by Preston Peck, Toxic Free NC

Advocating for Pollinators

Rally outside the NC State Capitol to protect bees from toxic pesticides in September 2015


Many pressing issues facing today’s ever-changing regulatory atmosphere leave consumers, growers, and other “agtivists” questioning, “What is the most important issue facing our food system and how I can make an impact?” The first thing to recognize is something my mentor told me: “Advocacy is an art, not a science.” Nevertheless, I would like to offer some broad suggestions to agtivists on effective issues-based advocacy and communications based on my experience working on Toxic Free NC’s agriculture-related campaigns, especially our fight for the Pollinator Protection Act.


Know your issue and your strategic entry point

Many times people try to know a little about a lot without diving deeply into an issue. I encourage people to learn, research and talk to as many people affected by the issues as possible. Getting a firm grasp on the issues, BEFORE reaching out to decision makers is crucial. Sustainable, effective policy decisions start from the grassroots, and if we are to create policies that benefit our communities, we need to fully understand how policy decisions will impact multiple stakeholders.


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It is equally important to understand political context. What works in California will not necessarily work for the Carolinas. I saw this most recently through our work with the Pollinator Protection Act (HB 363), introduced this legislative session in the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA). This bill would restrict the sale and use of neonicotinoid insecticides (neonics) to licensed pesticide applicators, farmers, and veterinarians. Prior to the introduction of this bill, I worked with legislators and other decision makers to educate them on the harmful effects of pesticides, relative to the perceived benefits. Specifically, I concentrated my efforts of neonics because they are the most widely used pesticides in the world. This chemical class was hastily brought to the market in the mid-1990s, so the science is just now catching up to how they are being used.

The bottom line: know your issue and think creatively about how it impacts your community, then leverage that for sustainable policy change.


Pollinators are getting a lot of attention as the USDA continues to publish information about declining honeybee populations. Pollinators (including native bees, birds, beetles, etc.) contribute more than $29 billion to our agricultural system every year. Agriculture was an $84 billion industry in North Carolina in 2016. These factors, along with similar legislation being introduced and passed across the U.S., allowed for a strategic point of entry to engage legislators about the importance of a bill like the Pollinator Protection Act. 


Cultivate champions and know who can give you what you want 

Build relationships with decision makers now.  I cannot stress this enough. The process of getting a good idea into policy is long and arduous, and you will need people directly involved in the decision-making process to help carry your issue. These people may be legislators, council people, agency heads, or others in a decision-making position. If you are unsure where to start, begin building relationships with council people, county commissioners, or state legislators that represent your district. These folks need to hear from you, as they cannot know everything about all the issues that matter to you. Let them know how you feel, that you are paying attention, and holding them accountable.


Preston Peck, Policy Director at Toxic Free NC

Preston Peck, Policy Director at Toxic Free NC, speaks to reporters alongside bill sponsors of HB
363 during the bill’s introduction in March 2017


Equally as important as cultivating champions is to know exactly who can give you what you want. My mentor also used to joke, “Who is your target?” and if anyone said, “government”, then they had to go sit in the corner.


It is extremely important to have a firm grasp on the process of policy development at whatever level you are working, so that you are being efficient and effective with your time. That being said, it is also important to think about secondary and tertiary targets, those who influence your main targets. Think about their golf buddies, family friends, religious leaders, etc. These people are not necessarily involved in government or in a position to make decisions, but they greatly influence the perspectives of those that you are trying to influence.


In the case of the Pollinator Protection Act, Toxic Free NC worked with the NC Pesticide Board, which is the regulatory authority on pesticides in North Carolina, for more than two years, educating those seven members on the impact of neonics on North Carolina’s waterways, aquatic species, and pollinators while simultaneously building relationships with state legislators. When the Pesticide Board refused to take action, the advocacy strategy pivoted and leveraged relationships that were built in the NCGA though years of educating legislators on issues relating to pesticides. This allowed the bill to be introduced with bi-partisan support and 20 bill sponsors during the 2017 Legislative Session.


