November 7, 2011
Local farmers have been a hot topic in Congress lately.
Last Tuesday, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D–ME) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D–OH) introduced the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act in Congress. The goal of the bill, which was intended for inclusion in the 2012 Farm Bill, is to strengthen local and regional food systems. It addresses the needs of smaller farms that produce for local markets, as well as of consumers who may lack access to healthy foods.
The bill has between 35 and 40 cosponsors in the House, including Rep. Donna Edwards (D–MD), and six cosponsors in the Senate, including Senator Barbara Mikulski (D–MD).
If passed, the bill would modify 10 of the 16 titles in the Farm Bill. It includes, among others, provisions to:
- Make it easier for SNAP recipients to spend money at farmers’ markets by equipping farmers with the technology to accept EBT. (The bill includes a pilot program to test the use of smart phones to accept food stamps at farmers markets.)
- Improve SNAP Education and Outreach by encouraging states to use farmers’ markets as a venue for education activities
- Provide funding for farmers to build infrastructure (e.g. small-scale slaughterhouses) that would allow them to process and sell their food locally
- Eliminate barriers that prevent schools from buying local foods, by fixing out-dated federal policies and providing schools with credit to buy locally
Roni Neff, CLF’s research and policy director, says, “These provisions (and others included in the bill) speak to issues the public health community has been raising for years.”
We can confidently say that the Pingree-Brown Bill would be a step toward more accessible healthy foods for consumers and the infrastructure farmers need to make this food available.
Reporting from the Community Food Security Coalition’s annual conference in Oakland, Calif., is Becca Klein, project director for CLF’s Public Health and Agriculture Policy Project. She reports that this morning, Rep. Pingree addressed the 1,000+ conference participants, outlining the bill and making a case for how her bill could shift U.S. farm policy away from what she described as, “a policy statement for what Earl Butz said in the Nixon era, ‘Get big or get out,’” toward something that supports local and regional producers as well. Klein quotes author Dan Imhoff (another speaker on the morning’s panel) on the pervasive impacts of the Farm Bill: “It is clearly one of those issues that as you pull the thread you seem to find the whole world attached.”
Klein further reports that given the current potential fast-tracking of the Farm Bill re-authorization, Rep. Pingree, CFSC, and other groups are working hard to get folks to ask their representatives and senators to support this bill, as well as pushing the “super committee” members to include provisions from this bill in their final recommendations. Klein says, “CFSC added some umph to this effort (and temporarily jammed the Capitol Switchboard) by asking the hundreds of people in the room to pull out their cell phones to call their senators or representatives urging them to co-sponsor the Local Farms, Foods and Jobs Act, and to ‘refuse to support any deficit-reduction deal unless it protects nutrition programs like, SNAP, ensures job-creating investments in local and regional food systems, and includes fair increases in revenue.’”