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The perfect farm bill?

(article, Stephanie Beechem)

Among the many groups debating the 2007 Farm Bill — environmental lobbies, fast food companies, farmers small and large, both liberal and conservative political groups — perhaps the most impassioned are the foodies, or at least those of us who care deeply about the quality of the food available to us.

This week, Anna Lappé, co-author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen and daughter of famous food activist and writer Francis Moore Lappé, added her voice to the discussion in a piece on the Huffington Post.

[%image artichoke width=350 float=right caption="Not everyone has access to fresh, local, and whole foods."] That there is confusion, misunderstanding, and controversy surrounding this bill is no surprise — it is a sprawling piece of legislation that covers 10 broad areas, or “titles,” from commodity and nutrition programs to forestry, and it allocates more than $90 billion in government funds. 

Lappé’s calm, clear voice on the issue is a welcome one, considering how many perspectives and agendas are at work in the debate over the bill. In order to understand the full implications of this bill, Lappé explains, and whom it really affects, it helps to consider what she deems the “two Americas of food”: the America of the “rich and well-located” consumer — those people who have enough money for and easy access to local, fresh, whole foods and fruits and vegetables — and “the rest” of us, who may not have the money or the access to such healthy food. 

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Unfortunately, most Americans fall into the latter category — stuck with cheap, over-processed, unhealthy food. Much of this situation, Lappé charges, is due to the existing provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill, which will expire in September — hence the inordinate amount of debate and negotiation currently on the table in Congress. 

Lappé alleges that the Farm Bill in its current state created the conditions in which commodity crops (corn, soy, wheat, etc.), which are often destined for processing into prepared foods, and huge herds of “factory-farmed” cows dominate the landscape, rather than healthy, local, organic fruits and vegetables. These two commodities — both crops and livestock — consume gigantic amounts of both natural and financial resources. But, given the current legislation, they are profitable; hence, they comprise the dominant mode of agriculture in the U.S. today.

Fortunately, Lappé explains, many aspects of the Farm Bill can be changed or modified in order to shift the American foodscape toward smaller farms and healthier foods, from farms to homes to classrooms. She then singles out best ideas and reforms currently being discussed in Washington. From Lappé's post:

dl(glossary). Support All Farmers: While the nation's largest farms get billions in Farm Bill subsidies, most farmers are left out completely. Currently, only four in ten farmers and ranchers get even a penny in subsidies. Virtually no fruit and vegetable farmers receive support.
Support Organic Research and Farming: Despite the skyrocketing demand for organic foods, just 3 percent of fruit and 2 percent of vegetables raised in the United States are grown organically.
Support Rural America: Every year, we lose more than one million acres of prime farmland as small- and medium-sized farms go out of business. With \[new\] funding, small-scale farmers would have greater capacity not only to grow food, but also to store it, process it, and transport it, too, so they don't become one of thousands of farmers who lose their businesses every year.
Support the Hungry: For the millions of food insecure Americans — most of whom are women, children, and the elderly — the Farm Bill's Food Stamps are a vital tool for fighting hunger. Yet, at current levels, Food Stamps only provide about $3 per person per day.
Support Community Food Projects: Since legislation was introduced in the 1996 Farm Bill, more than 250 organizations have received funding to develop community-based solutions to their local food and farm problems \[…\] Organizations like the Community Food Security Coalition are now asking for an increase to $60 million a year to extend this program's proven positive impact.
Support Healthy School Meals: As local school-food heroes across the country are showing us, school food doesn't need to be crummy. Several proposals now before Congress would provide hundreds of millions of dollars to buy fresh fruits and vegetables for our public schools, in many cases sourced directly from area farmers.

Every one of the interest groups vested in the 2007 Farm Bill knows that the bill is not just about farmers, but about an entire way of life. With key modifications, this bill could be the single most important player in the movement toward a truly health-conscious, environmentally conscious, and socially conscious food system: not just for the “rich and well-located,” but for everyone.

*Also on Culinate: More on a specific Farm Bill petition and basic facts about community-supported agriculture.


artichoke, l