It’s not just legislators or city council people that you will need on your side. You will also need a strong communications plan to help spread awareness and build support.



Define and build your narrative 

A strong communications plan is essential to any successful advocacy campaign. There is a tool in policy advocacy that was developed by the Center for Story-based Strategy called The Battle of the Story, which forces advocates to think about their issue in the frame of telling a story. This is crucial as most decision makers and the general public will not be as informed as you are on the issue. Telling a strong story is essential to involving your local media. Relationships with reporters and news media can help amplify your story as well as help to define the narrative that you want to tell.


When developing your story, think about your messengers, the spokespeople for your issue. Identify relatable experts that can speak confidently to the issue, but also convey the importance in a way that is digestible and trustworthy. When developing messengers, think about a diverse group of people that can build a case for your policy initiative from multiple perspectives.  You never know what sort of support you will need to garner from decision makers or what their backgrounds might be, so it is important to have a wide array of options in your communications arsenal.


Farmers, beekeepers, health advocates, mothers, children, and many more supported the Pollinator Protection Act and thought it was a reasonable step forward on curbing the unknown, long-term effects of neonics on human and environmental health. Every storyteller played a role in messaging for support of the bill. Also, I worked with reporters at local papers across the state for many months leading up to the introduction of the bill to place editorials, opinion pieces, and other articles in outlets with a wide, diverse readership. This allowed people to become familiar with the issue prior to the bill being introduced. 


Enjoy the process and be creative 

Advocacy can be hard work, no doubt about it. However, the policies that are put into place by the North Carolina General Assembly, or in Washington D.C. affect us on a daily basis whether we notice the direct impacts or not. It is crucial to stay informed and take action on issues in addition to signing online petitions. Although policy development is serious business with serious effects, advocacy efforts can allow you to connect in a meaningful way with your community, bring folks together, and develop sustainable policies from the ground up.


Charles McNair, Program Manager with Toxic Free NC

Charles McNair, Program Manager with Toxic Free NC, addresses a crowd at a Keep the Hives Alive rally in June 2016


Know your issue, know who can give you what you want, passionately tell your story while allowing others to tell theirs, be creative with your strategy, and celebrate your victories, no matter how small you may think they may be!


Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, The Pollinator Protection bill did not make crossover this year, which means the General Assembly will not consider it in this legislative session. But, Toxic Free NC is currently exploring study options within the Environmental Review Commission to be put in the House version of the budget. It’s an up-hill battle, but they are not giving up. To get involved, visit their website: Toxic Free NC.


Preston Peck is the Policy Director at Toxic Free NC, based in Raleigh. Toxic Free NC continues to fight pesticide pollution for over 30 years, working toward the transition to a toxic free society through initiatives that promote human and environmental health.

How the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council is Strengthening Their Community and Working Towards Healthy, Affordable & Sustainable Food For All

by Jared Cates, CFSA’s Community Mobilizer

Raising funds for farmers at a Farm Hands event. Photo submitted by Erin Brighton

Raising funds for farmers at a Char-Meck Food Policy Council Farm Hands event. Photo submitted by Erin Brighton

Farming is a strong economic driver across the Charlotte metro region. Farmers have access to traditional wholesale markets as well as many direct to consumer opportunities through farmers markets and CSA’s. Locally sourced food can be also be found on the menus at many medium and high priced restaurants. But, the recent findings of a large-scale planning effort, CONNECT Our Future, drew attention to big challenges with inequity in the regional food system, low wages for food system workers, and large pockets of food insecurity. There is increasing demand for locally grown food, but farmland continues to be sold off and transformed into subdivisions. There is plenty of local produce grown in the region; however little of it is making its way into local school cafeterias. These are the types of issues that the Char-Meck FPC has been tackling. And they’ve been doing it in a variety of ways.



