We thought we were finally done with the farm bill after months and months of “negotiations,”  but we spoke too soon.  Apparently the House yesterday overruled a different version of the farm bill than the President signed, meaning that we’re back at the beginning.  Well, almost the beginning. This is just one more step to prove that the Bush Administration is pure evil.

I don’t think I have to remind anyone that an estimated 35.5 million Americans are food insecure; meaning their access to enough food is limited by a lack of money and other resources.  (USDA/ERS, Household Food Security in the United States: 2006).  Food Banks all over the country have been urging that the farm bill needs to be passed and put into place. 

Yesterday in a press release, America’s Second Harvest, the country’s largest food bank distributor commended the House for overruling the President’s veto.

“Demands are up, and food is down,” said Vicki Escarra, President of America’s Second Harvest. “This is one of the worst times that our food banks have experienced in recent years in terms of the level of need and our ability to meet the need. At the same time, food stamp benefits are eroding and food and fuel prices continue to soar.”

Food banks nationwide have experienced a dramatic decline of nearly $200 million in food donations from the USDA surplus commodity program in recent years as a result of a strong agriculture economy. The Farm Bill, which has been debated for months in Congress, would bring much needed immediate relief to this dire situation facing the nation’s charitable distribution Network by replenishing record low levels of food inventories at food banks and significantly improving food stamp benefits. It would increase the amount of mandatory funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) from $140 million a year to $250 million a year and index the amount for inflation. (May 21 Press Release)

 

So after reading what the farm bill could do to immediately help the hunger situation, read this….

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House overwhelmingly rejected President Bush’s veto of a $290 billion farm bill Wednesday, but what was to have been a stinging defeat for the president became an embarrassing episode for Democrats.

art.wheat.gi.jpg  

The House will try to pass a $290 billion farm bill again Thursday after a mixup the day before.

Only hours before the House’s 316-108 vote, Bush had vetoed the five-year measure, saying it was too expensive and gave too much money to wealthy farmers when farm incomes are high. The Senate then was expected to follow suit quickly.

Action stalled, however, after the discovery that Congress had omitted a 34-page section of the bill when lawmakers sent the massive measure to the White House. That means Bush vetoed a different bill from the one Congress passed, leaving leaders scrambling to figure out whether it could become law.

Democrats hoped to pass the entire bill, again, on Thursday under expedited rules usually reserved for unopposed legislation. Lawmakers also probably will have to pass an extension of current farm law, which expires Friday.

“We will have to repass the whole thing, as will the Senate,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. “We can’t let the farm bill just die.”

Republican leaders called for a farm bill do-over. The White House, almost gleefully, seized on the fumble and said the mixup could give Congress time to fix the “bloated” bill.

“We are trying to understand the ramifications of this congressional farm bill foul-up. We haven’t found a precedent for a congressional blunder of this magnitude,” said Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman. “It looks like it may be back to square one for them.”

“In all likelihood, you have to redo this process,” said Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 2 Republican and one of the 100 GOP lawmakers who broke with Bush in voting to override the veto. “I’d like to see a farm bill passed that no judge can say is not the farm bill.”

About two-thirds of the bill would pay for nutrition programs such as food stamps, about $40 billion is for farm subsidies, and $30 billion would go to farmers to idle their land and to other environmental programs.

Congressional Republicans overwhelmingly abandoned Bush in voting to pass the bill last week. They overlooking its cost amid public concern about the weak economy and high gas and grocery prices. Supporters praised the spending on food stamps and emergency food aid.

Before the problem with the bill was discovered, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the bill could make the situation worse for struggling families.

“Members are going to have to think about how they will explain these votes back in their districts at a time when prices are on the rise,” she said. “People are not going to want to see their taxes increase.”

Wednesday’s snag stemmed from an error made while printing the legislation on parchment before sending it to Bush.

Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said the section in question — which deals with trade and international food aid programs — was never printed. Indeed, the final 628-page version of the bill jumps straight from “Title II” on conservation programs to “Title IV” on nutrition programs.

Democrats proposed bringing up and passing the missing section separately and sending that to Bush, thus allowing the entire measure to become law. But Republicans argued that might not be constitutional because Bush actually vetoed a version that Congress never considered.

The bill would make small cuts to direct payments, which are distributed to some farmers no matter how much they grow. It also would eliminate some payments to individuals with more than $750,000 in annual farm income or married farmers who make more than $1.5 million.

Previously, negotiators were considering a $950,000 income cap for individuals on farm income.

Individuals who make more than $500,000 or couples who make more than $1 million jointly in nonfarm income also would not be eligible for subsidies.

Under current law, there is no income limit for farmers, and married couples who make less than one-fourth of their income from farming will not receive subsidies if their joint income exceeds $5 million.

