Gaining Ground

By: Jen O'Brien       Posted On: March 13, 2014

As this LONG, eventful winter comes to end, we’re gearing up for a great farmers market season. February brought the conclusion of what turned out to be a multi-year farm bill debate in Congress. The Agriculture Act of 2014—the farm bill’s official name—took steps toward supporting local agriculture by increasing funding for Community Food Projects, Specialty Crop Block Grants, and Beginning Farmer Development; sustaining funding levels for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program; creating the new Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive; and expanding the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) into the new Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP).

The Farmers Market Promotion Program started as a $1 Million experimental grant program in 2006, and has now grown into a flagship, $30 million program supporting local agriculture in all of its forms. The USDA is currently working on the details, but we know that FMLFPP funding will come in two parts: $15 Million per year for “farmers markets, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture programs, agritourism activities and other direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities;” and $15 Million per year for local and regional food enterprises like food hubs. USDA is currently developing the grant application for the new program, and as we learn more, we’ll let you know when funding might become available, and what changes to expect.

As we focus on ensuring successful implementation of the new and improved farmers market programs, we remain acutely aware that the farm bill continues to provide irresponsible benefits to commodity crop farmers, while cutting nutritional support for low-income Americans. The scales remain tipped in the wrong direction.

In last month’s member survey, when asked why they joined FMC, the majority of respondents shared their desire to change the food system. One member eloquently stated, “I believe in the power of collective input by an advocate group such as FMC.” As the dust begins to settle after the farm bill excitement, we hope you’ll take the opportunity to reflect on the progress that’s been made over the past year—continued growth in SNAP redemptions at markets, increased federal funding for direct-marketing, new programs expanding local agriculture, and new data supporting markets and small farmers. There’s plenty of work to be done, and the opposition is formidable (agribusinesses spent $111.5 Million on lobbying in 2013 alone), but FMC members should be confident that together, we’re influencing incremental change in this huge tangle of a food system.

Thank you for your commitment to farmers markets and enjoy the newsletter!