Annie Cheatham steps down as director of New England Farmers Union
Recorder/Paul Franz Annie Cheatham of Conway Purchase photo reprints »
SHELBURNE — After 4½ years as executive director of the New England Farmers Union working for the region’s farming operations, Annie Cheatham has stepped down.
While she leaves open the possibility of returning for special projects at the six-state membership organization or its National Farmers Union, the 78-year-old North Carolina native — who drew on her skills developed running the CISA farm aid group in Deerfield and working as a U.S. Senate staffer — says the roughly 1,500-member NEFU is ready for the “zest” of a younger leader who can carry it five years ahead and “take it to the next level.” Kate Snyder, who has worked as director of the Greenfield Business Association and before that in Northfield Mount Hermon School’s communications department, has been working with Cheatham as administrative director for the regional organization, which was chartered in 2006.
About half of NEFU’s members are in Massachusetts, says Cheatham, who views her work there a “the logical next step” after CISA, which promotes the interests of small-scale Pioneer Valley farming. For farmers, who make up 95 percent of NEFU members — in addition to organizations like CISA, businesses and people interested in supporting farms — the lobbying group is also “an avenue to the next level of impact.” The Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation may do well in lobbying the state government on issues important to farmers, said Cheatham, but NEFU is successful at representing the interests of farmers as federal agricultural policy is decided.
As an example, she pointed to the issue of raw milk as one that NEFU has brought to the national policy level, to prevent the federal agricultural officials from interfering with state regulation of unpasteurized milk. By advocating positions identified by its members, NEFU is raising issues of concern to the fishing industry, is working on reworking the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s definition of “rural” to help in getting funding for USDA Rural Development programs and has been lobbying for federal food safety regulations to be scale appropriate.
Cheatham, before CISA and her time operating Annie’s Garden Shop in Amherst, worked on Capitol Hill, first for the North Carolina representative who chaired the House Agriculture Committee and started a think tank, the Congressional Clearinghouse on the Future.
“The existence of the NEFU means that people who buy local and support their local farmers, who care about this, can now move to the next level of impact. We have to support farmers, and farmers have to engage in that conversation more than they have been.”
Pointing to the effectiveness of testimony of farmers from around the country who attended the National Farmers Union annual convention in Springfield last month, Cheatham called the New England chapter “an organization that really does hold values that I think are really in sync with New England, in farming interests and priorities.... The Farmers Union’s engagement in this region means that this region now has a national voice.” Over the next month, as she visits with family in North Carolina, Cheatham said she plans to decide what to do next.