The administration originally proposed a cap for those who make more than $200,000 in annual gross income but later indicated that it could accept a limit of $500,000.

The bill also would:

  • Boost nutrition programs, including food stamps and emergency domestic food aid by more than $10 billion over 10 years. It would expand a program to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to schoolchildren.
  • Increase subsidies for certain crops, including fruits and vegetables excluded from previous farm bills.
  • Extend dairy programs.
  • Increase loan rates for sugar producers.
  • Urge the government to buy surplus sugar and sell it to ethanol producers for use in a mixture with corn.
  • Cut a per-gallon ethanol tax credit for refiners from 51 cents to 45 cents. The credit supports the blending of fuel with the corn-based additive. More money would go to cellulosic ethanol, made from plant matter.
  • Require that meats and other fresh foods carry labels with their countries of origin.
  • Stop allowing farmers to collect subsidies for multiple farm businesses.
  • Reopen a major discrimination case against the Agriculture Department. Thousands of black farmers who missed a deadline would get a chance to file claims alleging that they were denied loans or other subsidies.
  • Pay farmers for weather-related farm losses from a new $3.8 billion disaster relief fund.
  • CNN Politics, May 21, 2008

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    In a rapid rebuke of President Bush’s efforts for fiscal restraint, the House voted to override his veto today of a $307 billion farm bill and the Senate was poised to follow suit Thursday.

    Only hours before the House’s 316-108 vote, Bush had vetoed the five-year measure, saying it was an unnecessary gift to midland farmers at the expense of taxpayers and gave too much money to wealthy farmers when farm incomes are high.

    The veto was the 10th of Bush’s presidency. Congress so far has overridden him once, on a water projects bill. (In quick vote, House overrides Bush veto of farm bill, SF Chronicle)

    ——————————————————————————–

    Empty Shelves at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington DC. CAFB has seen a 37-percent increase over last year in the demand for the ‘Hungar Lifeline,’ an emergency food assistance program. At the same time the bank is facing a 25-percent decrease in produce donated during the 3rd quarter of this year versus 2005. 

    “On behalf of the 25 million Americans that we serve, I commend the House of Representatives for its leadership in taking one more step to enact a Farm Bill that will help hungry Americans,” said Vicki Escarra, president and chief executive officer of America’s Second Harvest—The Nation’s Food Bank Network. “There is nothing more important right now to low-income Americans and the nation’s food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens than bringing a strong nutrition title in a new Farm Bill to every community nationwide.”

    In a recent survey of 180 food banks, respondents reported an increase of 15-20 percent on average in the number of people turning to their food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens for help. More than 90 percent of respondents reported that increasing food and fuel prices are primary driving forces in increasing demands. Further, more than 80 percent of food bank respondents reported that they are unable to adequately meet the needs of increased demands for emergency food assistance without reducing the amount of food available to agencies or clients or cutting back operations. ( America’s Second Harvest Applauds House Override Of President’s Veto)

    ——————————————————————————–

    Taken from the Community Food Security Coalition listserve on May 21, 2008

    The Irony of a Bush Farm Bill Veto:

    Katherine Ozer – National Family Farm Coalition

     President Bush’s veto of the 2008 Farm Bill further adds to the bewildering debate around it, confusing advocates for progressive policies that support sustainable family farmers instead of factory farms and corporate agribusiness.  He has been quoted as saying “…lawmakers were not doing enough to limit payments to wealthy landowners, many of whom don’t farm”.  This message comes from an Administration that has championed payments and programs benefiting not only wealthy landowners but corporate agribusiness, exporters, the livestock industry, food processors, and grain traders at every step.

     We agree that loopholes for those who don’t farm – whether land investors or McMansion developers – should be closed, but limiting which farms can participate in farm and conservation programs due to off-farm income is not the answer. The Bush Administration is virtually silent on the real bad actors contributing to our broken industrial food system; they get a free pass. Why don’t they care that owners of mega-dairy and -livestock operations can tap up to $300,000 in taxpayer subsidies to clean up their pollution through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)? Or that Bush’s “Justice Department” appears poised to approve the pending JBS-Brazil acquisition of two of the top five beef packing companies in the U.S. that will make a Brazilian company the largest beef packer in the U.S. and the world, which threatens the livelihoods of virtually all America’s ranchers.

     The Bush Administration, while touting an anti-subsidy line for wealthy farmers, has irresponsibly and continually ignored what would be responsible measures to stabilize commodity prices for farmers:  an effective government policy that includes a strategic food reserve to help stabilize volatile food prices for consumers, a price floor reflecting the true costs of production for farmers, and meaningful conservation and land stewardship programs.  Without policies that ensure farmers receive a fair market price – not just in times of crisis or through misguided demand-driven policies like ethanol production – taxpayer-supported payments or subsidies become essential to cushion low prices and to avert widespread foreclosures and rural community shutdowns.  For these reasons the National Family Farm Coalition does not support the commodity title of this farm bill.

