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Blog Post

Well, The Farm Bill Happened

Feb. 10, 2014

By Richard McCarthy, Executive Director of Slow Food USA

After too many years of uncertainty, with a stroke of a pen on Friday, President Barack Obama signaled the USDA can get back to the business of supporting our nation’s farmers and making sure Americans can put food on their tables.

Farmer with SunThat’s the good news.

The bad news is that, with the $8.7 billion cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, nearly two million Americans will have a tougher time paying for that food. Additionally, when it comes to reforming our seriously flawed industrial food system, it's pretty much business as usual… with a few important exceptions.

Let us turn our attention to those exceptions, those golden seeds of change.

It is important to recognize the tireless advocacy of those who pined over this important piece of legislation for a long tumultuous three years. (Had the process dragged on longer, it certainly would have earned the moniker of the Five-Year Farm Bill!)

Akin to making sausage: It is not a pretty business. Cobbling together bipartisan support yields winners and losers on all sides. While we have not yet “won the war” (replacing an industrial paradigm for one that is good, clean and fair), the many programmatic victories in the new law of the land point to cracks in the conventional wisdom about industrial agriculture.

Don’t forget, that when the Farm Bill was born, industrial agriculture was the new kid on the block. In 2014, the kid has grown into a bloated and wasteful giant whose luster is fading, even among fervent supporters. After all, if consensus were present, passage would have been far swifter.

While I could be accused of seeking out silver linings, the passage of several progressive healthy food and sustainable agriculture programs — Organic and Specialty Crop Research, Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, Community Food Projects, and a new Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, for starters — will strengthen our voices on Capitol Hill.

The post-mortem on the Farm Bill and its exercise in civic engagement will and should continue. There is so much to learn and still much to do.

  • Consider how the delay placed pressure on fragile coalitions and disadvantaged farmers. Meanwhile, get going. Competitive programs at USDA await applicants.
  • Risk-taking on the margins awaits allies from the center – and dinner tables await invitations to join in shaping plans for the future. Reach out far and wide and to those who are often overlooked and also treasure community, biodiversity, and traditional knowledge.

Ring the dinner bell; serve up change; balance joy with justice; and store up enough nuts for the next Farm Bill.

That’s our plan.

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