Posted on Fri, October 28, 2011 by Slow Food USA
23 Comments | Categories: Farms and Farming, News, Current Events, Policy, Take Action,
In this time of national financial crisis, agricultural funding has been flagged to take a big hit. Two big developments this week indicate that congress is waking up to the potential that regionally focused agriculture holds for job creation, improvements to public health, and economic development.
The first came earlier this week—on Food Day—when Congresswoman Chellie Pingree announced a bill that she plans to introduce to the House: The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act. The bill will provide new kinds of support to farmers growing healthy food; make it easier to use food stamps at farmers markets; and require USDA research to focus less narrowly on genetically modified plants. A companion bill is on its way to the Senate.
Tell your Congressmen to be a part of the Recipe for Change by supporting the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act.
Pingree (D, Maine) sits on the House Agriculture Committee, and is no stranger to the harsh realities that small-scale farmers face, as she herself owns an organic farm in Maine. “This bill breaks down barriers the federal government has put up for local food producers and really just makes it easier for people to do what they’ve already been doing,” she said.
The second ray of light for local ag fans came from US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Speaking at a John Deere plant in Iowa earlier this week, he announced the USDA’s priorities for the next iteration of the Food and Farm Bill, and they included increased disaster relief for farmers. This is a pertinent decision in the wake of a year of catastrophic weather: Hurricane Irene devastated farmers in Eastern states, river flooding wreaked havoc on Midwest farmers, and Texas suffered an unprecedented $5.2 billion dollar hit to its farms and ranches from drought. One of the other priorities is something of a mixed blessing. Vilsack should be applauded for protecting the budget for conservation programs, but the downside is that farmers will not be required to meet conservation standards in order to receive other financial benefits from the Food and Farm Bill, so enforcement of conservation standards may be toothless.
These developments are a surprising break from precedent; lawmakers are historically reluctant to pull support from programs that prop up Big Ag. Until this week food reform advocates had feared that the already meager funding for programs with less of a lobby presence—like farmland conservation, nutrition, food stamps, school lunches, and new farmer development—would once again have their piggybanks raided to perpetuate commodity subsidies which primarily benefit unsustainable factory farms.
But for now at least, there’s hope.