By Stephanie Campbell, CFSA’s Outreach Coordinator

Kat Spann of Prodigal Farm in Rougemont, NC, knows first-hand how important it is for our legislators to hear our stories and see the direct impact their policies have on their constituents and the communities they represent.

“We all need to work as a team with CFSA,” she says, “being willing to step up and do something – attend Ag Day and other local, county and state agricultural gatherings, send an email, make a phone call, and, sometimes, show our face.”

Kat encourages us all to “be authentically yourself and tell your own story.” She tells her own story of the day she was all dressed up to speak before the Durham County Commissioners about zoning ordinances for farmers markets. While waiting for their issue to come up on the agenda, she was called back to the farm to care for a doe having trouble delivering her kids.

A couple hours later, after suffering her only loss of a doe during birthing, she checked back in and found that the Commissioners had not yet gotten to her item on the agenda. She decided to head back to the meeting and speak, covered in manure, urine, placenta, and her own tears because “this is what farmers look like.”

Spann-EOY-2015 - GIVEIt was a powerful image. Farmers are often out of sight and out of mind for elected leaders. It is up to us to put a face on the issues that affect farmers. Many elected officials don’t know a farmer, but we can change that.

CFSA staff, members, partners and friends work together to advocate for fair farm and food policies. We work to change agriculture laws and regulations to benefit local and organic small and mid-sized farms.

Kat’s advocacy work isn’t new for her. When Kat and partner, Dave Krabbe, moved to the farm from New York City, they learned that a biocontainment laboratory for the study of diseases that threaten both America’s animal agricultural industry and public health was planned to be built down the road from the farm. This was alarming since it would put research on diseases which have no current cure or treatment right in their community. Plans for the farm were put on hold as they spent more than a year in full-time grassroots advocacy and lobbying. Some of the lessons learned were how important research, verification and credibility are for successful opposition as well as showing legislators the real impact of an action on the constituency they serve.

Prodigal Farm was established by Kat Spann and Dave Krabbe in 2007 and has grown toProdigal Farms (21) become an Animal Welfare Approved goat farm and licensed farmstead cheese dairy. Kat names each of their kids each spring – 175 this year – and knows most of them by name and personality. Building and licensing their milking and production facility was another opportunity for policy, advocacy and lobbying work, this time on issues of appropriate dairy waste systems. Kat eventually spoke before the House and Senate Ag Committee which resulted in the introduction of a scale-appropriate law which now is beneficial to goat and cow dairies, as well as wineries, pickle making, and other value-added farm businesses.

“We all need to work as a team with CFSA,” she says, “being willing to step up and do something – attend Ag Day and other local, county and state agricultural gatherings, send an email, make a phone call, and, sometimes, show our face.”

Kat, along with her senior farm hand Will Bahr, Genell Pridgen of Rainbow Meadow Farm, and Suzanne Nelson of Haw River Ranch, were recognized by CFSA this year for hand-delivering a letter signed by 40 farmers to Gov. McCrory in opposition to House Bill 405 (known as the Ag Gag bill). Kat insists that she didn’t “do much” in this case but again emphasizes that each farmer must be willing to step up and do something.

For Kat, CFSA is an essential part of the team farmers need. Farmers have little time to read the full legal briefs and parse the nuances of the regulations but they do care passionately about the outcomes. So does CFSA.

CFSA staff can do the research, develop the connections, and build the relationships to provide the strong foundation farmers need on which to do their part. Kat reminds us “CFSA knows when our stories need telling – and our role is to show up and speak up!”

Prodigal Farm is a finalist in the national Good Food Awards – read more here.

Read more about the advocacy work of CFSA at

Your gift to CFSA is one of the best ways you can support local farmers and champion food that is good for consumers, good for farmers and farmworkers, and good for the land.

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or mail a check to CFSA, PO Box 448, Pittsboro, NC 27312