August 31, 2018
With the 2018 Farm Bill moving into conference and the first conference committee meeting now set for September 5, both the House and Senate will have many difficult decisions before them. One decision that should be easy to make is the decision to support our nation’s farmers markets and local and regional food economies.
Once considered a niche industry, local and regional food systems are now providing significant income for farmers looking to diversify their markets. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) now anticipates that the local and regional food economy will reach $20 billion in sales by next year. Past farm bills have helped to spur the growth of the local and regional food industry by investing in key programs, including the Farmers Market Promotion Program and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and Value-added Producer Grants Program (VAPG). In the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill, we have an opportunity build upon these successes by making sure the final bill includes the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP).
This innovative new program would streamline FMLFPP and VAPG, amplifying their most effective components while still protecting the core functions and benefits of the original programs. LAMP would also add new functions to better enable family farmers to tap into local and regional marketplaces and continue growing their businesses.
LAMP is a priority for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) because it will coordinate and maximize returns on investments, open up new opportunities for public-private partnerships, improve market access, and ultimately, help American family farmers thrive. That is why we recently joined over 300 organizations, including over 50 national organizations, on a letter asking the leaders of the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee to include LAMP in the final bill.
LAMP can light the path toward a more sustainable food and farm future. In order to make that future a reality, however, the sustainable agriculture community must work together to ensure that this program is included in the 2018 Farm Bill.
The Senate’s farm bill would capitalize on the success of FMLFPP and VAPG and ensure that even more family farmers can tap into the growing – yet still young – local and regional food economy. Historically, FMLFPP and VAPG have not had permanent baseline funding, which means that farmers and program advocates had to fight for their survival each farm bill cycle. By including a $60-million-per-year investment in local and regional food economies through LAMP, the Senate farm bill ensures that funding for these tools and resources continue into future farm bill cycles.
In stark contrast to the Senate draft bill, the House version of the farm bill does not include LAMP, nor does it provide any mandatory funding (let alone permanent baseline) for FMLFPP or VAPG.
Expanding local markets for farmers and food producers not only helps sustain core American small businesses, it also makes healthy foods more readily available to consumers – particularly lower-income families. In 2017, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants spent $22.4 million in benefits at nearly 7,400 farmers markets nationwide. Between 2012 and 2017, SNAP sales at farmers markets have increased by 130 percent, showing that there is clearly a strong, mutually beneficial relationship between SNAP families and local producers! Many farmers markets are also home to nutrition education and healthy food incentive programs that help shoppers to purchase and consume more fruits and vegetables grown by local producers. Thanks to programs such as the Farmers Market Promotion Program (part of FMLFPP), local producers have been able to increasingly connect with families in their communities and help to feed their neighbors in need.
If included in the final 2018 Farm Bill, LAMP would be a one-stop-shop for farmers, farm organizations, and other stakeholders seeking support for projects that connect family farmers to new markets. This program is nearly identical to a program (the Agricultural Market Development Program) proposed in the Local FARMS Act, a bicameral and bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME), and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY).
Supporting the development and expansion of local and regional farm and food-based value-added businesses is not the only way LAMP helps family farmers – the program would also include a regional public private partnership provision that uses federal resources to leverage private investment and encourage “food-shed” level approaches to the development of regional food economies. Additionally, LAMP includes a new food safety cost-share assistance program that will help farmers to become food safety certified and support them in making necessary upgrades to on-farm food safety infrastructure.
Check out our Take Action! page for ways to support LAMP and get involved in the 2018 Farm Bill process.