     The Administration has opposed the decade-long efforts of Senator Grassley and others supporting real structural market reforms and to restore competition in livestock markets to provide independent family livestock operators fair access to their markets.  This competition is being blocked by increasing market concentration with four companies controlling 80 per cent of the meat slaughtered in the U.S.

     Responding to questions on the rise of global food prices during an April 29 White House press conference, President Bush stated that we should “…buy food from local farmers as a way to help deal with scarcity, but also…to put in place an infrastructure so that nations can be self-sustaining and self-supporting…” This is the correct position on international food aid and one with which we agree yet it is ironic that the Bush Administration’s continued support for free trade and the WTO has contributed to the crisis by dismantling the domestic food production in many of these countries.  On May 2, President Bush advocated lifting restrictions on exports and concluding the Doha round of the WTO to help solve the world’s food crisis.  He further stressed the cultivation of genetically engineered crops under the false pretense that they resist extreme weather conditions and increase yields.

     This message in the midst of the farm bill negotiations helps explain the Administration’s position on the bill:  they truly care more about completing the Doha round than enacting sensible domestic farm policy.  It is ironic that the direct farm payments most criticized by the San Francisco Chronicle, the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Washington Post are the payments explicitly allowed under the World Trade Organization (WTO), i.e., payments that are decoupled and delinked from production.

    It has never been more critical to the survival of millions around the world that we define the problem correctly and pursue a solution that builds food sovereignty.  While higher prices for grain, seed, and fertilizer fueled by speculative trading practices contribute to escalating food prices, the significant role of diesel fuel prices in both the farm production and distribution systems must be addressed at domestic and global levels.  The excessive corporate profiteering of oil and grain companies must be exposed and curtailed.

    We need to re-establish programs and policies that authorize farmer and country control over agricultural production systems, including the right to limit low-cost imports that destabilize local, agrarian-based economies.  This is an essential step to stabilizing the farm and food economy globally. It must start with the people and the communities on the ground – not with corporate agribusiness, misguided free trade agreements, oil companies, and GE-seed representatives

     

    What do you think?  Should the Farm Bill be vetoed or not?  Below I’ve listed a couple of websites that might help you figure out what you think…

    Click here to read to presidential Farm Bill veto message.

    Other articles about the Farm Bill

    Siding with the Bushies? from Grist

    Ag Observatory Farm Bill website

    Food Banks Urge Passage Of Historic Farm Bill To Help Hungry Americans

    Published on 17 May 2008 by Energy Bulletin. Archived on 17 May 2008.by Shepherd Bliss

    Petroleum supplies slowly dwindle as demand rapidly soars. So the prices of gasoline and oil that supply modern societies with their industrial production of food will go up, up, and away. A radically different future than the oil-energized twentieth century is dawning.

    Let’s face it: our world has become increasingly maddening. Bad news mounts each day: unending wars, financial crises, earthquakes, hurricanes and cyclones killing thousands, chaotic climate change, vanishing pollinating bees and polar bears, rising oceans, thinning forests and a host of human-created or –worsened threats. We live in uncertain times with an even more uncertain future. We face unprecedented, unpredictable converging threats. What can one do to remain somewhat sane? The ostrich approach of denial by burying one’s head in the sand will not be effective or life-enhancing.

    It is a good time for an increasing number of people to return to the multiple benefits and pleasures of growing at least part of their own food by gardening and farming. In addition to satisfying the need to eat and drink, farming can also help deal with depression, passivity, and other forms of psychological suffering. It can help treat both the body and the soul. 

    One of the many good things that farms based on nature’s patterns can do is help balance people. Much psychological suffering and even mental illnesses have to do with imbalances, which characterize modern society. Before turning to drugs, one can at least trying visiting farms and perhaps volunteering to work there. Or one can connect with farms in collaboration with another treatment program.

    Farming can be done in ways that preserve the Earth and put humans in direct contact with it. “Small farms are the most productive on earth,” according to the May 11 “New York Times” article “Change We Can Stomach” by farmer and chef Dan Barber. “A four-acre farm in the United States nets, on average, $1,400 per acre; a 1,364-acre farm nets $39 an acre,” he writes. “Farming has the potential to go through the greatest upheaval since the Green Revolution, bringing harvests that are more meaningful, sustainable, and, yes, even more flavorful,” Barber contends.

    Since growing one’s own food is not possible for everyone, it is also a good time to establish direct relationships with local farmers and shop more at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and by subscribing to Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). Urban agriculture, farms on the urban fringe, and rooftop gardening are becoming increasingly popular. The large city of Havana, Cuba, grows 70% of its own food. Necessity will change how people get their food in the near future.

