U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined a central Ohio farmer and students at Columbus Downtown High School to outline new jobs legislation that would expand markets for Ohio farmers by making the connection between farm and fork easier for Ohio's producers and consumers. Brown discussed how the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act would support ongoing Farm-to-School efforts and increase access to healthy foods and visited the culinary arts job training program at the school.
"Linking Ohio producers with Ohio consumers like schools and children is common sense," said Brown. "By increasing access to fresh, local foods, we can expand markets for Ohio's agricultural producers while improving health, creating jobs, and strengthening our economy."
Although Columbus City Schools does not currently participate in the farm-to-school program, they are looking to include more locally-sourced fruits and vegetables into the menus offered district-wide in addition to use in the job training program. Joe Brown, food services director for the Columbus City Schools, will discuss how Sen. Brown's bill would allow school districts to spend a portion of federal funds for free and reduced school lunches on locally-grown fruits and vegetables.
Bryn Bird, a farmer from Licking County, will explain how the bill will also aid Ohio farmers by addressing production, aggregation, marketing, and distribution needs. Her farm currently supplies fresh fruits and vegetables to the Granville Exempted Village Schools through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm-to-School grant program, which awards up to $5 million in grants to help school connect with local producers offering nutritious options.
"We have already seen first-hand the economic and social benefits of selling directly to local schools and know many more schools are wanting to source fresh food from local farms. Senator Brown is leading the way to make more of these opportunities available for my family farm and many more like us through the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act."
For each dollar that consumers spend on food, less than $0.16 goes back to the farmer. Supporting opportunities for farmers to sell their products directly to consumers or through shorter local supply chains means that more of a consumers' dollar stays on the farm, where it is invested in local jobs and supplies and helps the local economy. Aimed at helping more farmers sell their products directly to consumers, the legislation would create jobs by assisting farmers engaged in local and regional agriculture by addressing production, aggregation, processing, marketing, and distribution needs. It would also ensure that consumers -- particularly low-income families and seniors -- have better access to nutritious, locally-grown food. There are now nearly 8,000 farmers markets in the U.S., an increase of more than 150 percent since 2000. Direct-to-consumer agriculture sales produce $1.2 billion in annual revenues.
The Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act also includes provisions that would:
Provide funding to help farmers build the infrastructure--like community kitchens--to process and sell their food locally.
Break down barriers so that schools can purchase local food more easily. Provide schools with a local school credit to purchase local foods.
Make it easier for food stamp recipients to spend their money at farmers markets by giving the farmers access to technology necessary to accept electronic benefits--that money goes right back into the local economy. The bill includes a pilot program to test smart phone technology to accept food stamp benefits at farmers market.
Incentivize SNAP participation to ensure that beneficiaries can participate in community supported agriculture programs (CSAs).
Create a new crop insurance program tailored to the needs of diversified and organic farmers who grow a wide variety of crops and can't easily access traditional crop insurance.
More information on the legislation and how it affects Ohio is available in this summary.
Brown, the first Ohioan to serve on Senate Agriculture Committee in more than four decades, first introduced the bill in 2011 and successfully fought to have key provisions included in the Senate-passed 2012 farm bill.