NSAC's Blog


Path to the 2018 Farm Bill: Local and Regional Food Economies

November 21, 2017


Local food, the farm bill, and thanksgiving. Turkeys in pasture. Photo credit: Jason Boggs, NWTF.

Turkeys in pasture. Photo credit: Jason Boggs, NWTF.

Editor’s Note: On October 24, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) released its 2018 Farm Bill policy platform, An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill, which provides a comprehensive vision for a more sustainable farm and food system based on the recommendations and experience of American family farmers and the organizations that represent them. This is the fourth post in a multipart series that breaks down NSAC’s policy platform for the 2018 Farm Bill.

 

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.” – Abraham Lincoln’s opening remarks from his 1863 proclamation declaring Thanksgiving a national holiday.

For many decades before, and for over one hundred years after Lincoln’s proclamation, Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving in one form or another. To some, the holiday is a celebration of the contributions of Native Americans past, present, and future; to others the holiday means connecting with friends and families, and for most of us, Thanksgiving means giving thanks for the food on our tables. Thanksgiving tables in 1863, however, likely looked much different from those of today – and not just because of changing tastes or technology.

In the time of Lincoln, the vast majority of the U.S. population lived in rural communities and a significant proportion of the population were either farmers or part of the agricultural economy. Consequently, most Americans at the time were closely connected to their local and regional farmers and had a strong understanding of the workings and health of the food system. In contrast, today only two percent of our country’s population are engaged in farming careers, and the population has flipped from over 80 percent rural in 1860 to over 80 percent urban-based today.

Not suprisingly given these figures, many Americans today could not tell you where their turkey came from, let alone what issues and obstacles are facing today’s family farmers and ranchers. Fortunately, – thanks to dedicated farmers, advocates, and eaters – in recent years we have increasingly seen Americans pushing back against the realities of a disconnected and disengaged food system. The local food sector of the agriculture economy now commands an $8.7 billion market share, and consumers are showing their support not only through the food they choose for their Thanksgiving tables, but also through policy action and advocacy efforts.

With the 2018 Farm Bill rapidly approaching, there has never been a better time to get involved and make your voice heard on the food and farm issues that matter most to you.

NSAC’s Farm Bill Platform lays out an ambitious agenda for how Congress and USDA can strengthen communities with farm to fork investments and put choice back into the hands of the people. Our recommendations for the 2018 Farm Bill urge Congress to:

  • Help farmers reach new markets through outreach, cost-share, and technical assistance programs
  • Increase access to fresh, healthy, and local food among low-income groups and communities in need
  • Develop new, and strengthening existing infrastructure that connects producers to consumers

Helping Farmers Reach New Markets

Despite the immense potential created by growing consumer demand for locally produced food, many would-be food and farm entrepreneurs still struggle to enter the local/regional marketplace. A lack of technical resources (such as marketing and business plan development support) as well as gaps in training on food safety and other federal requirements/programs have made it difficult for many producers to update their businesses to meet consumer demand for local products. Producers also face barriers to entry caused by a lack of federal investment in infrastructure, outreach, and capacity-building programs.

To help farmers and entrepreneurs access lucrative economic opportunities created by the burgeoning local and regional food economies, the 2018 Farm Bill should:

Increasing Access to Fresh, Healthy, and Local Food

America’s robust agriculture industry is a point of national pride, yet millions of our most vulnerable citizens – including an estimated one in five children – struggle with hunger and/or malnourishment. By investing in programs and policies that connect farmers to underserved populations, the 2018 Farm Bill can expand food access to those in need, while at the same time creating much-needed economic opportunities for American family farmers.

The 2018 Farm Bill can better serve those struggling with hunger, a lack of access to healthy foods, and family farmers trying to make ends meet by:

  • Expanding the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program to include low-income military veterans and increasing program funding to $50 million per year
  • Providing regulatory relief to make it easier for schools to procure locally and regionally produced food and farm products
  • Piloting the “Harvesting Health Program” to demonstrate and evaluate the impact of produce prescription programs in addressing food insecurity, supporting local agriculture and reducing health care costs

Developing New and Strengthening Existing Infrastructure

When the average person thinks about infrastructure, they probably imagine roads and bridges, maybe even telecommunications infrastructure like telephone wires or broadband cables. Infrastructure encompasses much more than just our transportation and telecom networks, however, it is also includes facilities essential to the agriculture economy like processing, canning, and aggregating facilities.

The American countryside was once dotted with agricultural facilities that served smaller-scale local and regional producers. Today, however, the pressures of globalized trade, vertical integration, and a one-size fits all approach to food safety regulations have led to the shuttering of many of these critical facilities.

Although consumer interest in local/regional food is high, demand-side pressures alone are not enough to revitalize our family farms economy. The 2018 Farm Bill should help producers connect with consumers by investing in critical on-farm and off-farm infrastructure and ensuring that Food Safety Modernization Act rules and regulations don’t undermine growth of local and regional food economies. To accomplish this, NSAC recommends that Congress:

  • Expand Rural Development and Farm Service Agency grant and loan programs to include project support for developing and/or improving livestock, dairy and poultry regional supply chain infrastructure
  • Create a new Food Safety Certification Cost-share Program funded at $10 million per year to help family farmers comply with new food safety rules and regulations

Local Food and the 2018 Farm Bill

Historic farm bill investments made in the programs and policies that support family farm agriculture have helped to drive the local/regional food markets from niche to next level. With the American farm economy in downturn and commodity prices at historic lows, producers today are increasingly looking to these growing markets as a way to diversify their risk and ensure longer term farm viability.

We must, therefore, increase our investment in and commitment to local and regional food economies in order to keep our momentum going – now is not the time to pull back strategic investments or shirk our responsibilities to struggling American families and farmers.

Some in Congress, realizing the importance of these investments and the repercussions of abandoning family farmers and populations vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition, have already taken action. At the beginning of October, a bipartisan coalition led by principal bill authors Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) introduced the Local Food and Regional Market Supply Act (the “Local FARMS Act”). The Local FARMS Act will generate wins in the 2018 Farm Bill that equally benefit farmers and eaters, as well as rural and urban communities, by investing in programs and policies that spur economic development in our rural and food producing communities. NSAC is proud to have been the lead non-profit partner on this important legislation, and will be urging Congress to include this bill in its entirety in the 2018 Farm Bill.

For more information on the Local FARMS Act, click here.


Categories: Farm Bill, Local & Regional Food Systems, Nutrition & Food Access


One response to “Path to the 2018 Farm Bill: Local and Regional Food Economies”

  1. The Farm Bill would be great if it was administered by an Agency for the benefit of the Public and not the Agency’s own agenda. I own a 20 acre Tree Farm in WA State and applied for EQIP funding in 2014. The NRCS approved my Eligibility but has refused to advise me on the remaining process. It wasn’t till this year that I found it was my responsibility to work with the NRCS to. complete the process for funding. Richard Hoidal

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