    Many Americans take their food sources for granted, assuming that super-markets will be able to always supply them with what they need. Having lived in Hawai’i when delivery disruptions and the lack of transportation across the ocean left bare shelves in food stores, I know the panic this can cause.

    The “Silent Tsunami,” “Misery Index,” and Mud Cakes

    A “silent tsunami” of hunger sweeps the globe, reports the head of the United Nation’s World Food Program, Josette Sheeran, speaking in late April at a food summit in London. The heightened hunger threat endangers 20 million of the world’s poorest children and is pushing 100 million people into poverty. 

    “This is the new face of hunger—the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are,” Sheeran reports. “The world’s misery index is rising.”

    During 2008 food riots broke out in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. “You are seeing the return of the food riot, one of the oldest forms of collective action,” commented Raj Patel in an April 25San Francisco Chronicle article. The University of California at Berkeley scholar wrote the new book “Stuffed and Starved: Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System.”

    The World Bank estimates that food prices have risen 83% in three years; other estimates are in the 60 and 70 percent range. Even in the wealthy United States we have recently seen rationing of rice and other staples by food giants such as Costco and Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Clubs, the two biggest warehouse retail chains. Such trends are likely to continue and are creating stockpiling and hoarding.

    “In the poorest districts (of Haiti), there is now a brisk trade in mud cakes,” writes Patel in an article titled “The Troubles with Food,”. “Mothers feed the biscuits, made with water, salt, margarine and clay, to their children. The cake puts a dampener on hunger, at least for a couple of hours, but leaves your mouth dry and bitter for several hours more,” he continues. 

    Industrial agriculture will be one of the many aspects of human life on the planet hit by the dwindle/demand oil trend and the related peaks of other fossil fuels, such as natural gas. Industrial agriculture depends upon petroleum in many ways—to run tractors and other machines, to make chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and to fuel the trucks that transport food an average of 1500 miles from field to fork. Oil is the most important ingredient in most of conventional food. As the dwindle/demand rate intensifies, food will be less available and more expensive. Famine is likely.

    Survival will require that more people return to an earlier energy supply— muscle power. As someone who made a transition in the early 1990’s (while in my late 40s) from a livelihood based on college teaching and related intellectual activities to one based on farming, I can report that there are many advantages to such a change. I feel better as a result of living on the land, growing some of my own food, and sharing that organic food and the farm itself with others. 

    I have found my local place. In 2003 I accepted a great job offer in Hawai’i, but after a couple of wonderful years, I felt so homesick that I returned to my farm.

    So this will be a report from the farm front, which will focus on some of the psychological benefits of farming.

    The multiple consequences of a diminishing supply of humanity’s major energy source at this point in history will include hardships, stress, and suffering. There are many ways of dealing psychologically with such matters, including with family, friends and professional counselors. This article will explore what I have come to describe as agropsychology and agrotherapy.

    I was trained to be a counselor. Quite frankly, I was not good at delivering individual therapy. I got too emotional and involved. I did not adequately develop the necessary professional armor and shield. I did not take enough distance from the people I was working with or have enough “impulse control.” So I shifted more to teaching, group work, and writing. In the time since my more conventional psychological training some forty years ago, self-disclosure and emotional men have become more acceptable as sex roles and professional codes have evolved.

    Ecopsychology and Ecotherapy

    Sierra Club Books published “Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind” in l996. The term refers to the emerging synthesis of the psychological and the ecological. The book’s editor, Theodore Roszak, writes that “ecology needs psychology, psychology needs ecology.” Roszak reports on a l990 conference entitled “Psychology as if the Whole Earth Mattered.”

    The Sierra Club plans to publish the book’s sequel “Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind” in March of 2009. My chapter “Farming, Sweet Darkness, Poetry, and Healing” is scheduled to be part of that book. After finishing my contribution I began to realize that what I was writing about could be called agrotherapy, which is the practice of agropsychology, which are sub-sets of ecopsychology and ecotherapy. Farms have historically been healing places, for both those who live and work there and those who visit. Farm tours and even overnight farm stays are becoming increasingly popular as examples of ecotourism. The Small Farm Program at the University of California at Davis, Sonoma County Farm Trails, and Daily Acts are among the many groups that promote such tours.

    Simply put, by living on a farm and working the land on a regular basis, I have become a healthier person—physically and mentally. In recent years I have been hosting an increasing number of farm tours at Kokopelli Farm in the Sebastopol countryside, Sonoma County, Northern California. Community, school, and religious groups, as well as families and friends, come to the farm, which grows mainly organic berries and fruit and cares for chickens. 

