Voices for Change

Advocacy ministries of the ELCA want to share stories and your voices about public policies and relevant advocacy issues that are of interest to you.

“Teach us, in our diversity, to embrace unity…”

Posted on November 4, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We close the Wisconsin installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series with this prayer.

By Sarah Miller, a seminarian at Luther Seminary currently engaged in field education at The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepard in Eau Claire, Wisconsin

 

Triune God, you are the eternal three-in-one, Creator of the universe, the Word of salvation, and the life-giving Spirit. You are perfect unity and all-embracing diversity. To you be given glory and honor forever.

In your image you have created us for life in community, to live in relationship with you and with one another. As your people, you have called us to live in love; to honor each other, to respect each other, to trust each other, to listen to each other, to hold each other accountable to the gospel, to construe each other’s actions in the best possible light.

But we know that our relationships with you and with others all too easily become distorted. Too often our brokenness gets in the way of living in love; our relationships are marred by anxiety and tension, by polarization and stubbornness, by fear and anger, by mistrust and disrespect. Forgive us, Lord.

By your Spirit lead us to the waters of rebirth, where, remembering our baptism, we may daily rise to new life in Christ. Renew us with your forgiveness, grace and love. Send us back into the world to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ, to work for reconciliation, to seek justice for all people in our communities, in our nation, and throughout the world.

Just as you are the one and holy God, yet three persons, so too are we one church but many hands and feet. Teach us, in our diversity, to embrace the unity that we have in Christ Jesus and to live in relationships that reflect your love for us and all of creation. To you be given glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.

Shared faith, shared service: advocacy that unites

Posted on November 2, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA
Andrew Genszler

Andrew Genszler

We continue the Wisconsin installment of the “Advocating on the Road” series with this piece.

By the Rev. Andrew Genszler, ELCA Director of Advocacy

Part of my role as director of Advocacy is to travel to synods, congregations and seminaries around the country, speaking about our public witness as advocates. Last week I, too, went on the road to Wisconsin, to speak at an event in Eau Claire that focused on our church’s need for a new approach to engaging our communities and new language to guide our work for justice and reconciliation. I said that advocacy arising from our shared lives of discipleship and service in community — and without the political baggage — can unite rather than divide us, and can be a natural outgrowth of our faith. 

As the recent “Advocating on the Road” pieces have highlighted, ELCA members living in Wisconsin have experienced relationships that were broken and frayed because of political disagreements over controversial issues. Unfortunately, Wisconsinites are not alone; people across the country have felt the bitter impact of a deepening polarization in our country too. There is no doubt that each of us holds varying political opinions, and it seems, especially in the final days of a long and bitter campaign season, that these differences separate us.

Just this morning, however, The Washington Post featured a story about two neighbors in Northern Virginia — one is a Republican and the other is a Democrat. The Post writes, “Both neighbors believe deeply in their views of the world. And both would drop everything to help the other. That’s what neighbors do, after all. Even if one has signs for Mitt Romney … on his lawn and the other has signs for Barack Obama …” Both neighbors are Catholic, who actively serve their community, value education, and are dedicated parents. While they may disagree on what specific policies best advance the common good or which candidate best embodies this ideal, both neighbors believe they have an obligation beyond themselves; each turns to the other. 

Political opinions do not make up our entire person, comprise our total community engagement or even serve as a platform for how we advocate. Instead, it is this concern for our neighbor that serves as a better platform for more effective and faithful advocacy, and it can also act to unite where congregations are otherwise divided.

It is easy to take stock of the bitterness we experience around us, but it is more important for us to remember that, as Lutherans, we are united by our belief in a resurrected Christ, through whom we receive the gift of grace which frees us to love and serve our neighbors. Luther frequently wrote on how governments can be powerful agents in advancing the common good. One of his most developed themes is the idea that government—a “left hand” or “rule” or “kingdom” of God—is a gift to us from an active, loving God; an instrument to be used to help serve neighbor. And when our government becomes profoundly dysfunctional, we have a responsibility to our neighbors not to throw up our hands and walk away to our own isolated lives, but to remind public officials of their role in God’s good purpose for communities and for creation.

