Top 3 Reasons San Diego 1in10 Cares about a Comprehensive Farm Bill

As members of both chambers of Congress head home to their districts, local constituents have an opportunity to weigh in about the Farm Bill, immigration, health care and a whole mess of other things. Despite assurances from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that the House will be prepared to appoint conferees early in September when lawmakers return from the August recess, many doubts have been raised about what this period means for the future of the farm bill. (1)

How does the Farm Bill matter to San Diego? What should we prioritize? Food, agriculture, state rights, big government, all or none of the above? 

A few days ago, a local San Diegan wrote asking members of the 1in10 Coalition Farm Bill Committee whether we thought splitting the bill possibly could make SNAP more responsive to health and nutrition standards by severing the relationship between food assistance and the industrial food and agriculture complex. While many of us would love to kick subsidized corn syrup and food additives off our tables and out of our food system permanently and have government follow our lead, it’s pretty clear that under current conditions separating food from agriculture policy could be extremely harmful to children, families, small farmers and the environment in both the short and long term.

Quite simply, we cannot improve SNAP’s nutrition standards, if there is no SNAP. 

Several good articles have been written recently discussing the government-based reasons that the farm bill should retain its old roots (2), but two reasons come to the forefront for those who care about both SNAP and sustainable agriculture. First, the splitting strategy is not about loosening the corporate stranglehold on nutrition standards but about getting SNAP alone in a dark room. Consider how the split has been leveraged thus far. Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and a strong proponent of SNAP, told reporters last week that she was willing to consider supporting 20.5 billion dollar cuts to SNAP. Explaining this concession to perplexed constituents, she communicated a foreboding sense that Cantor doesn’t want a farm bill. (3) Perhaps because in the absence of a nutrition title in the farm bill, SNAP could be cut further or stay as-is but lose ties to agricultural programs. And because ag subsidies that would be automatically extended without a bill would lose any binding relationship to nutrition, health or food security.

This leads to the second obvious point about why SNAP needs agriculture and vice versa. SNAP-ED, research, conservation and other programs supporting sustainable agriculture, as well as beginning farmers and ranchers  that made it into the 2008 farm bill and the should-have-been 2012 farm bill focused on rebuilding important relations between consumers and farmers and, alternately, between food and agriculture policy . Separating the bill is also, then, about making sure that the linkages these bridge programs provide get erased from public memory and legislative history for good.

Top 3 Reasons MEMBERS & SUPPORTERS OF SAN DIEGO 1in1o SHOULD CARE

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From a perspective that includes our own local food movement, residents of San Diego County have encountered and weighed in on complex Farm Bill issues for an adequate period of time to identify our own stakes in a comprehensive farm bill . The following “Top 3” list connects some of the issues identified in 2008 as part of the San Diego 1in10 advocacy platform with corresponding farm bill legislation. These are, I suggest, reasons to care!

1. HEALTHY FOOD ACCESS FOR ALL IS ABOUT EQUITY AND THE ECONOMY  

  • Since 2008, 1in10 has promoted the acceptance of SNAP benefits (EBT, food stamps, WIC, SSI, CalFreshat all farmers’ markets. (SNAP-Ed funds link assistance for children, families and seniors to equitable access to markets.)
  • When 1in10 began working on permitting for Community Gardens, the initial platform also included Farm to School (or Institution). (SNAP-Ed funded many of these local efforts.)

Many San Diegans feel that federal SNAP and SNAP-Ed funds have helped San Diegans build a more sustainable and equitable local food system, but any way you slice it, objective research show that SNAP cuts will impact both health and the local economy. A new study breaks down the impacts, summarized here:

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See the entire ‘Health Impact Project’ Report (4)

While I didn’t find an official breakdown projecting how SNAP cuts would affect San Diego County, where participation is comparatively low among eligible constituencies, it’s safe to say that the local economy and the longterm health of people facing food insecurity would be affected. You may find these facts about economic impacts of SNAP telling:

Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 7.13.17 PM

 

Additionally, there could be a cascade of unintended consequences of cutting or splitting or failing to reauthorize SNAP. As Ed Cooney, executive director of the Congressional Hunger Center, pointed out, a lack of authorization for SNAP could create an atmosphere in which Congress also begins to think about block-granting other child-nutrition programs, including the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children and school-meals programs. (5)

