Urgent: call your Senators about the Farm Bill

Clean radishes

Clean radishes

Here’s a breaking news update on the Senate Farm Bill and the latest message (from the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition) to deliver to our Senators. Please pick up a phone to call Senators Cantwell and Murray.

Please share this information with your networks:

Farm Bill Process
The Senate began their debate of amendments to the Farm Bill yesterday morning. Unfortunately, they missed their biggest and best opportunity to help hungry families and seniors by rejecting the Gillibrand amendment that would have eliminated the $4.1 billion cut to SNAP. Senator Murray co-sponsored the amendment and Senator Cantwell voted for the amendment. But in the end, the amendment failed to get 50 votes on the Senate floor, ultimately defeated by a vote of 26 yeas to 70 nays.

If there’s a bright side to this, the Senate also defeated a number of even more damaging amendments proposed by Senator Roberts that would have tried to instill many of the cuts proposed in the House Bill, including an amendment that would have greatly restricted Categorical Eligibility and eliminated Heat and Eat entirely.

Additionally, Senator Brown has introduced an amendment that will be debated on the floor that would add $10 million to the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program as well as add funds to other programs that help farmers markets and increase access to nutritious, locally sourced produce. This is an effort that we support since the Senior FMNP helps low-income seniors have access to the fresh produce that they need to stay healthy in body and mind, but $10 million will be a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the cut to SNAP — our first-line defense against hunger.

Even if this amendment is added to the bill, the Senate will be voting on a final package as soon as tonight, or possibly tomorrow morning, that will cut SNAP by over $4 billion — a cut that will take $90 per month out of the SNAP benefits for 232,000 households in Washington.

Tell Senators: Support the Brown Amendment but Vote NO on the Final Farm Bill
Call Senator Cantwell and Senator Murray now and ask them to support the Brown amendment. Let them know that we support adding funding to the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, because if the cuts to SNAP proposed in this Farm Bill take effect, then we need to make sure that seniors have all the assistance they can get to have access to nutritious food that they can’t otherwise afford on a fixed income.

We need this amendment to get the final Farm Bill package in the best shape in can be should it pass the rest of the Senate, but in the end, we still need our Senators to vote NO to the final Farm Bill package, because the proposed cuts to SNAP are unconscionable. No Farm Bill this year is better than living with the consequences of a Farm Bill that slashes SNAP and as a result, increases poverty for hungry families with children and seniors. The Senate can always go back to the drawing board and save their yes vote for a Farm Bill that does not make unconscionable cuts to SNAP.

Senator Murray: 1.866.481.9186
Senator Cantwell:

•    Vote YES on the Brown amendment to increase funding for Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
•    Even if that amendment passes, vote NO on the final Farm Bill because of the unconscionable cut to SNAP — our first line of defense against hunger.

Senate passes Farm Bill: So now what?

(Editor’s note: This post comes from Amelia Swinton of Solid Ground’s Hunger Action Center. Amelia has been working with the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group to lobby for policy changes to help make our food systems more sustainable and better able to meet the nutritional and health needs of all Americans.)

Solid Ground’s Seattle Community Farm, one of the local projects previously funded through the Farm Bill

After weeks of debate, the United States Senate has passed a Farm Bill – or “Food & Farm Bill,” as many believe it should be called. Conceived over 80 years ago as a New Deal program to aid struggling farmers and feed hungry Americans, the Farm Bill has since evolved into our nation’s most influential piece of food and farming legislation. It sets and enforces the rules on what we eat, how much it costs, and under what conditions it is grown. The Senate’s Bill, which passed yesterday, boasts $23 billion in deficit reduction as it blueprints our food system over the next five years. Let’s take a closer look.

There is much cause to celebrate. The legislation eliminates direct payments to commodity farmers, which have been a blunt tool that overfunds industrial, monocrop agriculture. Instead, there will be greater emphasis on need-based crop insurance, including better support for organic growers. Important to Washington growers is an increase in Specialty Crop Block Grants – industry jargon meaning more money for fruits and veggies. The Senate voted to double fund Community Food Project grants, which levy federal money for community-level food system development and currently support Solid Ground’s Seattle Community Farm.

A new local fruit and vegetable program called the Hunger-Free Community Incentive Grants offers $100 million over five years to increase purchases by SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) customers at farmers markets and other healthy food retailers, while another program would introduce a five-state Farm-to-School pilot project. Summarily, the Senate’s smörgåsbord would support rural economies, improve urban eaters’ access to healthy food, and subsidize agriculture more equitably – all amidst a climate of funding cuts.

