Federal Spending Bill Preserves Funding for Farmers Market Programs

By: Dan Blaustein Rejto       Posted On: January 8, 2015

In December, Congress passed the federal spending bill, approving funding to continue operating government into 2015. Elements of the bill have been criticized by Republicans, Democrats, and independent organizations. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), which FMC is a member of, writes,

“…while there is some good news, overall it’s bleak news for sustainable agriculture – complete with drastic cuts to critical conservation programs and anti-farmer policy riders that favor big livestock integrators over actual farmers.”

Small, organic and sustainable farmers are not only the lifeblood of farmers markets, but also of rural economies and communities. They are stewards of the land, preserving natural resources for current and future generations to enjoy. FMC is dismayed and disappointed by these cuts to conservation and other sustainable agriculture programs.

FMC is further disappointed that Congress chose not to provide any funding for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI). HFFI was authorized in the 2014 farm bill for $125 million to officially establish a federal program at the United States Department of Agriculture. HFFI provides one-time grants and loans to farmers markets and other healthy food retailers that want to open or expand in low-income communities. Without Congressional funding, the initiative will not be able to expand its reach to new rural and urban communities around the nation.

Generally, Congress maintained or slightly reduced funding for FMC’s priority farmers market programs. While the 2014 Farm Bill provides mandatory funding for most of these, Congress is able to limit or reduce their funding through the annual budget bill. FMC applauds farmers market advocates in Congress and across the country for working to preserve these essential programs.

According to NSAC’s analysis:

  • The Agriculture and Food Research Institute (AFRI), which administers the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program (FINI), received an $8 million boost in funding.
  • The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBG) remains funded at $67.2 million. This program funds state agencies for projects that improve the competitiveness of fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops. Many of these projects aim to increase sales at farmers markets.
  • Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) remains funded at $27.8 million.
  • The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) remains funded at its authorized maximum, $20.6 million.
  • Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) will be funded at $16.5 million, the amount the White House, Senate and House requested. However, this falls short of the $20 million in funding that the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act authorized for the program.
  • The Federal State Market Improvement Program (FSMIP), which provides matching funds to state agencies to explore new market opportunities for U.S. foods, received a funding cut of $100 thousand. Although this program rarely benefits markets directly, in 2014 it funded a University of Missouri project to evaluate sampling as a promotional tactic for Missouri farmers market vendors.

A bright point in the bill is that Congress appropriated $2.5 million in funding for the new Food Safety Outreach Program, which NSAC and others advocated. This program will help market vendors and other small farmers comply with increased food safety requirements created as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

A detailed breakdown of funding is available from NSAC: http://sustainableagriculture.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/NSAC-FY-2015-Ag-Appropriations-Chart-Omnibus-legal-size-FINAL.pdf