by guest blogger Helen Dombalis, policy associate, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
This is my first time working in Washington on a Farm Bill, and did I ever pick a good one to start with! Seasoned Farm Bill advocates keep reminding newbies like me that this Farm Bill debate is anything but normal, which is refreshing to hear considering how chaotic the process has been.
In June, the full Senate passed its version of the new Farm Bill, which is a great starting point. On the House side, however, the process is delayed. The House Agriculture Committee did its share of the work in July, but the House leadership will not bring the bill before the full House of Representatives for a vote, meaning, in short, that the bill is stalled.
Why does this matter? For starters, despite what may be implied by its name, the Farm Bill affects much more than farm country U.S.A. (It's real name is the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012.0 The massive piece of legislation, renewed roughly every five years, has a lot to do with our entire food system.
Here are six (of the many) ways the Farm Bill affects you. It dictates...
- Which foods are grown and raised in the U.S.
- Which American farmers and ranchers produce our food
- In what quantities our foods are produced
- What kinds of food ends up on grocery store and food bank shelves
- Food prices
- Who can have access to the food.
The current Farm Bill, passed back in 2008, is set to expire on September 30. That leaves Congress with just 16 business days to act!
The chances of fully renewing the Farm Bill by the deadline are looking slimmer by the day. It is therefore possible that Congress will pass an extension bill and then return to debate at a later point. But any extension should continue to fund the food and farm programs that are set to expire on September 30th.
Which programs? The Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), and National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP), just to name a few. Not to mention all of the USDA Rural Development programs, such as the Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG), which fund farmer projects to increase their income through smart marketing and other tools. These programs ensure the success of local and organic food systems and are the future of American agriculture.
Here's what you can do to help keep these and other important programs alive: Send a message to Congress.
Don't put rural America, organic and local food, and the next generation of farmers on hold. Find a way to continue these important programs. Visit congress.org, type in your zip code, and contact your representatives about food and farm programs and policies that matter to you. You can also check to see if your congressmen are part of the Senate or House Agriculture Committee, since those members are especially involved in the process. Finally, sign up for National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition action alerts to get the latest information on how you can shape the future of our food and agriculture policy!
Helen Dombalis holds a Master of Public Health and a Master of Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has researched the role of local and regional food systems in community economic development and advocated at the grassroots and federal levels. Helen staffs NSAC's Marketing, Food Systems, & Rural Development Committee and leads NSAC's local food and economic development advocacy, which includes farm to school and child nutrition. She also serves as a Policy Co-Chair for the American Public Health Association's Food and Environment Working Group.
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com