Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 HR1414: Why it Matters to You
May 14, 2013 | Trish Popovitch
“This bill supports research, marketing, creating infrastructure, access to healthy food, and education – all necessary for the success of agriculture…. Local and regional agriculture will be the major driver for the farm economy of the future. This bill is important to the future of farming in our country and the health and well-being of America.” – David Bauermeister, Northwest Agriculture Business Center
One of the main issues small growers face is a lack of established infrastructure that promotes sustainable food choices. As the number of farmer’s markets in the nation climbs past the 8,000 mark and as the USDA reports almost $5 billion in annual revenue from local farmers, the federal government is entertaining an addition to the Farm Bill to help alleviate some of the problems facing independent producers. HR 1414 aka the Local farms, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 hopes to improve opportunities through assistance grants, training, marketing assistance and technology allowing small growers to keep up with increasing demand.
Main Goals of HR1414:
- Increasing access to local food through nutrition programs targeting underserved populations
- Improving infrastructure through grant programs, training and technology assistance
- Expanding funding and eligibility for funding in rural development
- Encouraging people to purchase and produce local food while creating community and jobs
Increasing Access to Local Food
“Our experience in Michigan with the Double Up Food Bucks program shows that low-income consumers do make healthy choices when affordable, nutritious food is available to them. DUFB has helped increase SNAP use in farmers’ markets by more than 3,000 percent in the last five years to more than $1.5 million in 2012,” states Oran Hesterman, President and CEO of the Fair Food Network.
Despite the opinions of main stream media and disconnected talking heads, living on minimum wage does not mean you choose not to eat healthy local produce. In fact, the lack of technology infrastructure makes it difficult for both customers on government assistance and vendors to complete transactions. HR1414 would greatly improve access to local organic produce for those on government assistance by providing vendors with the accounting equipment necessary to take federal assistance payments at farmer’s markets and at farm shops.
As Hesterman goes on to explain: “The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act includes a provision that would for the first time provide federal funding for an incentive for SNAP families to purchase locally-grown fruits and vegetables. We think that’s a smart investment that will reap immediate returns for consumers, family farmers, and their local economies and also provide us the information we need to craft nutrition policies that serve low-income families better in the long term.”
Improving Infrastructure and Programming
David Bauermeister is the Executive Director of the Northwest Agriculture Business Center (NABC) that acts as an intermediary between government grants and programs and the farmers in Washington State. “NABC programs have been successful the past seven years in part because of the organizational and financial support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Our program surveys demonstrate that expanding local agriculture results in additional jobs and economic activity in our communities,” explains Bauermeister. “The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act includes programs that have benefited our specialty crop, dairy, and livestock producers. The suspension of these programs has had an immediate detrimental impact for agriculture in our region.”
Bauermeister goes on to say how the individual grants and programs have assisted startups in his region, improved marketing and value added strategies for small growers as well as aided in the creation of a year round farmer’s market, three food processing initiatives, additional training for farmers and expanded markets for healthy food. Federally funded programming is proving vital to establishing infrastructure and markets for smaller producers. Just as the government aided farmers after the Great Depression, it seems now is the time for the government to aid small farmers in the food evolution.
Often farmers cite the many disparities in opportunities for traditional farmers and organic farmers. If HR1414 passes, those farms producing certified organic produce would be eligible for the same sort of federal crop insurance for which traditional farms are already eligible. Annual reporting of the insurance will help establish statistics on the number of organic products being produced. In addition to the insurance, there would be education and training to ensure small farmers are aware of the avenues of assistance available to them.
Encouraging People to Purchase and Produce Locally
So what does HR1414 mean to the small growers out there? Josie Erskine of Peaceful Belly Farms, ID is excited about the possibilities offered by the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013. “The main thing I see in this bill is HOPE. Sometimes as a small farmer who is growing organically for the local population I get this sense that the government is moving our food system in a very wrong way: large corporations growing with GMO seed that the public does not want. This bill puts a little focus on the right path. This bill would open up revenue streams for vegetable growers and fruit growers that have not been there. That is wonderful,” states Erskine. “We need to start supporting whole food and not fast food. We need to bring whole fruits and vegetables back into American kitchens. Our farm could apply for grants to do research on cover crops and rotational crops that we are already doing but would love to expand.”
Essentially, HR1414 is attempting to promote, through federal mandate, a preference for local food sources across diverse communities providing the necessary infrastructure and support to validate the food revolution of our time. Local food has become a high demand commodity and regulation will protect not only consumers but farmers as well.
Of course, HR1414 is not the answer to every farmer’s hope for the future and others are wary about assistance from a government that has pushed them aside in the past for mainstream agriculture. Bill VanScoy of VanScoy Farms, OH is skeptical about the bill. “I plan on waiting to see what the passed Farm Bill looks like before I cast my vote on how it will affect our farm. Too many times the government strings are too costly to play with their programs or the program helps you get started but leaves you hanging in the middle of a project because it was a startup program and you have to find other ways to get it into full production,” shares VanScoy.
“The long and short of it for me,” continues Vanscoy, “is the local food movement that we now have is a win win for all. The consumers are happy, the local farmers have a growing stable customer base, the local economy is supported and the best part is people are eating better. The government even wins because a healthy local economy relates to a stronger tax base for them. We are rebuilding America one local economy at a time across the country.”
Some small growers have been very fortunate where others have struggled to find and establish sustainable markets. By revising the federal stance on small growers and their customers, the hope is to create favorable conditions across the nation. And of course, HR1414 is a revision of earlier bills stemming back several years. The bill is still in committee and has a lot of work to do in order to become law. This may be one of those times when farmers and advocates for healthy local food and community based employment need to make a stand in order for their political representatives to follow suit.
HR1414 was proposed by Introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative Chellie Pingree on April 9, 2013 and is currently under review by the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Education and the Workforce. HR1414 [http://www.opencongress.org/bill/113-h1414/text]is approximately 89 pages long but the folks at the National sustainable Agriculture Committee provide a detailed summary [http://sustainableagriculture.net/our-work/local-food-bill/] on their site as well as a list of organizations in support of the bill.
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