Volunteer Peter Zimmerman at the Seattle Community Farm

But there is also reason to grieve, as the Senate Bill made significant chops to the SNAP program. It is deeply troubling to see $4.5 billion in cuts to SNAP at a time when 46 million Americans are enrolled in this program, which is one of the few federal safety nets that expands and contracts based on need. According to the Community Food Security Coalition, these cuts will reduce benefits to approximately half a million food insecure families by $90 a month. Also disappointing were the underfunding of the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers program, and the failure of an amendment that would have required labeling for genetically engineered foods.

In her statement on the Bill, WA Senator Patty Murray said, “This year’s Farm Bill is a victory for Washington State, our farmers, and our economy – and I was proud to support it. It makes important investments in jobs, provides meaningful support for our fruit and vegetable growers, and reforms many programs while continuing the critical safety net for farmers. I do not believe this legislation is perfect, and I am particularly concerned about the reduction in SNAP (food stamps).” Washington Senators Murray and Maria Cantwell have been champions of economically stimulating and socially just Farm Bill reforms, and we encourage constituents to send their thanks.

What’s next? Well, the food fight marches into the House of Representatives, where it must pass before Obama can sign it into law. The House had originally planned to mark-up the Bill next week, but this process has been delayed – and that is cause for concern.

“Whether there is a 2012 Farm Bill or not will largely rest in the hands of the top House Republican leadership,” says the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. No Farm Bill in 2012 means that funding levels from the 2008 Farm Bill will continue, which are far less progressive than those proposed by the Senate yesterday.

America is hungry for a Food & Farm Bill that addresses the real challenges facing its eaters. While the Senate’s bill makes important strides towards a fairer food system, it continues to overfund commodity agriculture at the expense of struggling Americans. As an agency committed to eliminating injustice in all its forms, we must continue to demand a better Bill. Our friends at the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group are developing a legislative agenda for the House session – whenever it happens – and we encourage you to stay tuned to their website or their Facebook page.

In the meantime, you can Dine Out to support local efforts to organize for a healthier Farm Bill! This Monday, June 25 from 4-10pm, the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group invites you to Local 360 in Belltown. A percentage of all checks will go towards this Seattle-based group’s work to educate and advocate for good food.

Detangling the Farm Bill—part 3: What’s eating all the money?

Editor’s Note: The urban agriculture experts at Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program are detangling the federal Farm Bill in a series of posts. You can find Amelia Swinton’s most recent post on the Lettuce Link Blog.

Pie chart showing where the money in the Farm Bill goes

Farm Bill pie

Amelia and fellow Solid Ground AmeriCorps member Ariana Taylor-Stanley will be giving a presentation on the Farm Bill and its relevance to people with low incomes and Solid Ground’s services on Thursday, March 3 at noon.

Presentation on the Farm Bill
Thursday, March 3, noon
Solid Ground, 1501 North 45th Street, Wallingford
Anyone interested in how national food policy impacts their lives

The talk will be in Solid Ground’s main first floor conference room at 1501 North 45th Street in Wallingford. Please join us to learn more about this tremendously influential piece of legislation — which determines how and what we grow, distribute and eat in this country.

Our aim is to explain why the Bill’s far-flung programs share a budgetary umbrella, and to trace health and ecological crises back to the Bill’s policies. Following the lead of the City of Seattle, we’ll offer suggestions for how the Farm Bill might become a Food Bill that is healthy, sustainable and fair for all, from seed to table.

Hope to see you on March 3!

Detangling the Farm Bill – part 2 (a history)

Editor’s Note: The urban agriculture experts at Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program are detangling the federal Farm Bill in a series of posts. We are reposting Amelia Swinton’s post here to help get the word out.

Author’s Note: This is a macro-history of U.S. farm policy organized around the price and income support programs for farmers and conservation initiatives that have been retroactively labeled “farm bills.” Though nutrition assistance programs do account for more than half of our present Farm Bill’s budget, these are not the principle focus of this post.

rows of wheat and combine

Putting the "dust" in industrial farming

Our story picks up in 1933, when rural economies across the United States were caught in a downward spiral. Under conditions of extreme heat and drought, desperate farmers overworked land to squeeze out maximum yields, bringing prices down and further wrecking the land (to become the Dust Bowl). Recognizing that an unregulated market was depressing the rural sector, the Department of Agriculture proposed several safety nets to be funded by taxpayers under The Agricultural Adjustment Act (read: our very first farm bill). This act set a price floor for agricultural goods so that farmers were guaranteed fair pay for their products. It also set up a system to store grains so they wouldn’t flood the market and depress prices during harvest season. Finally, soil conservation policies funded farmers to leave land fallow and to protect finite groundwater reserves.

