Bill in Congress would help grow sustainable, local farms

By Mary Vanac
The Columbus Dispatch
April 12, 2013

Advocates of sustainable farming and regional food systems are applauding the Local Farm, Food and Jobs Act, a federal bill they say has the potential to expand markets for farmers and get more healthy food in the hands of consumers.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine, introduced the twin bills in the Senate and House early this week, hoping their provisions will make it into a five-year farm bill later this year.

The lawmakers originally introduced their act in 2011. However, Congress failed to agree on a new farm bill last year, extending the previous bill instead.

“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, in a written statement.

The act has 33 co-sponsors — all Democrats — including Sen. Jon Tester from Montana, the Senate’s sole working farmer. More than 280 organizations have endorsed the bill, including Local Matters, Ohio Environmental Council, Slow Food Columbus and OEFFA.

“Local and regional agriculture is a major driver in the farm economy, yet producers face significant infrastructure, marketing and information barriers,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, in a statement.

“The bill addresses those barriers and makes smart investments that expand economic opportunities for farmers, increase jobs, and improve healthy food access in rural and urban America,” Hoefner said.

The act offers something for each of the seven titles in the farm bill, including proposals addressing crop insurance, farm credit, nutrition, rural development, research and extension, horticulture, and livestock, the sustainable-agriculture coalition said.

It would create an insurance program for diversified and organic farmers who grow crops that are not covered by traditional crop insurance. It also would enable schools to purchase local food, and food-stamp recipients to spend their money at farmers markets more easily, Local Matters said.

In addition, the act invests in sustainable agriculture programs, such as the Farmers Market Promotion Program, that were stranded without funding when the 2008 farm bill was extended, the sustainable agriculture coalition said.

“For an investment of just over $100 million a year, the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act can help a growing sector of the food system flourish,” Hoefner said. That figure compares with $40 million for local food systems in the 2008 farm bill, he said.