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Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Mr. Chair, this amendment would combat the misguided report language written to attack local and regional food systems. By passing this amendment, we will send an important message to farmers, consumers, and community leaders around the country: Local and regional food systems are critically important. They provide economic opportunities for rural communities and healthy food for consumers.

Local food systems are the backbone of economies across the country. In order to ensure local food systems work to their maximum potential, Congress must support research, thriving programs, and devote more, not less, funding to enhance this work.

You know, no matter what group I'm talking to, whether it's members of the credit unions or realtors or teachers, when I start talking about improving the quality of food we serve our kids, improving local food systems, and knowing where your food comes from, I look around the room and everybody is nodding. Across the board, these issues are important to people, and this is where there is real energy for growth in the economy.

The language included in the report was designed to criticize and hamstring efforts that are underway at the USDA to create jobs, to increase farm income, and to bolster the economy through the development of local and regional food systems. The language targets local and regional food system development in two ways:

First, it demands overly burdensome reporting requirements of the USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative. USDA developed this initiative to streamline the implementation of existing programs authorized by Congress in the last farm bill.

"Know Your Farmer--Know Your Food'' is not a standalone program and does not have its own budget. Creating additional burdensome reporting requirements would delay program implementation and distract the USDA from addressing the economic challenges of rural communities.

Second, the report language expresses concern with USDA research, education, and extension activities associated with local and regional food systems through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, AFRI.

While Congress sets broad research policies for USDA, Congress does not usually dictate what research USDA cannot do; nor does Congress usually substitute its opinion of what's good science for the professional judgments of competitive grant peer review panels. By singling out a small piece of the agricultural research agenda and by substituting the committee's judgment for that of researchers and educators, the Agriculture appropriations bill report sets up a roadblock to innovation and diversity in American agriculture and growth in the rural economy.

In response to this misguided report language, this amendment will prohibit the USDA from using funds to fulfill the additional and burdensome reporting requirements proposed for Know Your Farmer--Know Your Food. The amendment would also prohibit USDA from using funds to carry out activities contrary to the current research priorities that Congress established in the last farm bill.

I know my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are going to say it's time to cut budgets and reduce deficits. I also believe in fiscal responsibility. This is not about fiscal discipline; this is about priorities.

Last year, we spent a staggering $548 billion to fund the Department of Defense and an equally unbelievable $158 billion on continued operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. By comparison, the entire Agriculture Department is funded with 20 percent of what we spend on defense, and the research priorities we are talking about in this amendment are funded with one-half of 1 percent of the total agriculture budget.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting farmers, in supporting local food production, and consumers who want to know where their food comes from. It's good for our local communities, our local economies, and it's good for our country.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.


Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Mr. Chairman, I just wanted to engage a little bit more in this conversation that we had, both about the previous amendment and about my good friend from North Carolina's concern about this particular program called Know Your Farmer--Know Your Food.

I have the great privilege of serving on the Agriculture Committee. I've heard the Secretary speak to us about his interest in increasing the number of farms in our country, in getting to know our farmers better, and in making sure people have more knowledge about where their food comes from.

I have to just stand back and say for a minute that it's after 8:30 on a busy night. We're still in the middle of debating this bill at a time when our economy is in peril, when we have huge challenges before us, when we are at war in two countries. I just personally have to say I am baffled about why we are even having this debate. I was baffled about why this report language would be there that slows down research on local farming, that tries to stop a program that's not even funded, and that coordinates a lot of good efforts going on in the Department of Agriculture.

I will say, I kind of think back to the way I look at our country. We were based on agriculture and farming. I had the good fortune to be born in Minnesota even though I represent Maine. Both sets of my grandparents were Scandinavian immigrants. They came because there was rich farmland, beautiful opportunities. My grandfather was a dairy farmer. My uncle was a dairy farmer. My cousin still runs a farm and works with livestock. I went to college to study agriculture, and I own my own farm today.

So I think about, isn't this what America is all about--knowing your farmer? knowing where your food came from? understanding what the basic principles are of growing and of using our land? What in the world are we talking about? It's as if black is white and white is black and as if everything is turned upside down.

I grew up in Minnesota and Maine. Both States have a rich farming heritage. We couldn't be more proud of the families and of the people who work hard on the land. We couldn't be more proud of having vigorous farmers' markets, of having people who are able to go to a farm stand and say to the farmer, "How did you grow this? What's behind this? Tell me about what's growing in your field.'' I mean, this is America. This is how our country was built.

If there is one tragedy that's going on today, it's the reduction in the number of farms and in the families who can no longer hold onto their farms, whose mortgages are being foreclosed on, who don't have enough markets. If there is anything the Secretary is telling us it is that we want more people to know about their farms, that we want to have local access to farming, that we want to have people come to farmers' markets.

I spend a lot of time visiting school cafeterias, and many of the schools in my district are very engaged with buying food locally. They realize that, if they're going to deal with childhood obesity, one of the things they have to do is get kids to eat more vegetables. One thing that really works is to have those young people know the farmers, and many schools have little gardens out back.

I visited Longfellow Elementary School in Portland, Maine, just recently. Those kids have a little plot of carrots. It's not that every lunch has one of those carrots on the menu, but it's for those kids to say, ``I grew a carrot, and now I want to eat more of them.'' I was at the Bonny Eagle Middle School. They have a little greenhouse. I sat down to eat with those kids, and they were eating kale, kale and garlic; and they were proudly showing it off to me about how they grow kale, about how they know where it comes from. Many of them have visited with farmers. They've seen the farmers come down the road.

I can't possibly imagine why anyone would want to put language in that says you have to strike a program like this that's not even funded, that's just a way of the Secretary saying this is a good American tradition. It's a tradition in North Carolina, I am sure, where people are proud of their farmers and, in Maine, where we are exceptionally proud of the fact that the average age of our farmer is going down. We have more young people who want to go into farming. We have more and more acreage going into farming, which is a reversal of the trend that has been going on in our country for a long time. This is good for our health, and it's good for our environment. Fundamentally, this is a jobs bill, and that's what we're supposed to be here talking about. Every young person who has an opportunity to go into farming today and every family that gets to hang onto a family farm increases the number of jobs that are going on in our country.

What do we want this to turn into, big corporate agriculture where everything has to be trucked around the world?--where our carrots come from Brazil and our strawberries come from somewhere else in South America and where we buy our food from China? I mean this is America. This is a tradition of our country. How could we possibly think that anything is wrong with promoting or researching local foods and having a program that just coordinates it all?

Ms. FOXX. Will the gentlewoman yield?

Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Absolutely not. As much as I appreciate my colleague from North Carolina, I'm not giving up one second to talk about the fact that in my State, we are proud of our farmers. We are proud of our big farms that grow potatoes and blueberries and that grow apples. We are proud of our fishermen, and we are proud of the fact that more young people want to get into farming.

There are more markets for farming than there ever were before today. Part of it is because people like to buy their food locally because they are so excited about the opportunity of going to a farm stand where you actually see the farmer, where you see how it's grown, where you feel comfortable about what goes into your food, where you know how it was slaughtered, where you know so much more about it, where we're raising our kids to say, "You know what? Vegetables are good for you,'' and here they are right in front of you.

I can't possibly imagine why this report language was there in the first place, why my colleague would want to strike everything about Know Your Farmer--Know Your Food.

I yield back the balance of my time.


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