Spring 2012 Farm Bill Update

      Posted On: April 18, 2012

The 2012 Farm Bill process is well underway and gaining momentum daily.  The Senate and House Agriculture Committees have held hearings and the Senate Committee is expected to consider its bill at the end of this month.  House Agriculture Committee staff has informed FMC that they expect the process on their side will be just four to five weeks behind that of the Senate.

NOW is the time to contact your members of Congress to tell them that you want a farm bill done in 2012 and that you want it to include strong support for farmers market programs.  FMC has created an easy-to-use advocacy toolkit.

FMC members on the Hill

FMC members have been highlighted at Senate and House events this spring.  FMC board member Caroline Todd, Director of the Columbia Farmers Market (MO), explained at a Senate briefing on March 1st how the market used a Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant to get an electronic benefit transfer machine (EBT) to serve SNAP participants, conduct an extensive publicity campaign to low-income families. and open new satellite market sites. A summary of the March 1st hearing, which also included testimony from Oran Hesterman of FMC member Fair Food Network, is available here on the NSAC web site.

Jody Hardin of the Certified Arkansas Farmers Markets and Dan Carmody of Eastern Market in Detroit testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee on March 7th, talking in detail about how various farmers market programs had strengthened their markets, increased farmer income, and improved neighborhoods around the markets.  Hardin emphasized the value of FMPP, and Carmody showed the committee a video of farmers talking about Michigan’s Double Up Food Bucks Program for SNAP families.  A video and written testimonies from the Hearing on Healthy Food Initiatives, Local Production, and Nutrition are available here.

The action moved to the House for March 9th field hearing in Saranac, New York at which Representative Chellie Pingree spoke eloquently to the importance of markets and local agriculture for regional economies.  A March 28th House briefing featured Jeff Cole, Executive Director of the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets and 9th generation family farmer; Case Visser of Visser Farms, a farmer from Zeeland, Michigan who sells in several farmers markets; and Robert Lazaro, Community Affairs Executive of Inova Health Systems that sponsors the Northern Virginia Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign and also supports a SNAP incentive program at several area farmers markets.

All of the speakers emphasized that farmers markets can be valuable catalysts for creating economic growth and improving public health by offering access to affordable, nutritious food.  The return on investment for the minimal federal government investment is enormous and merits the reauthorization of FMPP at an increased spending level, continuation of the Farmers Market Nutrition Program for Seniors, and a demonstration SNAP farmers market incentive program.

The Senate Farm Bill

Everything FMC has heard to date indicates that the Senate draft bill will include important farmers market provisions.  Last fall’s short-lived draft included a doubling of FMPP funding and an expansion of the program’s scope to include support for food hubs.  The potential new funding level is important because it will ensure that the program has “baseline” funding when deliberations begin for the next farm bill. FMC’s friends at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition posted this informative blog post on April 13th which outlines the Senate Agriculture Committee’s progress on a Farm Bill draft.

The draft also reportedly includes a $100 million (over five years) new incentive program for SNAP participants to double their benefits when purchasing fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, and perhaps funds to test better technology (less expensive and cumbersome) to accommodate both SNAP and WIC at farmers markets, CSAs and mobile markets.

The bill also includes provisions for other crucial local and regional food system programs including the Community Food Projects, Value-Added Producer Grants, and the continuation of the Business and Industry Loan Guarantee  set-aside for local food enterprises.

FMC encourages readers of the market beet to get engaged and contact your members of Congress today to tell them you support these key programs for farmers markets and you would like them to complete a Farm Bill this year.  Visit the Farmers Market Advocate Toolkit on the FMC web site to learn more about how you can get involved.

To pledge your support for FMC’s efforts to give farmers markets a voice in the 2012 Farm Bill, become a member or renew your membership today!