Coupled with this helpful understanding of government, advocacy that comes from our shared service in our community truly can be common ground in the midst of disagreement; even as our ELCA congregations continue to be places that foster meaningful and healthy discourse, Lutherans speaking to public officials about our common service to and concern for our neighbors is a compelling witness as a church. ELCA members are grounded in a common faith and a common mission to serve, and therefore it is out of this unity that faithful — and effective — advocacy grows.   

ELCA members often say that we “seek justice” as one expression of our faith. As the Rev. Gerd Bents, an organizer of the Eau Claire event, said, we are called to help co-create a world worthy of trust, restoring relationships on the way — we can then point to “justice” as a result. We are better than individualized least-common-denominator politics as a nation. We can find common ground, and we can find ourselves in mutual service to and advocacy for our neighbors and communities.

‘Metanoia’ in a polarized world

Posted on October 30, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We continue the Wisconsin installment of the ‘Advocating on the Road’ series with this piece.

Over the past 12 months of working together at The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Eau Claire, Wis., Lead Pastor Gerd Bents has spent many moments deep in conversation with his colleague Pastor Emeritus Donald Wisner. Colleague to colleague, the two Lutheran pastors have shared thoughts on Christian witness in the world and our call to God’s justice in Scripture, all the while observing the increasing polarization and broken relationships in their state and the larger nation.

Throughout these conversations, Pastor Bents was consistently drawn back to a few important questions: How do we, as Christians, understand “justice”? How has the notion of justice changed socially, when compared to our biblical heritage? And how does our cultural understanding of “justice” encourage polarization?

Guided by these questions, Pastors Bents and Wisner worked with others to plan a public event in Eau Claire in late October 2012 that explored concepts of justice from an Old Testament perspective. The event’s purpose is reflected in its name: “Metanoia.” A Greek phrase often translated “repentance,” but Pastor Bents explains that “its root meaning is better understood as  to perceive or understand in a new way.’” “Metanoia” included symposiums and keynote presentations structured around the topics of justice, reformation and reconciliation.

“Culturally, we tend to view justice as ‘having my rights met’ or ‘getting my fair share, or my just rewards.’ Often, we speak of justice as it relates to a consequence … hopefully for someone else.” But in the Old Testament Hebrew meaning, one who sought justice was interested in restoring relationship. For example, a faithful judge would render a decision intending to restore a relationship, as opposed to a ruling that ensures someone’s individual right,” Pastor Bents says. “This is consistent with God’s justice, as God continually seeks to restore relationships. In response to this, at “Metanoia” we explored how this notion of justice can guide the church, how we can avoid allowing broken relationships to lord over us, and we can become a church and a people that are transformed to be God’s justice-bearing people in the world.”

“People of faith, always have something to say about issues of politics and government,” he adds, “It’s when we fail to discern who we are — when we lose sight of our identity as God’s people — that we step into a place where we become servants of the self, and we separate ourselves from God’s acts of justice. We don’t like disagreement; we equate it to conflict, relationship loss.”

On this point, Pastor Bents offers a new way, a “metanoia” of sorts, explaining, “Disagreement with each other does not have to lead to conflict, relationship loss, or polarization — I think it can lead us to being a closer, more effective church if we continue to collaboratively explore our identity in Christ, in baptism, and in mission; if we continue to understand God’s world in a new way.”

 

Stay tuned to the “Voices for Change” blog as we continue the “Advocating on the Road” series over the next week.

Listening and understanding our neighbor

Posted on October 25, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

This is the second blog post in the Wisconsin installment of the “Advoating on the Road” series.

 

“Thanksgiving of 2011 was a very difficult day for a lot of Wisconsin families,” the Rev. Lisa Bates-Froiland of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Milwaukee says, reflecting on the recent controversies in her state regarding collective bargaining and the ensuing division the debate created. “I heard many stories about ‘bad times’ at family get-togethers. The deep polarization silenced healthy discourse and balkanized communities in Wisconsin — it impacted who people would go to coffee with, even who would remain Facebook friends,” she explained.

