Ask Eartha: Let’s all support a fair Farm Bill | SummitDaily.com
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Ask Eartha: Let’s all support a fair Farm Bill

Eartha Steward

Q: What is the Farm Bill and how does it affect me?- Summit County Food Policy Council memberGreat question! The Farm Bill is an extremely important federal legislation affecting our country’s food system. It is currently undergoing major review and will be reauthorized in 2012. The Farm Bill, reauthorized every five years, is now one of the most significant policies affecting food, farming and land-use in the United States. It is primarily accountable for the USDA’s annual $90 billion spending budget for food, feed, fiber and fuel. Why should you care? Well, as a local food activist myself, I kept hearing about the Farm Bill in the news. I have to say, federal policy can sound quite intimidating. We aren’t always clear how it affects us locally. At the recent Community Food Security Coalition’s Food Policy Conference I attended in Portland, Ore., I learned how to advocate for a fair Farm Bill. I quickly realized that the Farm Bill affects every one of us – even in the mountains of Summit County. If you care about the food you eat, the Farm Bill affects you. Our food system is broken because of decades of bad food policies benefiting agribusiness (aka corporate farming or factory farms). Mega-farms producing corn, soy and wheat are cash commodity crops for a handful of powerful companies and people. Every year, corporate farmers utilize 50 to 70 million acres for cultivating each of these three crops, which then are chemically engineered to feed the world. This type of farming does not support local food systems including local farmers growing organic, nutritious food.The major Farm Bill players that pour billions of dollars into their campaign are the agribusiness lobbyists representing companies such as Monsanto, Smithfield and Tyson. Important Farm Bill players that do not have billions of dollars for their cause for a fair Farm Bill are: anti-hunger advocates, nutrition and public health professionals, community food security and sustainable agriculture advocates, conservation/environment, renewable energy and organic groups, among many other government agencies and grassroots organizations.Two primary components of the Farm Bill that make up the majority of the Farm Bill budget are (1) food assistance (SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs) and nutrition education and (2) income and price supports for a number of storable commodity crops. The programs of the Farm Bill are called “Titles”; Title #1 being “Commodity Programs.” Other titles include conservation, trade, nutrition programs, rural development, forestry, energy, horticulture and organic agriculture, livestock and commodity farmers. Because of the huge federal budget deficit, there will not be any increased spending, and all Farm Bill programs or titles are on the table for budget cuts. So what are advocators for a fair 2012 Farm Bill hoping to accomplish with potential big budget cuts to the titles? Two main focus areas for a fair Farm Bill are: local food infrastructure (investment in local and regional food systems) and increased access to healthy foods for low-income and needy families. A fair Farm Bill can be accomplished partly by supporting urban agriculture such as community and backyard gardens and local farming projects; linking SNAP benefits to local and healthy food and community food enterprises; eliminating food deserts; investing in local Food Policy Councils and direct market of farmers markets. As our local Food Policy Council is working on policy changes to support a sustainable food system in Summit County, federal policy such as the Farm Bill can ultimately help us locally.For a fair Farm Bill in 2012, decision makers need to hear from all of us! To advocate for a better Farm Bill that ensures fair markets for farmers and consumers and provides healthy, affordable food for everyone, sign a simple online petition to congress in support of a fair Farm Bill in 2012. For more info or to show your support, visit the Food & Water Watch website (action.foodandwaterwatch.org). You can also check out the “Understanding the Farm Bill: A Citizen’s Guide to a Better Food System” Facebook page. We have to start somewhere; whether you are a community gardener or a concerned citizen, educate yourself and your friends about our next Farm Bill! This week’s Eartha Steward is written by a special guest, Joanna Rybak. Joanna works for the Summit Prevention Alliance and Co-Chairs the Summit County Food Policy Council. Please submit questions and comments to Eartha at eartha@highcountryconservation.org. For more information about sustainable and local food programs in Summit County, visit http://www.highcountryconservation.org.


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