World War II brought enormous international demand for American food, and as market prices in the agricultural sector skyrocketed, conservation programs were abandoned to meet demand. However, the government’s main role was still to limit production and champion farming interests over big business — that is, until the 1970s and true industrialization of agriculture under the “get-big-or-get-out” mantra of Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz.

Deeming conservation policies anti-business, Butz ordered all arable land into production.  Skeptics remembered the Depression’s disastrous experience with overproduction, but Butz calmed fears through free trade agreements that opened foreign markets for the vast surpluses that American farmers were now generating. The food stamp program provided another avenue for the Department of Agriculture to unload the extras — onto the plates of hungry Americans.  Crop yields of the 70s truly dwarfed those of earlier eras thanks to noxious cocktails engineered by companies like Dow and Monsanto, who rerouted the chemicals they had produced for the Vietnam War onto American farmland. Retooled “subsidy” programs (funding from the government to make an industry economically viable) grew certain calories — namely corn and soy — cheaper than ever before. Meanwhile, funding for so-called “specialty crops” like fruits and vegetables remained minimal, and methods of cultivation devastated land and water systems. These subsidies continue to provide the animal feed to keep meat and dairy cheap and have spawned an era of foods largely processed from derivations of corn.  Small-scale, sustainable farmers are indebted and unsupported — and we’re losing them.

And so the curtain opens on the food landscape we see today. Congress authorized nearly $300 billion for the 2008 Farm Bill, which continues to favor industrial over sustainable farms, quantity over quality, and processed foods over whole ones. But at least it’s cheap, right?

Amidst compounding crises of diabetes, obesity, and environmental degradation, nearly everyone is paying dearly for low-cost food.  So next time, we ponder: Where exactly do those $300 billion go (and where do they not)??

Thanks for reading, and please consider supporting Lettuce Link this holiday season as we continue to envision a city with fresh, nourishing, and affordable food for all.

Detangling the Farm Bill (from the urban ag experts at Lettuce Link)

Editor’s Note: The urban agriculture experts at Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program are detangling the federal Farm Bill in a series of posts. We are reposting Amelia Swinton’s post here to help get the word out.

 Since you’ve wound your way to Lettuce Link’s corner of the blogosphere, it’s safe to say that you have a stake in how we interact with food in this country. Maybe you’re fed up with high prices at farmers markets, alarmed by skyrocketing rates of diabetes, or just totally grossed out by what kids eat in their school cafeterias. Regardless of your motives, we probably all agree that many of our food policies have broken.

Workers on a farm.

Sustainable farming. Photo courtesy of Grow Food (c) 2005 (see link at bottom)

Over the next few months, this series will set out to situate our frustrations in specific policies, budgets, and farms so that we can understand why dinner tables look like they do. Cause eating has become political, and the health equity of our edible landscape will be determined by how we choose to consume it.

So! We’ve got our work cut out for us. The star of this series is a web of legislation called the Farm Bill that determines the funding and  policies for food and agriculture in the United States.  Rolling in at nearly 1,300 pages of dense legal jargon, our aim here is to pick (pieces of) it apart so that we can put them back together in a healthier, more equitable, and tastier way.
This is the first post of our Farm Bill series, which will be oriented around the following questions (& any others you suggest!):
  1. What did the Farm Bill originally aim to do? What does it do now?
  2. How does the bill influence spending and policies?
  3. Who does the bill affect?
  4. What type of agriculture does the bill promote?
  5. How does the bill affect our nation’s schools: nutrition education, fitness initiatives, lunch offerings, and garden projects?
  6. Can we discuss the language of food, especially terms like “organic”, “sustainable”, “agribusiness”, “obesity”, “food deserts”, “commodities”, and “eating well”?
    So that we can eventually sink our teeth into a much juicier question:
  7. How can we reform the bill to support a food system that is just, affordable & nourishing, from seed to table?
We hope that this series helps cut up the formidable Farm Bill into pieces that we can actually chew. Anyone who’s ever heard Sue McGann’s epic introduction to Marra Farm has learned that the interconnections between agriculture, food, health, immigration, and foreign aid are shocking.
So, keep voting with that fork, keep recognizing the political charge of each bite. Things taste a whole lot better that way.
We’ll update you with meeting information for the Community Alliance for Global Justice’s Farm Bill Action meetings. Until then, you can investigate their wealth of online resources at http://www.seattleglobaljustice.org/food-justice/farm-bill/ .

Photo courtesy of Grow Food (c) 2005.

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