Pastor Lisa also serves as executive director of the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion, a nonpartisan civic-minded ministry of Redeemer Lutheran Church. Recognizing how this polarization affected her community, she said “yes” to an invitation from the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA. The Synod had recently decided to study the collective bargaining debate, which was very much impacting their members, by listening to Lutherans on all sides of the issue.

She partnered with the Rev. John Horner-Ibler of Cross of Life Lutheran in Brookfield and assembled a diverse team that designed, coordinated and implemented a series of public conversations meant to help Lutherans truly listen and begin to understand their neighbors around the controversial — and deeply personal — issue.

Guided by a method developed by the Public Conversation Project, Pastor Lisa and her colleagues facilitated four well-attended discussions in February and March 2012 held at ELCA churches in Brookfield, Milwaukee, Racine and Thiensville, Wisconsin. “We speak only for ourselves as individuals,” is one tenet that she explains about the method. “And we seek only to get to the point where one person can understand why a person holds their particular perspective. The goal is not to change minds.”

At each of the events, Pastor Lisa briefly introduced the topic and public conversation method, and then each member of the team assembled participants into smaller groups (about five people in each group). The facilitating team member asked his or her small group the first question, which called upon each person to connect personal experiences to the collective bargaining debate. “Part of what I love about the method is that the very first question is how this connects to your personal life — we put this right at the front end, we invite people to tell part of their story,” Pastor Lisa says. Posing the question was immediately followed by silence, during which small group members had time to think and write down their thoughts. The first participant then shared his or her thoughts — allowed two minutes to speak to the small group, uninterrupted — and then the group would again be silent, allowing for reflection. After this silence, the second participant shared, followed by another silence, and this pattern was repeated until all members of the small group shared their thoughts on the question. The facilitator asked other questions, and the group followed the same pattern.

“I was nervous before the first public conversation,” Pastor Lisa admits. “But as the conversations unfolded, we saw that it really was important to have a carefully facilitated conversation at this difficult time. A methodology ensuring respect and fairness made sense.”

The four public conversation events drew a crowd of people holding varying opinions on the collective bargaining debate, and the feedback of the events were extremely positive. She remembers one man, specifically, who approached her after one of the events. “He told me, ‘This seemed pretty touchy-feely at first, but now I see how important this was. Someone in my group had the opposite set of experiences. I haven’t changed my mind, but now I know someone with differing views and I appreciate her and her opinion more than I could have imagined before tonight,’” Pastor Lisa shares. “Mutual understanding and listening is crucial — it can be preliminary to goals like conflict resolution or problem-solving.”

When asked about the overall experience, Pastor Lisa says these public conversations were worthwhile on many levels. “We didn’t come up with a consensus on what the synod should do or say on the issue of collective bargaining. But we brought Lutherans together as the body of Christ to talk about a highly charged issue. People talked and people listened, but people also spent time in shared silence, and I believe we made room for the Holy Spirit in the silences,” she says.

“The public conversations put neighbor next to neighbor, and I think this close proximity was also so key to Jesus’ ministry. Jesus listened, heard and touched people who had often been pushed away. People were vulnerable in his presence. These public conversations reminded us that even in the midst of a difficult circumstance, we can share, listen and seek to understand our neighbor — and it reminded us that we can be divided on some issues and also be a unified church in Jesus.”

 

Stay tuned to the “Voices for Change” blog, as we continue the Wisconsin installment of the “Advocating on the Road” series over the next couple of weeks.

Common ground in the frozen tundra

Posted on October 19, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We open the Wisconsin installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series with this piece.

By Amy Johnson,
Director of the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin

The people of the great state of Wisconsin make the most of our seasons. We have the seasons of summer, winter and road construction. Autumn itself features the seasons of the Packers, the Badgers and various types of hunting. The people of this state also recognize political campaign seasons, and we take great pride in exercising our democratic right to vote.

This current campaign season has been different because this time the season began in the spring of 2011, and it has yet to end. The intense debate over state employee collective bargaining rights in February of 2011 led to a series of recall races of incumbent state senators in the summer of 2011.  Shortly afterwards the focus shifted to petition drives to hold a recall election of the governor, the lieutenant governor and four other state senators that took place in June of 2012. 
When the recall process ended on June 5, nearly $120 million had been spent to influence the outcome of 11 races.  There was no rest for the weary because it was then time for Wisconsin voters to focus on the presidential election and select a new U.S. senator.

