Late last night the House Agriculture Committee passed major legislation setting the nation's farm policy for the next five years, and it contained a range of provisions written by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree designed to support and expand local farms and food.
Last year Pingree introduced the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, which included 29 separate provisions. Over half of those provisions were included in either the bill that passed last night or the Senate version that passed earlier this year.
"Consumers all over the country are demanding more access to local food--they know it's good for their families and good for the local economy. Unfortunately farm policy is out of step with that trend but these local food provisions will start to move us in the right direction," Pingree said.
Some of the local food proposals included in the bill:
Farm-to-school programs that will allow schools to spendtheir federal commodity funding to buy food from local farmers. The Portland Public School 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) beneficiaries, including a program to provide electronic benefit card readers to farmers markets at no cost; a double-voucher program to increase the buying power of beneficiaries at farmers markets; and a provision to make it easier for small farms to accept SNAP benefits for in CSAs.
Diversified crop insurance, which allows farmers who grow a range of products to get insurance for their crops, just like large-scale commodity farmers now do.
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 allow farmers to make investments that will increase the value of their products. For example, a farmer could use a grant to install a creamery in order to make cheese.
Although the local food provisions were a major accomplishment and a significant reform of national farm policy, Pingree was disappointed the bill made significant cuts to SNAP benefits.
With broad bipartisan support, the Senate has already passed a version of the Farm Bill that included some of Pingree's local food provisions. Pingree says she's hopeful the full House will vote on the Farm Bill later this month.