Food security must be agnostic to politics in Harrisburg (column) | Local Voices

Never has disappointing political manipulation been more apparent than here in Pennsylvania with the maligning of Republican state Rep. Dave Zimmerman, who serves the 99th Legislative District in northeastern Lancaster County.

Zimmerman — a lifelong farmer who is a strong advocate for agriculture, the environment and the family farm/farmer — has a demonstrated history in the state Legislature of representing the needs of his constituents, above and beyond party posturing.

Constituent needs and party policies do not always align, and Zimmerman has never been afraid to advocate for the needs of his constituency, particularly around agriculture.

Following what I view as a series of half-truths, a manipulated legislative voting response and out-of-context political statements, Zimmerman was punished by the leadership of the state Republican Party. He was stripped of his three critical legislative committee assignments: Agriculture, Appropriations and Insurance.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are left scrambling to maintain critical infrastructure and societal stability while dealing with supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, manufacturing challenges and burgeoning inflation. Maybe the Republican leadership doesn’t need to eat, but everyone else does.

Agriculture and our ability to ensure the food security of our communities are critically impacted by each of these stressors. With the rapidly escalating costs of liquid nitrogen, fertilizer, diesel fuel, grain and other operationally crucial elements of farming — affected by outside catalysts such as the war in Ukraine, supply chain and logistical disruptions and the impacts of climate change — it is essential that we have political leaders who can prioritize food security and the beneficial introduction and strengthening of resources to farmers, all while rising above political posturing.

In the 99th Legislative District, the agriculture sector is the nucleus of industry, essential to the viability and food security of Pennsylvanians and the livelihoods of a substantial percentage of the population.

To remove Zimmerman from the Agriculture Committee, in a district where that industry is central, shows a blatant disregard by party leadership for the timely and critical importance of agriculture for all Pennsylvanians and Americans.

In an industry essential to our collective survival, weaponizing agriculture — using committee assignments as a punishment for not walking the party line — is a travesty and grave disservice to the people of Pennsylvania.

Zimmerman has been, and will remain, committed to preserving the family farm and empowering the farmer, despite the mud-throwing and game-playing. At a time when it is critical that we give a voice to the farmer, Zimmerman’s voice on the Agriculture Committee has been unjustly silenced.

When farmers are struggling to afford the resources necessary to operate and, ultimately, produce food on their farms, our legislative leadership is using agriculture as a tool of manipulation.

A farmer in the 99th Legislative District, who must now choose between buying fertilizer for their fields or buying food for their families, can be secure in the knowledge that Zimmerman is committed to serving as an advocate for their needs and the needs of the district, and that Zimmerman will remain steadfast in his commitment to doing what is best for the district, even when that diverges from the expectations of the party.

I believe Zimmerman is a man of faith, integrity, vision and resolute principles. He is exactly the type of leader we need in the commonwealth during this time of unprecedented fracture to our critical infrastructure.

Supporting leaders who can do what’s right for constituents, transcending politics by acting and voting in the best interests of their district, is critical to reclaiming our place globally as a leading producer of agricultural commodities. These include products that have a basis in agriculture (wood for construction, paper products, apparel, etc.) and manufactured food goods. These are and must remain significant economic drivers of our economy. However, without visionary, agricultural-minded elected leadership, our No. 1 industry — and 18% of Pennsylvania’s economy — is vulnerable.

As the CEO of an industry-disrupting company that’s helping to reshape agriculture, I support Zimmerman and send a strong message to partisan leadership that critical human rights, such as agriculture and access to food, must be our priority. We must preserve the farmland, but even more importantly, we must preserve the farmer.

Zimmerman leads this crucial mandate, and he will continue to do so, with or without a committee assignment. However, to deprive the Agriculture Committee of his knowledge, expertise, perspective and influence is a travesty to Pennsylvania and an example of the childish partisan games and gross abuse of power in our legislative branch.

Sustainability, resiliency and viability in the face of systemic stressors depends on our ability to build strong institutions and resilient communities, and establish security around our basic human needs. Agriculture is key to our global survival, and leaders who understand agriculture and are willing to advocate for the farmer, even when it is contrary to party posturing, are the leaders who can carry our nation forward during this period of unprecedented challenge.

Zimmerman is such a leader, and our industry depends on his representation and expertise. I urge the state House leadership to reinstate his committee assignments with well-earned seniority and learn from his example as a leader of distinction.

Larisa Miller is the president and CEO of Keystone Farm Future and the CEO of Phoenix Global. She grew up on a farm in Lebanon County.

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