Being in a perpetual campaign mode is in itself exhausting for voters. However, this season has been particularly wearing on Wisconsin residents, because it began as a debate over existing and specific jobs.  This debate was personal for the government employees and teachers struggling to maintain labor protections, and it was personal for the unemployed, farmers and low-wage workers who had been struggling for years without any protections.

It quickly became clear that most adults in Wisconsin had strong opinions on collective bargaining, as well as opinions on the governor and members of our state Legislature. The debate that started in Madison soon played out in all parts of the state. Intense quarrels occurred in public places and at family gatherings. It seemed that each Wisconsinite held fast to their own opinion, and any criticism of our individual views felt as if we, personally, were being attacked.

Our ELCA congregations experienced division among members who held differing opinions. This was not the first time that Lutheran Christians in Wisconsin strongly disagreed on controversial issues. At the same time, it was important for us to remember our common identity in Christ and our commitment to love and serve our neighbors. Even during the height of the debate when people feared talking with others about the state budget debate, our congregations continued to serve our neighbors and pray for our elected leaders in their weekly services.

When the large demonstrations had quieted in March 2011, and the state capitol building was easier to enter, I was finally able to meet with lawmakers and staff to explain the priorities of the Lutheran Office for Public Policy. At the conclusion of each meeting, I shared that ELCA congregations around the state prayed for them, our lawmakers, every Sunday. These public servants had been living in a pressure cooker, and many were often afraid for their safety. But this was the first time they had heard people were regularly praying for them throughout this tumult. That realization allowed them to tell their own story and share what it was like to be at the center of the debate. Those conversations were an important reminder to me that by sharing something personal and by listening to their stories, they in turn were more open to listening to me.  

Our Lutheran heritage teaches us that government can be a gift and an instrument in working for the common good. Government is not something that can be ignored, nor can its leaders be dismissed.  Rather, Lutheran Christians hold a unique perspective in this day and age that our governments are to be respected because we believe that good governments can help bring peace and justice (our baptismal calling) on all the earth.  Just as Lutherans must not abandon our government and our role as faithful citizens, we must not abandon each other, even when we disagree. We must continue to learn from and listen to our neighbor, valuing the other person’s perspective and working for deeper understanding. 

Stay tuned to the “Advocating on the Road” blog series—in the coming weeks, we will hear from advocates in Wisconsin who work to listen and find common ground. 

Food and Community: a spiritual reflection

Posted on September 27, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We close the September edition of the “Advocating on the Road” series with this spiritual reflection.

By the Rev. Carol Jensen, co-chair of Faith Action Network of Washington State (successor to the Lutheran Public Policy Office)

Most Sunday afternoons during the summer months, you will find me at the Everett Farmers Market, a short distance from my home. The first time I saw the sign “WIC and Senior Farmers Market Checks Welcome Here” prominently displayed on the stalls, I have to admit a surge of pride. Lutherans in Washington played a key role in bringing this program to our state — ELCA members and congregations have been longtime advocates for these important programs. Even more exciting, however, was observing real people exchange these checks for the fresh vegetables and fruits grown by local farmers.

The Washington State Farmers Market Nutrition Program is a blessing to seniors, low income families, and the farmers seeking a living from the land, but it is also a blessing to the wider community. In part due to this program, our Farmers Markets have become places where people interact across the boundaries that often divide us from one another (e.g., age, race, class and rural/urban). The Farmers Market Nutrition Program checks are a small part of the markets’ economy, yet they help create a much more diverse community of participants than would occur without them.

In late August, the church concluded five weeks of gospel readings from John 6, beginning with Jesus feeding 5,000 people and continuing with Jesus’ commentary that he is the bread of life that can satisfy our deepest hunger for communion with God. These texts show us God’s desire for our material and spiritual well-being, and also for bringing us into relationship with God and with one another. In the sacramental meal, we receive the bread that is Christ’s body and we become Christ’s body in God’s world. We are entrusted with the mission not only to feed people but to bring people into relationship with one another.