“It is not very difficult to imagine some enterprising member of Congress then suggesting: Why not combine all child-nutrition programs with SNAP and have these programs compete with each other for the limited funds that would remain available?” Cooney said. “Why not save money by block-granting school lunch? It is important to remember that one major political party had a school-lunch block-grant proposal as part of its 2012 presidential platform, and that the House actually passed legislation block-granting SNAP this year.” (5)

Again, these are the very programs that have enabled San Diegans to start and sustain farmers’ markets in so-called ‘food deserts’ and to develop economic arrangements that support local farmers and improve the quality and nutritional standards in schools and other institutions. Furthermore, and I’m adding this after posting earlier:

The New York Times just reported that the “plan by House leaders to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program — twice the amount of cuts proposed in a House bill that failed in June — threatens to derail efforts by the House and Senate to work together to complete a farm bill before agriculture programs expire on Sept. 30.”  Roll Call reports that Rep. Collin C. Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, responded, “There they go again.  Apparently, the Republican leadership plans to bring up yet another political messaging bill to nowhere in an effort to try and placate the extreme right wing of their party. Clearly they have no interest in compromise or actual legislating.  In response to false claims that SNAP is being exploited by “freeloaders,” Ag. Dept. Secretary Tom Vilsack recently reiterated that “only about 8 percent of SNAP (foodstamp) recipients are on welfare. The rest are children, the elderly, disabled people or the working poor. (*)

2. SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS REQUIRE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, RESEARCH & CONSERVATION

In 2008, members of 1in10 also identified four priorities signaling the importance of federal policies, programs and research related to conservation of soil and water, the reduction of green house gases, and organics. In 2012, 1in1o  vowed to grow our capacity to engage these four far-reaching policy areas:

  • Home and Community Composting (State-level)
  • Graywater Systems/Reclamation Systems (CA state-level)
  • Composting & Green Waste Recycling (CA-state)
  • Prioritizing Water for Food Production (State & Federal)

While we have found that most of the policies regulating home and community composting, graywater and recycling are formed at the state level, much-needed research, conservation, implementation and pilot programs to innovate, legitimize and develop these systems with people, food and the environment in mind are funded at the national level. Furthermore, reason number three below indicates that radical Republican reformers of the farm bill have introduced several amendments that seek to redefine states’ capacity to regulate food concerns.

3. LOCAL FOOD SYSTEMS HAVE BIO-REGIONAL, STATE & NATIONAL ISSUES 

When the City of San Diego developed its comprehensive urban agriculture code in February 2012, its new provisions — thanks to years of 1in10 advocacy, the support of organizations including IRC and the SD Childhood Obesity Initiative, and the hard work of locals like P Troutman and many others — addressed beekeeping, chickens, goats, and several other retail issues involving urban farms, produce stands and markets. Many potential changes to the 2013 farm bill highlight how these local food system issues are embedded within larger bioregional, economic and political systems and policy debates. Thus, federal farm bill laws involving pollinators, animal husbandry laws, and GE/GMOs may be of especial interest to members of 1in10 who are on the fence regarding whether this is our fight or not:

BEES – Congressional research finds that 1/3 of the food supply of the United States depends on bee pollination. Thus “research on honey bees, native bees, parasites, pathogens, toxins, and other environmental factors affecting bees and pollination of cultivated and wild plants will result in methods of response to colony collapse disorder and other factors causing the decline of pollinators in North America.” (6)

Amendments: In the Senate, the Hastings amendment, Section 11315, incorporates core provisions of Senator Boxer’s research bill, S. 1694, broadening provisions in HR 1709 to include habitat and native pollinator concerns. First introduced in 2007, this amendment authorizes appropriations to the Secretary, through the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, for research grants to investigate: honey bee immunology, genomics, biology, ecology, and bioinformatics; pollination biology; and the effects of genetically modified crops, insecticides, herbicides, parasites, and fungicides on honey bees and other beneficial insects and pollinators. (7)

LAYING HENS – California law has already banned extreme crate confinement of animals (and forbidden the slaughter of horses for human consumption), so our state concurs with new federal law improving housing standards for laying hens. Even larger producers agree that standardizing better conditions is good for chickens, consumers and farmers (8).  Thus, Rep. King’s amendment to the House bill is not intended to regulate standards, but most explicitly about stripping states of their ability to apply their own animal protection, food, and consumer product laws (9).

