Part of the collateral damage of the backroom Farm Bill being written in Congress is that new – and good – ideas get subsumed in the chaos. We shouldn’t let that happen to the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act introduced this week by Representative Chellie Pingree and Senator Sherrod Brown.
The bill’s explicit goal is to strengthen local and regional food systems. It’s about time, right? The bill helps farmers who are selling to local and regional markets by improving and expanding credit, insurance and risk management tools. It will boost job creation by providing greater resources for much needed infrastructure, like local processing and distribution, through rural and community grants and loans. And it links consumers with healthy food by expanding access to farmers markets for SNAP recipients and increasing the capacity of schools, hospitals and nursing homes to purchase locally.
Strengthening local and regional food systems for farmers and consumers may seem like common sense – but remarkably, it’s quite the opposite of what U.S. farm policy has been designed to do over the last several decades. U.S. agribusiness companies have relentlessly focused on building a global agriculture market through past Farm Bills and free trade agreements. Where food was produced, how it was produced, and who produced it was viewed as immaterial. This agribusiness-driven global system has successfully overwhelmed local and regional food systems – not only in the U.S., but around the world – at an enormous cost to the world’s farmers, the environment and public health.
The Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act is an important first step in developing new policies to support farmers and consumers. The cost is tiny compared to other parts of the Farm Bill. But the payoff for those who believe in a fair and healthy food system could be much bigger.
IATP’s Healthy Food Action has set up an action alert in support of this bill. You can follow the latest on the Farm Bill at IATP’s Understanding the Farm Bill Facebook page.
~ Ben Lilliston