By Ramona du Houx

April 9, 2013

World renown chef Colicchio and Congresswoman Pingree discuss the value of locally grown food.

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Senator Sherrod Brown introduced the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act today, a comprehensive package of reforms that would expand opportunities for local and regional farmers and make it easier for consumers to have access to healthy foods. The bill also helps put more local food into schools, rebuild the farm infrastructure in rural communities and help farmers break down barriers to new markets.

“Consumers want to know where their food is coming from and they want healthy, local options when they shop for their families,” said Pingree. “But national farm policy hasn’t kept up with the public and it’s about time we changed that.”

“Linking Ohio producers with Ohio consumers is common sense,” said Brown. “By increasing access to fresh, local foods, we can expand markets for Ohio’s agricultural producers while improving health, creating jobs, and strengthening our economy.”

Pingree and Brown announced the bill at a press conference in Washington today and were joined by Tom Colicchio, the host of Bravo’s Top Chef and winner of five James Beard Awards. Colicchio also founded the Gramercy Tavern, Craft and Colicchio & Sons restaurants in New York.

“Demand for locally grown food is growing in every corner of the country: thousands of farmers and farmers markets are serving millions of consumers and more than 2,000 schools have farm to school programs,” said Colicchio. “But, you wouldn’t know a food revolution was sweeping our country if you read the Farm Bill.”

Pingree said local food is already accounting for $5 billion in sales, but could have an even bigger impact on the economy.

Pingree and Brown were also joined on Capitol Hill by Sarah Smith, who with her husband run Grassland Organic Farm in Skowhegan.

Smith said federal programs like allowing food stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits – to buy locally have benefited her farm.

“Millions of dollars are coming into Maine through SNAP every month and if farmers could capture just a small percentage of those dollars, it would have a huge amount of impact,” said Smith.

Pingree and Brown first introduced the bill in the fall of 2011, and many of the proposals in the bill were included in versions of the Farm Bill that passed the full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee last year. The Farm Bill was never brought to the House floor for a vote, so the process will start again this spring.

“Overall, these are non-partisan issues. Helping family farms through modest support and commonsense policy changes are popular in every corner of the country. I am hopeful we can go even further this year,” said Pingree.

Some of the important proposals in the bill include:

· Provide funding to help farmers build the infrastructure—like community kitchens—to process and sell their food locally.

· Require USDA to keep doing traditional seed research, not just on genetically modified seeds.

· Create a new crop insurance program tailored to the needs of diversified and organic farmers who grow a wide variety of crops and can’t easily access traditional crop insurance.

· Break down barriers for schools to purchase local food more easily. Provide schools with a local school credit to purchase local foods.

· Make it easier for food stamp recipients to spend their money at farmers markets by giving the farmers access to technology necessary to accept electronic benefits—that money goes right back into the local economy. The bill includes a pilot program to test smart phone technology to accept food stamp benefits at farmers market.