The WIC and Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program is one particular way for us as taxpayers to serve the mission of God to feed the world as well as to build diverse, interdependent communities. Through Christ, God breaks down the walls that are between us. Picture a grandmother living on Social Security, a single mom with two toddlers in a stroller, a Spanish-speaking farmer from the Yakima Valley, an engineer from The Boeing Company, a man in a wheel chair all gathered around the cherries and cucumbers that were sustainably grown in local orchards and fields. It is a scene to remind us that we are fed by the bounty of God’s earth and the relationships that bind us together with God and one another.

Policy connecting growers and consumers

Posted on September 26, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We continue the September edition of the “Advocating on the Road” series with this piece, examining how federal policy affects our food, our neighbors, and our communities.

By Mary Minette, director for environmental education and advocacy, ELCA Washington Office

This month, the “Advocating on the Road” blog series explored a program that combines support for farms and farming communities with efforts to reduce hunger and improve nutrition among low income families. The Farmers Market Nutrition Programs in Washington state are funded by state and federal dollars and represent a new approach to food policy — one that looks at our food systems as a whole, rather than as disparate pieces. These programs support not only those who grow food, but also those who eat food, and perhaps most importantly, these programs pay attention to the systems and communities that connect growers and consumers.

The Washington state Farmers Market Nutrition Programs reflect a new direction in federal farm policy that began with the 2008 Farm Bill with an effort to help more farmers markets process the electronic benefit transfer cards that states use to distribute nutrition benefits such as the Women, Infant, and Children nutrition (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP — formerly known as food stamps). The 2008 Farm Bill coupled these electronic benefit transfer initiatives with efforts to encourage new farmers markets in underserved communities, where access to fresh food is limited. The 2008 Farm Bill set aside 10 percent of the funds allocated to the Farmers Market Promotion Program to support the use of electronic benefit transfers at farmers markets and community-supported agriculture enterprises. By 2011, 2,400 farmers markets nationwide were authorized to accept electronic benefit transfers, and that number continues to grow.

The expansion of farmers markets into new communities benefits more than low income families who receive food assistance. Farmers markets also benefit others in the community who now have increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables at their local farmers market, the farmers (who keep more of the consumer’s dollar by selling directly to those who eat what they grow), and the people who are hired to work in farmers markets and who work in businesses nearby that may see increased traffic on market days. In addition, there are the less easily measured benefits to the health of communities amid growing concerns among public health professionals about poor nutrition and obesity, particularly among our children and youth.

The 2008 Farm Bill that made this possible is due to expire in less than one week (on Sunday, September 30). Although the United States Senate passed a bill in early summer that would renew the Farmers Market Promotion Program — and with it the electronic benefit transfers program for WIC and SNAP recipients — leadership in the House of Representatives has so far been unwilling to allow a floor vote on a House farm bill. Absent a new farm bill, the House and Senate must vote to extend the current bill or many farm and food programs will expire — small, new and innovative programs, such as the Farmers Market programs, are particularly vulnerable to being cut and eliminated as lawmakers argue over declining pots of federal dollars and large programs, including SNAP and traditional farm supports, take up the lion’s share of the smaller amounts that remain. The House left for recess this past Friday without passing either a new farm bill or extending current legislation; they plan to return after the election for a lame duck session.

Also, last week the House of Representatives passed a six-month Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government until the end of March 2013, which failed to provide extended funding for a number of farm conservation programs. Through this exclusion, the House’s Continuing Resolution removed these farm conservation programs from the “baseline” of funding that will be available when Congress finally turns its attention to a new farm bill. This lower baseline means that if these conservation programs are to continue under a new bill, there will need to be cuts in other programs — perhaps including the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the electronic benefit transfers program.

We’ve heard this month how the policy written, voted upon, and signed into law in our state and national capitols deeply affects the lives of parents, children, seniors, and farmers. These policy initiatives, like the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs in Washington state, are more than line items of a budget or words in the pages of a mammoth bill. Strong policy can have a direct, positive impact on our lives and the lives of our neighbors — strong policy can help us build more vibrant and hunger-free communities.

