Local foods could get a boost from the Farm Bill

Maine Representative Chellie Pingree is celebrating the inclusion of several local food and farm provisions in the Senate version of the Farm Bill. The House Agriculture Committee is expected to start work on the bill in July. 

Despite the fact that it is enormously expensive and influential, few people understand what the Farm Bill actually does. Essentially, it dictates American food policy; in addition to subsidizing agri-business (or family farms), the Farm Bill also controls food-stamp spending and school lunch programs.  

The Senate version of the Farm Bill includes the following, all of which were part of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, introduced by Pingree last year in the House:

  • Whole farm insurance that allow diversified farms - farms that grow a variety of crops - to access crop insurance programs. Currently crop insurance is only available to farmers who grow commodity crops like corn or soybeans. [Crop insurance is a focal point in the current Farm Bill debate.]
  • A pilot program that would allow schools to use some of their federal funding to buy locally produced food. (This provision is also similar to the Eat Local Foods Act that Pingree introduced.)
  • An improved farmers market promotion program that provides grants for marketing assistance to a variety of local food entities like roadside farm stands and farmers markets.
  • A pilot program to allow farmers markets to use smartphones to read EBT cards so consumers who use food stamp benefits have better access to local food.
  • An organic cost share programthat provides money to help farmers make the shift from conventional to organic farming.
  • Additional funding for rural development to help rural business expand and grow. (For example, additional funding would be provided for value-added producers grants to allow farmers invest in equipment and processes to increase the value of the products they sell.)
  • Additional funding for research on organic farming.
  • Requires the USDA to study the economy of local foods and report back to Congress, to make it easier to track the economic benefits of local food systems.
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