March 20, 2009
Written by Ariane Lotti, NSAC Policy Associate
As advocates we often ask ourselves, “Do our efforts change things on the ground?” Leaders and participants of a strong grassroots effort to change the ground on the White House lawn can now say, “Yes!”
Our hats go off to the folks at Eat the View, the WHO Farm, and the White House Farmer among others, whose tireless work led to the newly-broken ground for an organic garden on the White House lawn. Apart from having tremendous symbolic value, this act will hopefully inspire anyone with access to a small plot of land to plant some seeds and take food matters into their own hands.
As the Obamas transform their own backyard from an input-intensive monocrop that is the lawn to a diverse organic garden, there are significant opportunities to transform the nation’s land as well.
Without going through the exhaustive list of problems with our current agriculture system and policies to change them, here are examples of the low-hanging fruit that the Obama Administration can act on today (in addition to planting a White House garden!) to create a better food and agriculture system:
The Bush Administration punted the rule-making for the Conservation Stewardship Program and many other programs to the current administration. Without an interim final rule, farmers cannot sign-up for this pillar working-lands conservation program before this crop year is over. Want to foster climate-friendly farming? Get a strong rule finalized and start signing farmers up for this innovative program by late spring.
The Value-Added Producer Grant program is a successful, competitive grants program that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation in agriculture, and just happens to create jobs as well by assisting those who want to add value to their farm products by serving a burgeoning consumer market for high quality local and regional food. President Obama has signaled that it is due for a long overdue funding increase – we hope the White House budget released in April will provide no less than $30 million, with a plan to grow the program in future years.
The 2008 Farm Bill established the Office of Advocacy and Outreach to serve as the go-to office at the USDA for small and mid-sized farms and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. It’s time to get this office up and running so that the multiple new programs that benefit these farmers can be effectively used. And new USDA goals to increase farming opportunities can be established and agencies held accountable for meeting the targets.
Funny thing happened on the way to the FSA office: I met an absentee non-farm investor walking out with a check for his participation in farm programs. The Administration can change the loopholes in the “Actively Engaged” rule, ensuring that real farmers, not those Wall Street types (aren’t TARP funds enough?), get government support for farming.
Since all the way back to 1921 it has been illegal for meatpackers to discriminate against small and mid-sized farms. But USDA has never been keen on enforcement, permitting sweetheart deals for mega-volume producers at the expense of the little guy. The 2008 Farm Bill told USDA to write regulations to strictly enforce the law, and now its time for the Administration to face down moneyed interests and write tough regulations.
In keeping with the nutrition education bonanza presented by its new garden, the White House should now insist that when Congress rewrites the Child Nutrition Act this year that it provide substantial annual mandatory funding for Farm to School projects, to provide school children all over the country to join Malia and Sasha with new opportunities to eat fresh, local and nutritious!
In addition to the symbolic new White House organic garden, these programs will break ground across the country for a sustainable 21st century food and agriculture system.
Categories: General Interest