 

 

Fresh and Local Food for All

Posted on September 24, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

Healthy Food & Food Systems 2We continue the “Advocating on the Road” series, exploring hunger-free and vibrant communities in Washington state. 

Kurt Tonnemaker is a familiar face at farmers markets around the Seattle area. Each week, Tonnemaker Brothers, Inc. packs and sells produce — peaches, cherries, apples, pears, plums, peppers and more — from Kurt’s family’s farm in Royal City, Wash., and travels to as many as 18 farmers markets in a single weekend. 

The produce Kurt sells is grown as sustainably as possible on land inherited from Kurt’s paternal grandfather, a horticulture extension agent in Eastern Washington. “My grandfather’s family moved from Nebraska in 1903. In their move west, they brought produce with them in a wagon. I guess you can say this passion runs in the family,” Kurt says. “When he retired from extension work in 1962, my grandfather bought this land from a Korean War veteran, and the farm has been in the family ever since. My brother, Kole, started in 1980 and expanded the varieties of what we grow. I joined in 1992 and helped develop our business from two or three farmers markets to many more.”

Kurt’s passion for his work shines through to those he meets, as he explains why he values this work. “One of the most important aspects of my job is that I get to help reconnect people to who grows their food. Cherries don’t just come out of a bag, you know,” Kurt jokes. “One hundred years ago everyone either knew or was a farmer. Now, farmers are less than 2 percent of the population. Naturally, people are far removed from who grows their food, and they don’t eat as much fresh food anymore. At the farmers markets, we can help reconnect our customers.”

“Farmers markets sometimes get a bad rap because the prices are higher — it does cost more to pack and handle just-picked, ripe foods,” Kurt notes. “We do sell certified organic produce, and we try to price our stuff so everyone can buy it. Good, fresh food should not be just for the rich.”

Kurt’s family’s work of growing and selling affordable, quality foods to a diverse customer-base is supported in part by the state’s Famers Market Nutrition Program for low-income and senior Washingtonians. The program is an initiative that operates using federal and state funding. It allows seniors and those who receive WIC (Women, Infants and Children) nutrition program benefits to use their benefits for fresh produce at farmers markets, sold by producers like Kurt.

During the 2012 legislative session Kurt joined Lutheran advocates at the state capitol in Olympia to express the importance of these programs to their lawmakers. “We understand that money is tight in the state budget, but we needed to tell them the money for this program is critically important. I helped tell our officials that when money is sent to the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs, it goes back to the farmer and back to our state. By paying the farmers, the WIC and senior customers are getting fresher produce and the money generated vitalizes our local and state economy,” Kurt explains.

“The senators and representatives are excited to talk to people who are benefited by these programs. They’re also trying to make the program as streamlined as possible, so it’s good to talk to farmers to see if where they’re spending the money is worth it.”

“I had to make sure my voice is heard”

Posted on September 14, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We continue the Washington state leg of the “Advocating on the Road” series…

Tammy Nguyen is a second generation Vietnamese American and a single mother, whose life’s work grew out of what she experienced while receiving WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) nutrition benefits. When Tammy learned she could redeem WIC benefits at farmers markets (through the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program) in her state, she started exploring farmers markets in Seattle with her children. “I knew it would be so hard to feed my child nutritiously because I didn’t make enough money on my own. Through the WIC program, I was able to feed my children the healthy food from the farmers markets. So often, this type of eating is a luxury — low income people can’t usually buy fresh produce grown locally.”

After she and her children transitioned off the WIC program, Tammy began to focus her energies on ensuring that other low income children had access to nutritious food. She began working with a local nonprofit, Got Green, a grassroots group in the Seattle area led by young adults and people of color that promotes an equitable, green economy.

Got Green recently surveyed low income women and women of color in Seattle on a variety of issues, and learned that 40 percent of them put access to healthy food as their first priority. Tammy came away from this process thinking, “How can we put more food dollars into low-income families’ pockets?” and, reflecting on her own experiences, advised that Got Green make the preservation of Washington’s WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program an advocacy priority. 

