James Godsil wrote on Community Food Security Coalition listserve

So here is some federal legislation to work for.

H.R.2364 
Title: To promote expanded economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers through local and regional markets, expand access to healthy food in underserved communities, provide access to locally and regionally grown food for schools, institutions, and consumers, and strengthen rural-urban linkages, and for other purposes. 
Sponsor: Rep Blumenauer, Earl [OR-3] (introduced 5/17/2007)      Cosponsors (20) 
Latest Major Action: 7/17/2007 Referred to House subcommittee. Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities.


 
5/17/2007–Introduced.  

Local Food and Farm Support Act – Amends the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000 to direct the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a grant program to support value-added agricultural products which shall include a socially disadvantaged farmer and rancher component and may include a small and individual producer grant component.

Directs the Secretary to establish a Family Rancher and Rancher Viability and Innovation Fund.

Amends the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 to direct the Secretary, through the Agricultural Marketing Service, to: (1) establish a grant program for eligible entities to conduct enterprise feasibility studies, including studies of consumer preference; and (2) provide loans and loan guarantees to eligible entities and individual producers to develop processing, distribution, and information infrastructure for locally or regionally produced food.

Amends the Farmers-to-Consumers Direct Marketing Act of 1976 to direct the Secretary to carry out a direct to consumer marketing assistance program to make grants to eligible entities for projects to establish, expand, and promote farmers’ markets and other farmer to consumer direct marketing opportunities.

Extends: (1) the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) farmers’ market nutrition program; (2) the senior farmers’ market nutrition program; (3) the food stamp community food project program; and (4) the farm-to cafeteria program.

Establishes: (1) the food stamp fruit and vegetable incentive program; and (2) the urban agriculture production program.
H.R.2364 
Title: To promote expanded economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers through local and regional markets, expand access to healthy food in underserved communities, provide access to locally and regionally grown food for schools, institutions, and consumers, and strengthen rural-urban linkages, and for other purposes. 
Sponsor: Rep Blumenauer, Earl [OR-3] (introduced 5/17/2007)      Cosponsors (20) 
Latest Major Action: 7/17/2007 Referred to House subcommittee. Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities.


 by date

 

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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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