June 12, 2011

Food and Farm Policy: this is not the image and style that you’re used to

Rebecca Klein

Rebecca Klein

Program Officer, Food System Policy Program

Center for a Livable Future

HFHP Summit 2011

HFHP Summit 2011

Recently, my boyfriend offered to give me a dollar for every blog I started with, “Stop what you’re doing, ’cause I’m about to ruin the image and the style that you’re used to.” I responded to his idea with a barrage of reasons why it was ridiculous and certainly not appropriate in my line of work to write blogs citing The Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance.” On second thought, however, those 18 words are an oddly apropos summary of the overarching goals of the Healthy Farms, Healthy People (HFHP) Summit, recently held in Arlington, VA, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and hosted by Public Health Institute. The Center for a Livable Future was a co-organizer of the Summit-along with American Farmland Trust, California Food and Justice Coalition, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Public Health Law and Policy-which brought together interests from conventional and sustainable agriculture with public health professionals, physicians and health insurers to discuss potential shared issue-areas in food and agriculture policy. The goals of the Summit were to:

  • Create a broad-based forum for discussing and sharing perspectives on U.S. farm and food policy;
  • Foster participants’ understanding about the priorities of a diverse set of stakeholders;
  • Educate leaders from diverse sectors about key farm and food policy issues that support economically strong farms, rural economies and healthy communities
  • Create a forum where stakeholders can identify overlap regarding Farm Bill-related activities and interests, and explore the potential for broad-based partnerships and/or coalitions.

The Summit featured thought-provoking plenary speakers and panels (agenda here): sharing ideas that were carried into and expanded upon in smaller concurrent sessions during which participants engaged in lively discussions on a range of topics-from food security and anti-hunger efforts, to antibiotic resistance and health impacts of industrial food animal production, to farmer livelihoods, local and regional food systems, and barriers and possibilities for increasing fruit and vegetable demand and production. A great summary of highlights is available via the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s blog, and the Twitter Feed from the two days is here. Important groundwork was laid for future collaborations and while participants were keenly aware of the current federal budget situation-and the limitations it may bring in the near-term-there was energy and excitement about the ideas raised and possible new partnerships. These new alliances have the potential to transform food and agriculture policy to benefit health and farmers. They need to be fostered, not only during the current Farm Bill cycle, but also for regulatory matters and other farm and food-related legislation. Most importantly, they should be supported consistently over the coming decades to ensure important trust-building and information sharing continues.

Deputy Secretary Merrigan

Deputy Secretary Merrigan

During her plenary Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, commented that it was “great to see public health and agriculture stakeholders coming together,” and that a gathering such this was “so important.”  The conveners of the Summit couldn’t agree more and continue to work together to further relationship building between sectors and provide opportunities for those from the agriculture and health communities to work together to determine specific priorities for the next Farm Bill in the near-term and other shared goals in the long-term.

Policy change is often incremental, and it will be new alliances such as these, defying the image and style we’re used, that will shift us to a healthy, sustainable food system-those alliances and a lot of hard work. So, all y’all out there building important bridges that will sustain this work over the long-term…don’t stop what you’re doing!

(p.s. I promise to donate my dollar to the effort.)

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