Time for the Whole Enchilada

Subtitle: Bigger Food System Change on the Horizon

The recent failure of the Farm Bill to pass the U.S. House of Representatives has been widely touted as another indication of how nothing useful can get done by Congress these days, and that interpretation has plenty of merit.  But this unexpected collapse in the process may also signal just how far away from the needs of ordinary farmers the “Farm” Bill had drifted.  Much has been said about the divisiveness of SNAP (i.e. food stamp) benefits in the bill, but the real potential losses to rank-and-file food producers came in the guise of one successful amendment to please the dairy industry (contrary to most dairy farmers), and another failed one that would have put limits on crop insurance subsidies for larger farms. Combined, these factors left the legislation without much of a cheering section, which proved fatal in the end.

In any case, the Farm Bill as we know it is critically flawed.  Some simple math will make the point.  It starts with the basic fact that about 80% of this government largesse goes for food stamps (no matter how worthwhile), and only 20% to agriculture of any kind. Then take into account that the share afforded to agriculture is similarly weighted, in a disproportionate way, toward what I will call the “industrial end of the spectrum” and away from family-scale farming. But even the latter portion is slanted toward supporting the troubled status quo, or conventional methods of farming.  What we are left with is perhaps one or two percent of the entire Farm Bill being applied to what we can clearly recognize as programs focused on sustainability and local food systems.  There are many laudable attempts being made to redress this basic structure, as with programs to expand use of SNAP benefits at farmers markets, but the fact remains that the overarching structure of Farm Bill funding acts like a prison within which the promise of more progressive food and farm policy is constrained. Continue reading

Safety Rules Cloud Beginning Farmers’ Futures

Blogger’s Note: I haven’t posted anything for a few weeks, being tied up with new initiatives at PASA and family events at home.  But I wanted to share this guest posting, written by my good friend and colleague Roland McReynolds, who is executive director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.  Roland has been active with we me and several others on food safety issues ever since the Food Safety Modernization Act began to take shape in Congress during the summer of 2009. He is a strong advocate for farmers and small, food-related businesses, as this piece, written for the CFSA newsletter, will demonstrate.  For more information about FSMA, please consult other posts in this blog and  the NSAC tab above.  ~Brian S. 

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At its core, the movement for local, organic food and farming is about aspiring to make lives better: Prosperous for farmers and farmworkers, healthy for all humankind, happy for the animals we depend on, and sustainable for the earth’s ecosystem.  And the influx of beginning farmers pursuing agriculture as a career over the last several years has been one of the signal achievements of our movement.  After forty years of slow and steady work to re-envision how we produce and consume food, young people, veterans and second-career-seekers are able to see the potential for making a rewarding, meaningful living in farming.

After a century that has industrialized the landscape and our diets, this hopeful trend of new farmers is a manifestation of the transformative power of local, organic agriculture, bringing people back to land with a mission to care for it and preserve it for future generations.  And it is a trend that would be choked off by pending federal food safety rules, suffocating our chances for a better, healthier world along with it. Continue reading