A number of significant reforms that Congresswoman Chellie Pingree authored as part of her Local Farms Food and Jobs Act were adopted this week by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. The Committees, controlled by Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in the House, voted in favor of two versions of a Farm Bill that contain Pingree’s reforms designed to open new markets for sustainable farmers and increase consumer access to local food. The Farm Bill passed the Senate Committee on Tuesday and the House Committee late last night.
“Farm policy in this country has been skewed in favor of big agribusinesses but in the last year we’ve made some significant progress in reforming it in favor of local, sustainable farms,” Pingree said. “These ideas are rapidly becoming more mainstream as consumers realize that local food isn’t just good for their families but it’s good for the local economy too.”
Pingree first introduced the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act in the House in 2011 with Senator Sherrod Brown. Since then, many of the proposals in her bill were adopted as part of the Farm Bill, the 5-year funding bill that determines national farm policy.
Some of the local food reforms contained in either or both versions of the Farm Bill include:
· Farm-to-school programs that will allow schools to use their federalcommodity funding to buy food from local farmers. The Portland PublicSchool System has been involved in a pilot program to buy local food for school lunches for a number of years.
· Increasing access to local food for SNAP (food stamp) recipients, including a program to provide electronic benefit card readers to farmers markets at no cost; a double-voucher program to increase the buying power at direct-to-consumer outlets; and a provision to make it easier for SNAP dollars to be spent on Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs).
· Diversified crop insurance, which will insure a whole diversified farm, not just insurance per row crop.
· Organic crop insurance, which treats organic farmers more equitably and will give organic farmers a fair price for their food.
· Value-added producer grants, which will significantly assist in re-establishing food system infrastructure in rural areas. The grants will help target and strengthen the profitability and competitiveness of family farms.
· Establish a Food Corps program for community service members to connect schools to local farms and engage K-12 students in experiential learning about agriculture, gardening, nutrition, cooking, and where their food comes from.
Despite the inclusion of the local farms and food provisions in the version of the Farm Bill passed by a House committee last night, Pingree said she was deeply disappointed with the substantial cuts to the SNAP (food stamp) program.
“Slashing SNAP by $21 billion will leave 2 million people without benefits over the next decade. Attacking seniors and working families with children during a time of economic recovery is simply unconscionable.” Pingree said.