The Senate passed a Farm Bill today that contained a number of provisions to support local and organic farms. All of those provisions were included in the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, introduced by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree last year in the House. Senator Sherrod Brown introduced a companion bill in the Senate and has fought to get key provisions included in the Farm Bill.
"For decades the country's farm policy has increasingly been focused on big agri-businesses and not enough on farms that are actually growing the food we eat. Getting these provisions in the Farm Bill is beginning to tip the scale back in the direction of smaller farmers and organic farmers, but we still have a long way to go," Pingree said.
Pingree said more and more people want to buy food locally, which keeps money in the local economy.
"Local food is good for the economy and good for families. Consumers want access to local food and it's time our agriculture policy start catching up with that."
Pingree is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, which is expected to begin work on their version of the Farm Bill next month.
Among the provisions from Pingree's bill included in the Senate bill were:
· Whole farm insurance that allow diversified farms--farms that grow a variety of crops--to access crop insurance programs. Currently crop insurance is only available to farmers who grow commodity crops like corn or soybeans.
· A pilot program that would allow schools to use some of their federal funding to buy locally produced food. (This provision is also similar to the Eat Local Foods Act that Pingree introduced.)
· An improved farmers market promotion program that provides grants for marketing assistance to a variety of local food entities like roadside farm stands and farmers markets.
· A pilot program to allow farmers markets to use smartphones to read EBT cards so consumers who use food stamp benefits have better access to local food.
· An organic cost share programthat provides money to help farmers make the shift from conventional to organic farming.
· Additional funding for rural development to help rural business expand and grow. (For example, additional funding would be provided for value-added producers grants to allow farmers invest in equipment and processes to increase the value of the products they sell.)
· Additional funding for research on organic farming.
· Requires the USDA to study the economy of local foods and report back to Congress, to make it easier to track the economic benefits of local food systems.
Pingree said while the bill does provide support for local food, it doesn't go far enough.
"This is a first step and we have a long way to go still. While I'm pleased that the bill includes reform of direct automatic subsidy payments, it doesn't go far enough in reforming the current crop insurance program," Pingree said.