GMOs & GE LABELING – On April 24, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced the Genetically Engineered Right-to-Know Act to require food manufacturers to inform consumers of genetically engineered ingredients in their products (10). On May 23, the Senate voted (27-71) against S.AMDT.965, also known as the Sanders Amendment, effectively killing what would have been recognition at the federal level that individual states already have the right to mandate the proper labeling of foods, beverages, and other edible products that contain GMOs. Each individual state already has the right under the U.S. Constitution to label GMOs if they so choose, regardless of the amendment’s passage, but S.AMDT.965 would have expressly acknowledged this to avoid “confusion.” (11) Furthermore, research is what is needed to counter the argument used quite persuasively this days in government and industry that concerns about GE arise from an “anti-science” lobby! (12)

CONCLUSION: NO LOCAL FARMERS, NO LOCAL FOOD

This past week  I heard a farmer from Iowa say that the farm bill died for small farmers in 1996. Of course, he was referring to the outcome of a Republican led-bill, which combined export dependence with deregulation, as well as centralized US agriculture and put it in the hands of large farms and national and multinational companies. No doubt, this left small farmers out of subsidies, crop insurance schemes and resulted in many families losing their farms. (13) While some proponents of local food may read this and be further enticed by Tea Party rhetoric that federal government is too big to change, I have raised some issues here that remind us that our food system is inextricably linked to larger political issues. That if we care about farmers and farming and we want the farm bill to change, we have to stand up for them and speak for ourselves!

Read more about these issues:

*) Now it’s up to 40 billion in cuts to SNAP – http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/01/us-usa-congress-foodstamps-idUSBRE97012420130801

1) See Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor, Farm Bill Now a Pawn in Debt-Ceiling Talks 7/26/13 – http://www.dtnprogressivefarmer.com/dtnag/view/blog/getBlog.do;jsessionid=C356BF6BE4B14046EA16261510CCBF3B.agfreejvm1?blogHandle=policy&blogEntryId=8a82c0bc3e43976e01401b0d3c2c122f

2)  See “Farm Bill’s Roots in Old Laws Should Be Sustained” http://www.nationaljournal.com/columns/farm-bill-s-roots-in-old-laws-should-be-sustained-20130721

3)  See David Rogers in Politico: The Cantor-Boehner Farm Bill Two-Step 7/25/13 – http://www.politico.com/story/2013/07/farm-bill-2013-eric-cantor-john-boehner-94767_Page2.html

4)   See the Health Impact Project White paper here: http://www.healthimpactproject.org/news/project/health-impact-project-releases-white-paper-examining-proposed-changes-to-food-stamps

5)   Same as ref 2 – http://www.nationaljournal.com/columns/farm-bill-s-roots-in-old-laws-should-be-sustained-20130721

6) From the Pollinator Protection Act – http://beta.congress.gov/bill/110th-congress/senate-bill/1694

7) See United Egg Producers’ Chad Gregory in the Hill’s Congressional Blog –   http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/283497-egg-bill-is-good-for-farmers-consumers-and-for-egg-laying-hens

8) http://www.bakersfieldcalifornian.com/opinion/our-view/x1047454197/Pass-the-farm-bill-but-without-this-harmful-amendment

9) Sen Boxer’s press release on GE labeling amendment – http://www.boxer.senate.gov/en/press/releases/042413.cfm

Also see these other media discussions – http://www.cornucopia.org/2013/04/genetically-engineered-food-right-to-know-act-introduced-by-boxerdefazio/

10) See How the Farm Bill Could Undermine the Future of GMO Labeling by individual states by Jonathan Benson, Natural News. 6/21/13 -http://www.naturalnews.com/040888_farm_bill_gmo_labeling_tenth_amendment.html#ixzz2a0mvzWcn

11) http://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/113-2013/s135

12) See Is the Movement to Label GMO Anti-Science? by Carole Bartolotto, Huffington Post 6/14/13 –  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carole-bartolotto/is-the-movement-to-label-_b_3432355.html

