Land Stewardship Project members stepped up to the task during the 2021 session of the Minnesota Legislature. Equipped with member-developed legislative priorities, staff-led trainings, and a passion for the mission, members took the lead to coordinate in- district meetings with their elected leaders.
Throughout April and May, hundreds of LSP members and supporters met with a dozen state-level leaders to share their stories. Behind each virtual meeting, there was an LSP member, or a team of members, who coordinated the event, called neighbors to join them, and planned this strategic meeting with their legislator. The strategy for these meetings was laid out at the “In Districts Meeting and Planning Session” event held in late March. Twenty-five members joined LSP policy staff for an empowering, tactical training. The training started with this statement: “The most potent thing we can do for our state government to lead on building a sustainable and just farm and food system and healthy communities is for our legislators to understand it is important to their constituents and all Minnesotans.”
Staff facilitators used firsthand accounts to show how effective meetings with legislators could be and aligned members with their neighbors to start planning. Halfway through the training event, leadership switched. LSP members took the reins from the staff facilitators and started their collaborative journey to lead this legislative session. For the last six weeks of the legislative session, LSP members led grassroots meetings with their legislators. They connected new-to-LSP neighbors to our work, shared stories, asked for change and support, and engaged in meaningful conversations about our land, communities, and health.
The conversations had in these grassroots, member-led meetings were incredibly valuable. Each meeting built power, drew connections, and expressed need. No matter the elected official's response, the conversation formed a foundation for continued growth, for accountability, for finding shared values. Across the state, conversations revolved around food systems, soil health, clean energy, and health care.
Here are a few snippets from these powerful conversations:
- Sara Klos of Senate District 49, along with six committed neighbors, gathered to share stories with Senator Melisa Franzen. They asked for support on soil health and pollinator legislation, and discussed the importance of urban people supporting rural communities. Klos told the Senator: “Regardless of race, class, gender, or ethnicity, our lives often center around food. What we eat, how we eat it, and where it comes from are questions we might not be consciously asking every day, but they are questions that underlay our ability to be healthy and active Minnesotans. The centrality that food plays in everyone’s lives requires us to look at our food and farming systems if we truly are committed to addressing questions of equity and justice in our day-to-day lives."
- The LSP meeting for District 11 gathered 19 neighbors to share their concerns with a bill Senator Jason Rarick co-authored: SF 421 (the Natural Gas Innovation Act), a manure methane proposal. Paula Williams told the Senator: "Thank you, Senator Rarick for listening. In closing, I heard that you come from farming, I heard that you care about rural communities, and that you are interested in technologies that are helpful. And so, I think what I hear in this conversation is that you have a lot of people in your district who know a lot about this, like, a lot! There's a concept in Land Stewardship Project called co-governing. This means that legislators work with their constituents, and that we are just as much experts, or more so, than the legislators are. The point is that you get information, as the legislator, from your constituents. So, I just hope that this conversation has encouraged you to do that — to find people in your community, in your district, who know a lot about these things, and can help you put forth ideas that will actually help us in the future. I thank you so much for listening to us."
- Senator Rarick responded: "I'm always open to listening to folks — it's been a little bit more difficult this last year. So, these types of forums have been definitely helpful. But, you know, I don't have a lot of background education. So, I'm constantly reaching out to my school boards, and superintendents and teachers…so I appreciate this as well. This was some very good information. I appreciate how well, you presented it. This really helps me to step back and reconsider some of the things that I was looking at with this [bill] (SF 421).
- LSP members and soil health experts Deborah Allan and Julie Grossman, along with their neighbors, met with Representatives Alice Hausman of District 66A and Dave Pinto of District 64B to discuss soil healthy farming. Although these representatives are not direct decision makers on soil healthy farming, the goal was to ask them to communicate their support to the elected officials making soil health decisions this session.
- Julie Grossman told the Representatives: "I am a faculty member at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Horticultural Science. My role is to give you some talking points about the healthy soils bill and try to convince you to talk to [Senator] Bill Ingebrigtsen and [Senator] Carrie Ruud about this bill. I feel it's critically important that we get something like this passed. In my research, I look almost exclusively on how we as farmers or we as land managers can impact what's going on below ground by what we do above ground. I look at measures of soil health, as related to cover cropping, and I work with a lot of organic farmers. And we've found through our research that farms that are using practices like cover cropping… those farmers get very, very close to having what might be considered optimal soil health conditions. And we also know that these cover crops will promote beneficial insects. So, things like pollinators, native bees and honeybees, but also beneficial insects that might be eating the bad bugs, they promote those types of insects too. So, they [soil health practices] don't just help soil with the help of cover crops but will also help with diversity of insects on our landscape. I hope some of these, these talking points are helpful."
- Deborah Allan: "So now we want to ask you Representatives Hausman and Pinto if we can count on you to speak to our representative Lillie and to [Senator] Ingebrigtsen and [Senator] Carrie Ruud, and others that you may know who are in these conference committees or have connections to people in these conference committees, to try and see what you can do to help us get these measures passed?"
- Representative Hausman responded: "Perhaps you all know that we're the only divided legislature in the nation, and we're feeling that one. Once we get to the conference committee, we feel that once again. I'm doing housing and our housing bills are very much very, very far apart between the House and the Senate. We just started our first conference committee. But, first of all, I just wanted to thank all of you for the steady work and overtime that the Land Stewardship Project has brought to this work. The advocacy is so important, our partnership is so important, we need you out there advocating, and you need us in the right place at the right time and voting right, which we certainly will do on these issues. I wanted to also hold up the work of Representative Todd Lippert, who is a relatively new legislator from Northfield, who has been putting significant time into the soil health issue. And so, it's when a new person comes in and takes up a cause like that, we are all appreciative of it. So, you can count on our strong support for your issues."
LSP members led this legislative session. They gathered their neighbors together, engaged their elected officials, asked bold questions, and uplifted many voices in their community. Members asked for justice, told stories of stewardship, and democratically promoted landscape-scale solutions. This legislative session, there is one victory we can celebrate early, without need for floor votes—we can celebrate our member-leaders and their accomplishments connecting neighbors, Representatives, Senators, and LSP supporters through powerful conversations.
Courtney Dowell worked as an LSP policy organizer during the 2021 session of the Minnesota Legislature.