of the Riverhead-based Garden of Eve organic farm, is headed to the nation’s capital to advocate for policies specific to organic farming and discuss their impact on the broader agricultural community.

From March 4 to 7, Ms. Kaplan-Walbrecht, and other members of the Organic Farmers Association, a nation-wide industry organization founded in 2016, will be meeting with congressional representatives and agriculture committee staffers to discuss pending updates to the U.S. farm bill. Originally enacted in the New Deal era, the legislation serves as the principle framework for all U.S. agriculture and food policy programs and is typically updated by Congress every five to six years. The current version, officially known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, was signed into lay by President Donald Trump in December 2018 and expired in September of last year. A Continuous Resolution was enacted in November to keep the program funded through Sept. 30, 2024. 

The bill covers “programs ranging from crop insurance for farmers to healthy food access for low-income families, from beginning farmer training to support for sustainable farming practices,” according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s website. 

In addition to addressing pending Farm Bill updates with various legislators, including U.S. Rep. Nick LaLota (R-Bay Shore) and Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Ms. Kaplan-Walbrecht will be asking for immediate support for organic dairy farms to address an increase in input costs, such as for labor and fuel, that have forced many family farms out of business. She also noted the importance of maintaining the integrity of organic labeling as a big issue among organic farmers.

“A lot of what we talk to [lawmakers] about [are] very specific ways that the standards need to be upheld and also changed to make sure that it favors real, in-the-dirt farming, biodiversity, real sustainability over just ‘oh look I checked all the boxes,’” she said. “A lot of that, [includes] preventing fraud from imports coming in and making sure that the standards are really about environmental sustainability.”

OFA members will also be advocating for U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that “increase organic infrastructure to create new regional programs that increase organic production, addressing challenges for climate and supply chain resilience, and strengthening local food systems,” the organization said in a press release about its trip to D.C.

Ms. Kaplan-Walbrecht and her husband, Chris, founded Garden of Eve in 2001. Since then, they have grown their operations to 60 acres filled with certified organic vegetables and flowers. They also raise 1,500 pastured laying hens, which feed the community through farmers markets and community supported agriculture programs across Long Island and New York City. She has been an OFA member many years and was elected in 2020 to serve as its Northeast Region Farmer Representative.

Kate Mendenhall, executive director of OFA, said bringing organic farmers to Washington, D.C., and putting their concerns front and center is a priority for the organization.

“Farmers are best suited to educate changemakers about the challenges they face on the farm, and need to be part of crafting the solutions to grow organic farming in this country,” Ms. Mendenhall said.

Ms. Kaplan-Walbrecht urged local community members to continue to support organic farming by shopping at area farms.

“It’s the purchasing power that makes it possible for farmers to succeed and also we’re trying to work with our customers to keep the organic brand pure and strong,” she said. “It’s important that they also let their representatives know, as much as they’re able to, that this is important to them.”