The Farmers Market Nutrition Program is a state and federally funded nutrition program that helps provide low-income WIC households and senior citizens access to locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables. Lutheran advocates in Washington are longtime supporters of the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs because of the critical role they play in alleviating hunger in the state, in supporting local farmers and growers, and in stimulating the local economy.

In the 2012 session of the Washington state legislature, the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs were on the block to be eliminated due to the harsh budget climate in the state. “We worked to organize throughout the community and we wrote to our legislators to tell them how important the program was to Washington families,” Tammy describes. “And we brought women who had been served by the program to Olympia to speak to elected officials and their staff. They needed to hear directly from families how devastating the cuts would be.”

Assisted by Lutheran advocates within the Faith Action Network in Washington, the Got Green group met with various officials and left informational material behind in the offices of staff with whom they were unable to meet. “The meetings went very well and, ultimately, the program was saved and it still exists today. At the time we didn’t know what would happen and we were so relieved when the program made it out of both the State House and Senate budgets, then into the final budget the governor signed,” she said.

These victories cause Tammy to reflect on why she became involved in advocacy in her home state. “I was so tired of seeing lawmakers bypass us — low-income, immigrant families. In order to reform this pattern, I had to be at the front. I had to get my community to move with me and I had to make sure my voice is heard by our lawmakers.”

In Washington state and in Washington, D.C., the decisions by lawmakers affect the vibrancy of our farms and communities, as well as the ability for everyone to obtain healthy food.  Click here to learn more about how to urge our federal lawmakers for strong food and farm policy now.

Washington state’s “win-win” programs

Posted on September 10, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

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scene from the University District Farmers Market in Seattle

Lutherans and other Christians in Washington understand that strong public policy can help ensure that all people in our state have access to fresh food. Many of us are longtime advocates of the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) Farmers Market Nutrition Program and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, important government-funded initiatives that provide low-income WIC households and seniors access to locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables.

Funded by federal and state dollars, the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs allow WIC and senior nutrition program participants to redeem their benefits at farmers markets throughout the state of Washington. In doing so, the use of farmers markets, farm stores, and community supported agriculture programs is expanded and the sale of Washington-grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs increases. This comprehensive model is a “win-win” for our state because it helps alleviate hunger and improves health for participating low-income Washingtonians, it supports Washington growers, and it helps boost our local economy and create jobs. In fact, nine out of every ten dollars invested in this program by the government or spent by a participating consumer stays in the local Washington economy.

Here in Washington, members of the Faith Action Network (a faith-inspired statewide partnership, which grew out of the former Lutheran Public Policy Office) have been leaders in the state capital advocating for expanding the program, securing the electronic benefits transfer card system in our farmers markets, and — in the past few years — working to preserve a budget line for it in the state budget. Lutherans and other people of faith throughout the state are educating their congregations on these programs, encouraging growers and WIC and senior beneficiaries to testify at committee hearings and meeting with legislators. Advocates for the programs also urge their legislators to visit one of the 180 local farmers markets in approximately 80 communities and see the program’s direct benefits (there are 180 such markets in Washington in about 80 cities/towns/neighborhoods).

Washington has a $32 billion two-year budget, which includes $100,000 for the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs. This relatively small sum in turn leverages $900,000 of federal funding for the programs. Like many states, Washington faces severe budgetary problems and important programs — like the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs — risk being cut. Lutheran advocates and other people of faith throughout Washington work to defend this hugely important and effective program from elimination. In essence, the grassroots voices — including those from our ELCA congregations — will be crucial in ensuring the continuity of this “win-win” program. Lutherans and other people of faith need to continue to speak out in protection of this program that helps struggling households with young children and seniors to purchase locally grown fruit and vegetables that, in turn, supports local growers and the local economy. 

I give thanks to God for our church’s commitment to alleviating hunger through advocacy supported by ELCA World Hunger. In Washington state and in Washington, D.C., the decisions by lawmakers affect the vibrancy of our farms and communities, as well as the ability for everyone to obtain healthy food.  Click here to learn more about how to urge our federal lawmakers for strong food and farm policy now.