    My visitors tend to feel better from their time on this traditional farm; something positive usually happens to them. Being outside in nature can benefit people. People typically loose sight of chronological time. They can fall into berry time or chicken time, which tend to be slower than the human-made clock, and often more fun and stress-reducing. They sometimes lose their restraint and order, wanting to sprint ahead, or go off the path, as if they were animals, which they are.

    Chicken Wisdom and Agrotherapy

    This year I returned to teaching psychology, part-time, at Sonoma State University. I sometimes take chickens as Teaching Assistants (TAs). For example, I took two sweet silkies on Valentine’s Day; they modeled being love birds as they cooed and cuddled, one even feeling safe enough to lay an egg.

    Chickens can teach many things, such as surrender to what is, joy at the dawn, transformation of throwaways into jewels, and love of the Earth within which chickens take their dust baths to help them get rid of parasites. Chickens offer incredible eggs, humor, joy, and beauty. That other two-legged can teach chicken wisdom, that of a prey, to humans, who are predators. It includes, but is not limited to, the following: delight in simple things (like worms), keep dancing, recycle, snuggle into the earth, slow down, combine vulnerability and hardiness. 

    Agrotherapy is not therapy-as-usual. It happens mainly in the open, outside an office, a building, a city and without a defined time limit. The freedom to wonder and to meander characterize being outside. One does not enter the same human-made setting each time; farms are seasonal, as humans are, and are constantly changing. The therapists-of-the-outdoors include trees, berries, birds, bees, chickens, the moon and stars, the clouds, crow congresses and others who can help relieve stress, anxiety, suffering, and even sickness.

    Tears sometimes come to the eyes of city folk when they sit on the ground beneath the giant redwoods or sprawling oaks at my farm. Something from their personal or collective memory seems to get activated. We listen to the wind and hear various sounds within it. Within just a few minutes I can usually feel a change in my guests. This is not a “talking cure.” It is non-talking, opening to the other senses. There is not therapeutic couch or chair; the forest provides a comforting bed upon which one can relax and reduce their stress.

    My presence on such tours is more as a guide who can point things out, including patterns in nature and persons, and pose strategic questions, than as an expert to make book-based diagnoses and human-devised treatments. Farming—like therapy or personal growth–is a process with no clear beginning or end. There are products along the way, but the topsoil, for example, takes thousands of years to make. Perennial trees and berries planted by one family member can endure far beyond his or her lifetime into that of descendents, continuing to provide beauty and healing.

    An email I sent to a local online listserve about agropsychology generated the following response from Jennifer York, the owner of the Bamboo Sorcery outside my hometown of Sebastopol:

    “I can vouch for what you call “agropsychology.’ It saved me as a youth in my recovery from a traumatic childhood, and now in middle age. I am once again finding great healing, joy, and contentment in growing my own garden and raising my own farm animals (chickens, rabbits, and someday dairy goats, I hope!) for food, fun and deep connection with the cycles of life and death. For me it is a spiritual, as well as a practical avocation. I recommend it. Besides, it may come in very handy someday.

    “In the meantime I am having fun, and feel good about sharing the experience with my 6-year-old daughter. I believe it is creating a sound foundation in her for the future. I have great gratitude to my deceased parents who were Back-to-Landers in the late 60’s and 70’s, and who exposed me to this rich and life affirming way of life.

    “My husband says he can tell how happy I am by how much dirt is under my finger nails…and it’s true.”

    In his book “Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines” Peak Oil theorist Richard Heinberg includes a chapter titled “The Psychology of Peak Oil and Climate Change.” He writes, “The next few decades will be traumatic.” One resource that Heinberg refers to is the work of eco-philosopher Joanna Macy with respect to workshops on “despair and empowerment.” In them people are encouraged to deal with their grief, and thus feel their connection to the Earth.

    Ecopsychology and ecotherapy can take many forms, including agropsychology and agrotherapy. These recently conceptualized fields can make a contribution to the larger fields of psychology and psychotherapy and thus to the healing of people and of the nature of which we are an integral part. Humans often seem to battle nature, whereas participation and collaboration with it seem more healthy, which these developing forms can support.

    (Dr. Shepherd Bliss, sbliss@hawaii.edu, teaches at Sonoma State University in Northern California and has operated the organic Kokopelli Farm since the early 1990s. He is a member of the Veterans Writing Group (www.vowvop.org), has contributed to two dozen books, and is currently writing “In Praise of Sweet Darkness.”)

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Editorial Notes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Shepherd Bliss is an Energy Bulletin contributor.

    As you probably know, a House-Senate committee agreed on a final version of the Farm Bill on May 8. Next week it goes to the full House and Senate, and after that to the president’s desk — and the USDA secretary has already vowed a veto. A debate is brewing in our circles about whether the sustainable-ag/food-justice should support the veto, or push for an override.

