March 7, 2012
Washington, DC March 6, 2012 – Arkansas farmer Jody Hardin has been selected as a witness to testify Wednesday before Senators in Washington, DC. Hardin is the sole farmer from around the country chosen to testify at an upcoming hearing held by the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on “Healthy Food Initiatives, Local Production, and Nutrition in the 2012 Farm Bill.”
A fifth-generation family farmer and president of the Arkansas Farmers Market Association, Hardin brings a wealth of experience to bear to his testimony. He and his family raise 150 acres in vegetables, both conventional and organic, that are sold in regional wholesale markets and directly to consumers through a community supported agriculture (CSA) program with 80 family subscribers. They also sell through their own farm store. Hardin will testify about the business opportunities to be found in local and regional markets as well as infrastructure, training, and crop insurance barriers that are limiting growth – and how the federal government can make strategic investments to support the development of this rapidly growing sector.
Hardin said, “I live and breathe local foods, and this is the highest honor that someone like me could have to speak on behalf of the nation’s growing ranks of farmers oriented toward the local food market. My great-uncle testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee several times over a thirty year period – I’m proud to continue that legacy.”
A number of programs up for reauthorization in the 2012 Farm Bill provide crucial support for family farmers and ranchers like Hardin, and he will offer a farmer’s perspective on why they matter and how they can be improved, including: the Farmers Market Promotion Program; expanding access to Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) technology for direct markets; enhanced support for infrastructure to aggregate and process food for local and regional markets; food safety training for farmers and small processors; and new, improved crop insurance options for diversified and organic producers. These are all programs and policies included in the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, introduced in the Senate by Committee Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) with four of his Committee colleagues and intended for inclusion in the 2012 Farm Bill.
Hardin’s experience with federal programs like the Farmers Market Promotion Program illustrates that public investments in local and regional food systems create jobs and spur economic growth far beyond their initial investment: a modest investment from FMPP helped his Certified Arkansas Farmers Market quadruple sales from $300,000 in 2008 to $1.5 million in 2010, generating positive economic ripple effects across the community.
“Consumer demand for food from local agricultural producers is on the rise,” notes Helen Dombalis, Policy Associate for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Farmers and ranchers want to meet this demand, however many regions lack sufficient infrastructure for aggregation and processing, thus missing out on farm income and local job opportunities. With targeted federal investments in the new farm bill, we can reap huge rewards for our farmers, our communities, and our economy.”