Editor’s Note: This blog is a guest post written by Ben Feldman of the Farmers Market Coalition, a National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Member group, and edited by Reana Kovalcik. Ben Feldman currently serves as the Policy Director for the national Farmers Market Coalition. He has spent his career working with farmers’ markets and the farmers that sell at them.
Every time you reach for a perfectly ripe tomato at your local farmers market or pick up freshly laid eggs at a roadside farmstand you are supporting not just your own taste buds, not just local family farmers, but a vibrant and diverse local food ecosystem. It may not seem like it, but that ripe tomato and those fresh eggs are intimately tied to federal policies made in Washington DC – particularly the farm bill.
Recently, the nation celebrated the joys of local food during National Farmers Market Week – seven days dedicated to celebrating all the amazing things about farmers markets. From improving farmer prosperity, to jump-starting economic activity, and even improving health outcomes, the positive effects of thriving farmers markets are many. When it comes to the policy piece of the puzzle, however, the picture is more complex.
Farmers markets vendors and shoppers were rattled recently, for example, by the news that the nation’s largest processor of SNAP (formerly food stamps) payments at farmers markets was shutting down. As a stop-gap measure, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo made an agreement with Novo Dia (the company in question), which will keep it in business through early 2019. In order to keep farmers markets thriving and American families able to access fresh, healthy foods, however, long term solutions are needed urgently.
Local food advocates are also fighting to ensure that the 2018 Farm Bill (which needs to be passed by September 30th) supports family farmers and healthy food access. The House’s draft farm bill, passed on April 12, was a disaster for the local food and sustainable agriculture communities. Among other concerning provisions, the House bill (if adopted) would effectively eliminate the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and the Value-added Producer Grants Program (VAPG) by providing them with no farm bill funding. Thankfully the Senate draft farm bill, which passed on June 8 with strong bipartisan support, stood in stark contrast to the House bill and rightly recognized the important role that local food systems play in our national economy and local communities.
Now that both the House and Senate have passed their respective versions of the bill, the next stage is for Congress to work in a “conference committee” to finalize a single bill that can pass both the House and Senate. This is a very important time to be watching the policy process and staying engaged with our legislators because programs that support farmers markets hang in the balance.
The Senate bill makes significant long term investments in farmers markets, small farms, and local/regional food economies through a new program called the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), which combines all the great things about the FMLFPP and VAPG programs and ensures mandatory farm bill funding for the work. On the other hand, the House bill would effectively eliminate these important programs and make drastic cuts to others that support family farmers and healthy food access. Cuts to these programs would represent a massive step backwards for farmers markets, seriously undermining a decade of investment in local food systems and agricultural economies, and putting markets and farmers in jeopardy.
So, how can you engage in the policy process to support farmers markets and local food systems?
- Contact your Senators and Representatives and tell them that you support the Senate farm bill and that you want LAMP included in the final bill.
- Shop regularly at your community’s farmers markets – and bring a friend, too!
- Sign on to NSAC’s Farm Bill priorities letter.
Farmers depend on people like you and me to be part of the celebration and solution. And, of course, for us to show up to market each week eager to buy the fresh, delicious food that they worked so hard to produce. Please remember to support your local family farmers both with your dollars and by being an active part of the policy process.