    Read this great article I found on the community food security listserve

    How should sustainable-food advocates respond to the latest farm bill proposal?

     

    Found on Grist

    Posted by Tom Philpott at 4:59 PM on 08 May 2008

    For months now, the 2007 farm bill has been in limbo, tied up in reconciliation negotiations between the House and the Senate.

    On Thursday, the bicameral Farm Bill Conference Report agreed on a final proposal. The latest version will go to the larger House and Senate next week for approval; if all goes well, it will finally go to President Bush’s desk.

    But since this wouldn’t be the 2007 farm bill without a final dose of drama, negotiations seem far from over. “The President will veto this bill,” USDA chair Ed Schafer bluntly declared in a Thursday afternoon communique.

    The sticking point is subsidy reform, or lack thereof. “This legislation lacks meaningful farm program reform and expands the size and scope of government,” Schafer stated.

    Many sustainable-ag and rural advocates would cheer a Bush veto. On the Center for Rural Affairs blog, Dan Owens recently laid out their case:

    We will have the opportunity to fight again, and … I have real hope that we can do better, that we can win more, that we can get a farm bill that is better than the one about to pass Congress. And we can try again in 2009. But if the bill becomes law, we will have to wait until 2013.

    Others, however, disagree. They argue that the bill contains valuable provisions that need to be passed — small victories that will be surrendered if farm policy reverts to the 2002 farm bill.

    Below I’ll try to sketch out what this latest version contains. I’ll also be trying to get movers and shakers in the sustainable-ag/food-justice world to give their perspectives.

    The most controversial bit in this farm bill is the commodity title — the program through which the government ostensibly tries to smooth out the financial uncertainty of farming. The title has evolved over the years into a funnel that delivers the great bulk of the title’s cash to the largest farms, doing little to balance out swings in supply and demand.

    Bush wants to cut the subsidies because they have become a sticking point in global trade deals, and presumably because of Iraq-related budgetary concerns. Most sustainable-ag advocates would like to see them replaced with more equitable and effective ways of smoothing out supply and demand troubles — ones that benefit farmers and consumers, not the few agro-industrial corporations that dominate our food system.

    This Associated Press piece digs into the details of the current commodity title, and how the limits it places on subsidies fall short of what critics including the Bush administration had wanted. In an emailed communique (Word doc), the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition summarized the title like this:

    Comprehensive payment limitation reform was not included in the bill.  … the net result is no change in the highly skewed status quo on payment limits for direct and counter-cyclical payments.

    The latest version also includes a controversial “permanent assistance fund” worth $3.8 billion. A couple of months ago on Gristmill, Britt Lundgren and Jason Funk of Environmental Defense Fund called this provision a “a disaster for taxpayers, most farmers, and the environment.” They say it encourages farmers to cultivate disaster-prone land. Bush, too, has sharply criticized this provision.

    If the commodity title and the disaster fund are considered a disappointment, other provisions — ones that, unhappily, involve far less money — have drawn support.

    The Community Food Security Coalition reported in a Thursday email that the new version contains funding for Community Food Projects — vitally important programs designed to bring fresh, healthy food to places that now have little access. Writes acting policy director Steph Larsen:

    The great news is that Community Food Projects (CFP) is in the final language, and we have $5 million in annual mandatory funding for the next 10 years! As you may recall, this year we started out with no money due to new congressional budget rules that cuts the funding for small programs. New language for CFP should fix this problem so that for the next Farm Bill, CFP will be able to build on the $5 million instead of starting from scratch with zero dollars. And with mandatory funding, we will not have to fight for these dollars every year.

    Larsen added the bill also allows public schools to favor local farms in bids for school food. “This change will eliminate [a major] barrier for schools to support local agriculture and will make Farm to School programs easier to establish.”

    (Before anyone gets too excited, the bill does not add any funding to the miserly National School Lunch Program budget. Now schools can theoretically buy local; but they still have $.70-$1.00 to spend per day on ingredients for each kid’s lunch.)

    The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition also points to several victories, especially with regard to the Conservation Title. This title tries to balance the produce-as-much-as-possible thrust of the Commodity Title by giving farmers incentives to manage their land in ecologically sound ways.

    The SAC declared the Conservation Title in the current version an overall “win,” since it delivers “$4 billion net increase in mandatory spending, combined with $2.5 billion in savings from Conservation Reserve Program, for total new funding of $6.5 billion, and a continued rebalancing toward working lands conservation.”

    SAC also points to several “wins” in boosting funding for organic agriculture, including a “nearly five-fold increase to help cover the costs of organic certification,” and a “a seven-fold increase” in funding for organic farming research and extension.” It should be noted, though, these outlays amount to sums in the tens of millions over five years, while the cash devoted to industrial-scale farming runs to billions every year.

