USDA Undersecretary Jenny Lester Moffitt Joins BFI Policy Director Sakeenah Shabazz on the EcoFarm Stage
In a special session at the 2024 Ecological Farming Conference, the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs spoke with BFI’s Policy Director on federal investments to support current and future organic farmers.
On January 18, BFI Policy Director Sakeenah Shabazz and the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology’s Mark Lipson took the stage at the 2024 EcoFarm Conference in Pacific Grove, California, in a special session with USDA Undersecretary Jenny Lester Moffitt. In a room full of farmers, researchers, and advocates, Undersecretary Moffitt discussed the Biden administration’s priorities for farmers, which include setting up regional food business centers to expand access to local markets and providing technical assistance and mentorship to farmers transitioning to more sustainable and regenerative practices. The special session was co-organized by BFI and California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF).
Jenny Lester Moffitt is the Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the US Department of Agriculture. The first woman to serve in this position, she was appointed by the Biden administration to strengthen agricultural markets and encourage practices that build soil health and biodiversity on farms. Prior to joining USDA, Undersecretary Moffitt worked as Undersecretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. She has deep roots in California organic agriculture. A fifth-generation Californian, she ran her family’s organic walnut farm in Solano County for a decade before transitioning her career into policy.
“The session with Undersecretary Jenny Lester Moffitt and Mark Lipson reflected decades of investment in organic and sustainable agriculture,” says Sakeenah Shabazz. “It’s encouraging to know that more funds are slated to come down the pipeline that will directly support farmers.”
Much of the conversation focused on the Organic Transition Initiative, a $300 million investment managed by Undersecretary Moffitt that aims to increase access to markets and new streams of income for organic producers, particularly beginning farmers. This initiative includes the Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP), which aims to connect transitioning and organic farmers with technical assistance, mentorship, and other resources. BFI is part of TOPP’s West/Southwest regional team, led by CCOF, and tasked with developing programming on workforce training and development.
Undersecretary Moffitt also discussed the USDA Regional Food Business Centers Program, a new program that will be working this year to set up twelve centers across the country to aggregate information, resources, and technical assistance for farmers to ease local supply chain issues. This program will focus especially on helping small- and mid-sized producers overcome barriers to market access.
“It’s energizing to know that these investments can help mitigate the negative impacts of climate change, increase access to resources for disadvantaged farmers, and create opportunities for more direct engagement with the USDA in a manner that is equitable, accessible, and supportive,” says Shabazz.