SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Molly Gleason’s expertise in fruit and vegetable farming is growing from local and state platforms to a national perspective with her recent appointment to one of the USDA’s federal advisory committees.

Raised on a grain farm with a big garden in Elkhart, Gleason, 31, is a beginning farmer herself as well as the communications director for the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

Her first meeting with the Federal Fruit and Vegetable Industry Committee will be in the new year, the start of a two-year term that calls for periodic board meetings, including one annually in Washington, D.C., and subcommittee work.

“I’ve been working with small fruit and vegetable growers here in Springfield for the past five years. I really love doing this at the grassroots level here in central Illinois, and I thought I could help effect change and learn more from a national scale,” she explained.

Federal advisory committees have a different role from the commodity promotional boards which are most often affiliated with checkoffs. The advisory committees offer direct input on policy to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

Gleason’s committee was created in 2001, and has offered such recommendations as developing a review plan for grade standards for perishable agricultural commodities and the addition of fruits and vegetables to Women, Infants and Children program.

Gleason’s voice from a non-profit farming organization is new to the committee, and one she’s eager to share. Most committee members are farmers, wholesalers or retailers.

She’s also particularly interested in working on subcommittees on produce consumption and research, grants and infrastructure.

“We do state level policy here at the alliance so it’s a process that I’m familiar with. To be able to take some of the ideas that we’ve been working on here at the state level and present them on a national level, I think feels very cool,” Gleason said.

To say the alliance has been legislatively active is an understatement. This group has worked on 12 bills since 2012 and its staff is well versed in the issues surrounding small farm policy and grass roots advocacy.

Although her educational background is in education, Gleason has worked with the alliance since 2013. “When I saw that the alliance is all about small scale agricultural production, I saw that it was about the agriculture that I knew when I was a kid with our big garden,” she said.

Among some of the topics Gleason looks forward on working with the federal committee include value-added producer grants, the farmers market promotion program and value chain coordination.

“There’s really so much more room for growth in the local food area,” she added.

For more information about the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, visit www.ilstewards.org

Karen Binder can be reached at 618-534-0614 or kbinder@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Binder.

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