    As for my beloved “packer ban,” which would have forbidden meat packers like Tyson and Smithfield from owning livestock — well, that didn’t survive negotiations.

    So, should the sustainable-ag community support a presidential veto — or fight for a Congressional override?

    Check out the comments of the Grist article, there’s some great ones!

     

    More general farm bill links…

    IATP Ag Observatory

    My article about the farm bill

     

    I could talk for days about the causes and effects of rising food prices in the US.  

    Disadvantaged Americans queue for aid in New York

    Its becoming a BIG DEAL. 

    In the past year 1.3 million new participants (many of them families) have signed up for food stamps in a effort to be able to access essential food stuffs and food stamp programs are projected to reach record-high levels this year.  Food banks have experienced a rise of 20 percent in visits than last year.  Food prices have risen 5.5% in just six months.  

    These are just a few facts… type “food prices” into Google and you’ll get 56,800,000 hits, most of them about rising food costs around the world and the social unrest that is coming with it.

    There are many reasons for these price increases. According to America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s largest charitable hunger-relief organization, federal commodity support for emergency feeding organizations has dropped nearly $200 million per year since the enactment of 2002 Farm Bill because of a decline in need for the federal government to buy surplus food to support farmers.  Additionally, food price inflation has caused rapid erosion in the purchasing power of food stamp benefits.  


    Kids get afternoon snacks at a Kids Cafe in Cincinnati, OH (uh, looks like someone took that kid on the right’s jello cup)

    Kids Cafe is a program started by America’s Second Harvest to try to ensure that children of low-income families get the nutrition they need

    “The amount of food stamps per household hasn’t gone up with the food costs,” says Dayna Ballantyne, who runs a food bank in Des Moines, Iowa. “Our clients are finding they aren’t able to purchase food like they used to.” (USA 2008: The Great Depression, The Independent)

    American Food Stamps

    DC is certainly not exempt for experiencing serious hunger issues. According to Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB), a Washington DC food security organization that supports and distributes food to food banks throughout the metro area, nearly 1/3 of DC residents live below the poverty level. ONE THIRD! Thats huge!  60% of households surveyed by CAFB reported at least 1 adult member who was unemployed. In the metro area:

    • One-third of Capital Area Food Bank clients reported having to choose between buying food and paying for utilities at least once during the previous 12 months.  (Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Hunger in America, 2001).
    • Over one third reported having to choose between buying food and paying rent or mortgage.  (Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Hunger in America, 2001)
    • Nearly one third had to choose between buying food and paying for medicine or medical care.  (Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Hunger in America, 2001)
    • 109,000 D.C. residents are eligible to participate in the Food Stamp Program each month, however only two-thirds actually receive them; and of those who do, 74 percent report that they do not last the entire month. (USDA and 2001 Hunger Study-Mathematica Policy Research) 
    • Total number of families making less than $35,000 per year is 43,084 (representing 38.3% of all working families)
    • The average monthly Food Stamp Program benefit is $91.83.
    • Nearly 50 percent of the households served report at least one working adult in the household.   (Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. 2006). 

    No one should have to choose between paying rent or a mortgage or for medical care and buying food.

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/homepage/story/18898.html

    A study from 2004

    What is the government doing in response to this food crisis?  

    In talking with a representative from CAFB the I found that the DC government does not support their efforts, their funding comes from grants, private donors, and fundraisers. The government currently deals with hunger problems in a few ways:

     

    • Food Stamp Program, 
    • Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
    • free and reduced price school breakfast and lunches. 

    Though these programs are certainly a step in the right direction, many of the programs are under-utilized by those who need them due to lack of awareness, insufficient time to apply for the needed assistance, and the confusing application process that these programs have. Organizations like Capital Area Food Bank try to help people find and understand these resources along with administering their other very accomplished programs.

    http://www.agobservatory.org/library.cfm?refid=97623

    What does the farm bill have to do with all of this?

    A March 29, article in the Economist sums it up pretty well:

    The current [Farm Bill] policy is shameless. Farmers of a few select crops such as wheat or maize can avoid almost all risk using the government’s overlapping system of subsidised insurance, loans and payments. The recipients are hardly the most deserving: farm households make a third more than others, and the richest of them, which get most of the subsidies, bring in three times what the average non-farm household does. Instead of saving the family farm, the policy is destroying it, encouraging agricultural land consolidation and raising barriers to entry. And then there are the deleterious effects America’s price-distorting payments have on foreign farmers and so on trade negotiations.

