Sen. Brown Introduces Bill to Spur Growth in Ohio’s Local Food Systems

 
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Contact: MacKenzie Bailey, Policy Program Coordinator(614) 421-2022 Ext. 208, mackenzie@oeffa.org

COLUMBUS, OH – Today Senator Sherrod Brown re-introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act (LFFJA) for inclusion in the Farm Bill this year. This bill promotes growth in local and regional food systems by expanding market access for farmers and ranchers and providing research and training in areas that support farm entrepreneur success.

“Sen. Brown’s bill will boost income and market opportunities for Ohio farmers, secure funding for critically important programs that support family farms, expand new farming opportunities, and invest in the local agriculture economy,” said MacKenzie Bailey, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

Representative Chellie Pingree re-introduced the bill in the House. Representatives Marcy Kaptur and Marcia Fudge from Ohio have co-sponsored the bill.

The bill makes investments and reforms to low-cost programs that have a proven record of supporting Ohio’s organic farmers, farmers’ markets, and small food businesses.

In recent years, farmers’ markets in Ohio and across the nation have grown in popularity, benefiting communities by bolstering the local economy, creating jobs, and providing increased access to fresh, nutritious food. In 2011, Ohio had more than 260 farmers’ markets, which provide low-cost entry points for small-scale and beginning farmers to direct market their products.

The Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP) provides grants to community supported agriculture programs (CSAs) and farmers’ markets to develop marketing information and business plans, support innovative market ideas, and educate consumers. LFFJA invests in and expands the FMPP to include food marketing and changes the name of the program to the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program.

In 2012, six Ohio markets received FMPP funding. One such market is the Toledo Farmers’ Market, which used FMPP funding to recruit new vendors, help establish and promote an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) system for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) recipients, and build relationships with community partners to leverage additional funding and support. As a result, SNAP sales increased from $500 in 2008 to $50,000 in 2011, the market added 1,000 new EBT customers, overall market sales increased by 20 percent, and the number of vendors at the market grew by 38 percent.

“Thanks to the FMPP funding, we’ve attracted thousands of new customers, increased sales, and built more economically sustainable businesses,” said Liz Bergman, a Toledo Farmers’ Market Manager. “This year has been the best year yet for the EBT program. Word has spread in the community and we now feed more Lucas County residents in need of healthy food.”

The funding for FMPP expired last October and a new round of grantmaking for this competitive program cannot move forward unless funding is reinstated. The LFFJA would authorize $20 million in mandatory funding for the program.

The National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (NOCCSP) is vital to Ohio’s growing sustainable agriculture sector. It reimburses participating organic producers and handlers for 75 percent (up to $750) of their certification fees, making organic certification affordable, and enabling farmers and processors to meet the growing demand for organic food. In 2011, 251 Ohioans utilized NOCCSP funds, or about 40 percent of the state’s organic operations. NOCCSP, too, has been without funding since last October.

Under Senator Brown’s proposed bill, the NOCCSP’s funding would be reinstated and streamlined under the Agriculture Marketing Agency, making the program operate more efficiently and effectively.

“As a farmer previously enrolled in this program, I have found it quite valuable,” said Ron Meyer of Strawberry Hill Farm in Coshocton County. “Organic certification fees are high. The cost-share program helps me continue to provide fresh and safe food, building the health of humans and the environment.”

The bill makes other important investments in research, training, and information collection, including a national program within the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative for local and regional farm and food systems research and for conventional plant and animal breeding research.

It also addresses challenges that diversified and organic farms have in obtaining adequate insurance coverage by authorizing the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to develop a whole farm risk management insurance product. It also directs RMA to complete the development of an organic price series to allow organic insurance policies to more fairly reflect organic price premiums.

“Sen. Brown’s bill makes smart investments and reforms, provides necessary tools to help address the growing demand for local and sustainable food, and helps to create local agricultural jobs,” said Bailey.

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The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a statewide, grassroots, nonprofit organization founded in 1979 by farmers, gardeners, and conscientious eaters working together to create and promote a sustainable and healthful food and farming system. For more information, go to www.oeffa.org. For more information about the Farm Bill or about OEFFA’s policy work, go to http://policy.oeffa.org/farmbill2012.

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