Mr. Coveyou Goes To Washington
April 26, 2014, Petoskey, MI – Flashes of Frank Cappra’s 1939 comedy-drama, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, came to mind when I heard that David Coveyou (fifth generation farmer/owner of Coveyou Scenic Farm Market in Petoskey, MI) was invited to meet with Washington D.C. legislators regarding agriculture policy. Highly educated and practiced in growing his own sustainable farm in northern Michigan (and ironically very involved in his sons’ Scouting endeavors), Michigan Farm Bureau asked Mr. Coveyou to represent Emmet County at a three-day conference in D.C.. David attended workshops with Farm Bureau Staff, sat in on Congressional Meetings on Capitol Hill and participated in two-way Q&A sessions with State Senators, Congressional Representatives and their key staff members, including USDA and EPA officials. “I actually had low expectations for the trip, with the lack of functionality in Washington these days,” admits Coveyou, “But, I figured I had nothing to lose and maybe I could make a difference.” Similar to Mr. Smith, noble-minded Mr. Coveyou, “…gained a lot more from the experience than anticipated. I have a much better understanding of the legislative process and how lobbyists, for better or worse, play a significant role in what legislation gets enacted.” Key meetings Mr. Coveyou met with Senator Debbie Stabenow and her staff members who drafted the recently enacted, Farm Bill. “It was great to meet the people who worked to draft the legislation. It puts a little more focus onto speciality crops (i.e. fruits and vegetables), than previous Farm Bills.” David noted, “Sen. Stabenow’s staff members are young, and although I don’t have the lobbying influence of large organizations, I did the next best thing by formally inviting all of her staff to spend a week working in the fields of our scenic Petoskey farm growing organic vegetables, along side our half-dozen college interns.” Each year the Coveyou’s invite bright, well-educated students to experience first-hand how small farms operate and how food is actually grown. “It’s reassuring to see this generation’s renewed passion about our food system. They love growing delicious produce without synthetic chemicals….And they aren’t afraid of hard work.” This hands on experience for people crafting our legislation would go a long way to improving our food policy. David points out the importance of emphasizing fruits and vegetables in the language of our nation’s food policies. As he see’s it, “If our food policy emphasized wholesome produce, our national health policy challenges would be positively impacted.” Currently, the Farm Bill still focuses more on “Big AG.” Even with the increased mention of specialty crops in the new Bill won’t really affect small family farms much, as they don’t typically look to the government to subsidize their production. David pointed out, “What I’d like to see is more interest and investment in improving organic production techniques. Ultimately, that will allow for lower costs of production and increased acreage devoted wholesome produce. Having more federal dollars (that are currently spent on crops grown with synthetic chemicals and GMO’s) redirected to organically produced crops would move our national food system, and in turn the healthcare system, in a new direction.” How Northern Michigan Can Benefit In addition, David met with EPA officials reviewing the current Renewable Fuel Standards (ethanol production) and encouraged them to continue their existing interest in Cellulosic Ethanol research and evolution. Cellulosic Ethanol is made from perennial grasses and woody plants as opposed to corn. “This could really bolster agriculture in northern Michigan,” Coveyou says with a smile, “There are many empty fields across our region and the U.P. that could produce perennials for Cellulosic Ethanol.” David shared how impressed he is with the EPA’s enthusiasm for this fuel. “They really want it to work and expressed a desire for it to be mainstream in the future. We’re not there yet,” Dave adds, “but as long as the EPA holds out that carrot [standard], private enterprise, and likely universities, will continue the development. The group of Michigan County representatives also met with USDA officials and gained a better understanding of why Liquid Petroleum Gas (Propane) prices spiked this spring. “Factors related to an abnormally wet 2013 fall (requiring farmers to dry their corn before shipping), disruptions in distribution and increased residential use throughout this past winter.” Dave continued, “Coupled with future supply uncertainties related to import/export flow, it’s a really good time to explore alternatives to this fossil fuel. Furthermore, this trip opened the door to highlight an issue that we should address right in our own state to help Northern Michigan farmers. Currently, produce grown anywhere in Michigan and/or northern Ohio can be labeled “local” in Michigan stores. David Coveyou feels that this is not an accurate representation and actually works against northern farmers. “We suggest that “local” be defined as an item grown within a 100-mile radius of it’s point of purchase, and anything outside that be labeled “Pure Michigan Grown.” I don’t believe that most consumers in our community would agree that something grown in Southern Michigan and shipped to northern Michigan through large distributors should be considered “local.” It is a challenge to raise this awareness and bring about change. Mr. Coveyou took this opportunity to stress that changes are needed in our liability laws protecting farms from lawsuits so that farm owners can welcome more of their community members to visit their operations. We protect recreational facilities (ski resorts, bike trails, etc..) with liability legislation, this minimizes lawsuits when someone gets hurt. Argo-tourism farms, given the same level of protection, would likely expand in the region. Local consumers are increasingly requesting to self-pick produce on our farms or to engage in other types of physical activity. Unfortunately, prohibitively expensive liability coverage is one of the key factors preventing small farmers from welcoming members of their community onto the farms. Overall, Mr. Coveyou rated his trip to Washington successful, “It’s an honor to be recognized by Michigan Farm Bureau for the farming we’re doing locally, I’m taking this opportunity very seriously.” Though Mr. Coveyou’s trip to Washington won’t land him an Oscar nomination, the successes and innovations on his own farm are earning him a leading role in Michigan’s farming industry.