    Well, the 2007 Farm Bill (H.R. 2419 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:H.R.2419:) is a $288 billion, five-year farm subsidy bill being considered by Congress as a continuation of the 2002 Farm Bill.  President Bush, idiotically forgetting that we have to eat, threatened to veto the bill because of its high costs.  Many, many organizations pushed for more sustainable farming and renewable energy initiatives and subsidies.   Current reforms include:

     

    •  A modest increase in support for family farmers
    • Schools will now be allowed to use geographic preference to buy local food with federally-funded Child Nutrition programs
    • A new loan program will support local processing and distribution to support the Farm to School and Farm to Institution markets. 

    Hmmm. I’m not sure what to say….

     

    Horribly, the bill cut all mandatory funding for the Community Food Projects Program and Organic Transition – two critical programs that support a transition to organic and local food systems. No more automatic funding means that organizations will have to put a huge amount of effort into fighting for funding every year.  Fights continue between Democrats and Republicans about the Farm Bill up into this month (April), but will have to end by April 18, at which point current policies will be extended for a whole nother year, something we cannot see happen. (Community Alliance For Family Farmers)

    According to Vicki Escarra, president and chief executive officer of America’s Second Harvest in an April 4 press release,“Hungry Americans can not wait any longer [for changes in the Farm Bill]. We are seeing absolutely tragic increases nationwide in the number of men, women and children in need of emergency food assistance, many for the first time ever….Food stamp enrollment is projected to reach record high levels, during the coming year.  This rapid rise in food stamp participation is being fueled by the worsening economic downturn. Low-income families are desperately in need of a new Farm Bill to make improvements in the programs that help ensure that they can put food on their tables and lead productive, healthy lives in this nation so richly blessed with food resources.”

    “A one year extension to the Farm Bill would be catastrophic for food banks and those they serve,” said Escarra.  “The charitable sector does not have the capacity to meet dramatically increasing requests for food assistance.  It is critical for Congress to show leadership by passing a Farm Bill, and for the President to show compassion by signing it. If that happens, none of those in our great nation who face hunger daily will have to wait longer for relief.”(Hungry Americans Cannot Wait For A Farm Bill, March 19, 2008)

    In the Video, Dan Imhoff, Author of Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to a Food and Farm Bill, talks about the Farm Bill on a Food News for Cooking Up a Story.

    This is just part 1 of 5. To see the rest, go to the Cooking Up A Story site (where you can also find some other amazing videos about food systems).

    and here’s part 5 of the same series.

    Want to learn more about the Farm Bill?  Well, there’s a billion sources but here’s some of my favorites:

    The 2007 Farm Bill Gets More Attention Than Any Other in History

    Community Food Security Coalition: Policy Priorities and Farm Bill Materials

    A Summary of Farm Policy News

    “Long time in germination; The farm bill”. Economist. March 29, 2008. http://agobservatory.org/headlines.cfm?refID=102132

    Hungry Americans Cannot Wait For Farm Bill” America’s Second Harvest Press Release. March 19, 2008.

    Soaring Food and Fuel Prices Create Urgent Need for A Farm Bill.” America’s Second Harvest. April 4, 2008.

    Imhoff, Dan. Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to a Food and Farm Bill.

    Community Alliance with Family Farmers 

    Farm and Food Policy Project 

    American Farmland Trust 

     

    Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. A Fair Farm Bill Series

    Cool pamphlets with lots of good information and cool retro-ish pictures describing issues and changes that could be made (or could have been made) in the 2007 farm bill.

    A Fair Farm Bill for America: How Americans are effected everyday by the Farm Bill―from energy and health to the environment, labor and hunger.

    A Fair Farm Bill for the World: The Farm Bill’s influence over world policies is colossal―the WTO, food aid, market concentration and public health may all change.

    A Fair Farm Bill for Renewable Energy: The Farm Bill should support the next generation of sustainable energy crops and strengthen local ownership

    A Fair Farm Bill for the World’s Hungry: The Farm Bill could make food aid more efficient and stop pushing farmers in poor countries off the land

    A Fair Farm Bill for Competitive Markets: The Farm Bill should address the domination of agricultural markets by a few big companies.

    A Fair Farm Bill for Conservation: A better Farm Bill would do more to support farmers who improve soil and water quality, and enhance biodiversity.

    A Fair Farm Bill and Immigration: A fair Farm Bill would help family farmers in Mexico and the United States.

    A Fair Farm Bill for Public Health: The U.S. Farm Bill could do a lot to support a healthier food system.

     

     

    Links on Hunger Issues (Some in DC)

    Capital Area Food Bank

    DC Hunger Solutions

    Government Programs in DC

     

     

    Center on Hunger and Poverty

    Community Food Security Coalition** One of my favorite sites with amazing loads of information!

    Center for Food and Justice (Occidental College)

    Food Research and Action Center (FRAC)

    Farm to Family Connection

    Food Security Learning Center

    USDA Hunger & Food Security

     

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