I had the opportunity to attend Congressman Scott Murphy’s Congress on Your Corner in Columbia County on October 8. Accompanying Congressman Murphy was U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and they answered questions from a roomful of local farmers at Golden Harvest Farm in Valatie.

The wide range of concerns expressed by these farmers and growers illustrated just how diverse our region is, and how difficult it sometimes is to address everyone’s needs. Secretary Vilsack noted repeatedly that solutions which work for farmers in one region of the country often are detrimental to farmers in another region, so his department is constantly trying to find a happy medium.

Audience members asked hard-hitting questions. Do we have enough focus on supporting the local food movement? How do federal subsidies for genetically modified food jibe with those for organically grown foods? Why does the crop insurance program seem to favor farmers who grow commodity crops and penalize those who grow specialty crops?

America has 2.2 million farmers. This small percentage is feeding the other 99 percent of our population, with farmland growing scarcer every year, Vilsack said. The Agriculture Department is trying to support local CSAs and farmers markets – the USDA website has a “know your farmer, know your food” section – and efforts are underway to find a middle ground when it comes to issues like the Farm Bill.

Locally, we also need leaders who understand the diversity of our agricultural community, the importance of encouraging young farmers and the need to preserve farmland and promote that heritage. I look forward to working with our federal representatives to bring funding to this important region, and to being a champion for our agricultural sector in the state.