13. See Exported to Death – The failure of agricultural deregulation by Robert E. Scott of the Economic Policy Institute July 1999. http://www.epi.org/publication/briefingpapers_exportdeath/

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Three Intended Consequences of the House’s Un-Making of a 2013 Farm Bill

Click here for prior post, “Any Ole Farm Bill Just Won’t Do

The 2008 farm bill due to expire this September 30th is an historical distillation of our democratic process. Over the past sixty years, each successive farm bill has involved the USAmerican public, farmers, advocates and industry leaders as well as the Congress and President in assessing how economic, environmental and political conditions should shape federal food and agriculture policy.  After failing last month to approve a five-year $939 billion reauthorization of both agricultural and nutrition programs, the House decided to shave off the nutrition title and approve only agricultural programs through fiscal year 2018. (1)

Today in mid-July 2013, activists, pundits and legislators across the country are attempting to anticipate what some are calling the many, possible “unintended consequences” of the House’s split version of the 2013 farm bill.(2) Opposite this hard work of enumerating the long list of outcomes and effects on untold numbers of people, it seems easy enough to identify three, highly-intended, strategic aims that could signal deep, long-term and permanent consequences for the Farm Bill process itself. These aims, I argue, further amplify the message of the growing alliance among small agriculture, conservation and anti-hunger groups: “We want a full, fair farm bill this summer!”

1. The So-Called Split – No Nutrition Title = No Farm Bill

Last week, the House passed legislation to split the farm bill without a single Democratic vote and with twelve Republicans in opposition. Word is that next week the House will try to pass a separate nutrition bill that will include even deeper cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Passage of this legislation is necessary for a final farm bill to be negotiated by conference and put on the floor for a final vote in the House and Senate.

While just today, the house sent the agriculture portion of the bill ( H.R. 2642) to the Senate, the splitting of the farm bill is a very particular strategy. As Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kans.) explained, “at some point in time it’s going to have to be rejoined because the Democrat controlled Senate will not pass a farm bill in the absence of nutrition and food stamp programs.”(3) Furthermore, it is generally accepted that if SNAP is not included in the final bill, “it will be vetoed by the president.”(4)

Ultimate outcomes for the bill include either a conference committee between the Senate and House to negotiate a compromise or possibly another one-year extension like Congress had to do last year. For those counting on the Senate to temper the House’s self-proclaimed austerity, the historical record may foretell SNAP’s fate. While the Senate farm bill includes some $4 billion in cuts to food stamps, lawmakers in the House have previously passed a nonbinding budget resolution calling for $135 billion in cuts. As Eric Wasson pointed out, “Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) had been prepared to accept $8 billion in cuts in the context of the failed supercommittee deficit effort of 2011.”(5) Prodding members of House to move quickly, she said, “I’m not going to support an extension that leaves out big, important pieces of farm policy and keeps subsidies that we all agree should be eliminated.” (6)

Thus the temporary removal of SNAP from the Farm Bill is merely a way of pressuring Democrats in both House and Senate to accept deeper cuts to food assistance in exchange for Republican votes on a 2013 reauthorization of the farm bill.

2.   No Permanent Law = “NO FARM BILL EVER”

The rationale for passing a new farm bill roughly every five years for more than the last half-century has been an understanding that federal farm policy must keep pace with the country’s changing needs and conditions. The most far-reaching aim of the House’s 2013 bill, then, is the removal of ‘permanent law’—i.e., the law that requires farm policy to revert back to the original language of 1938 and 1949 in the absence of a new farm bill. By removing this requirement congress won’t have to pass a new farm bill. Not now. Not ever.

As Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stated on the Agritalk program:

The notion that you would make the 2013 effort permanent and that you would eliminate permanent law I think also raises some serious questions about whether or not we’ll ever have a comprehensive food, farm and jobs bill in the future.(3)

As the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition pointed out, “from the standpoint of commodity subsidies, a new farm bill in the future would never be needed, as the commodity subsidies enacted by law in 2013 would become permanent, with no sunset date. Crop and revenue insurance subsidies, moreover, already are permanent under existing statute.”

On one hand, “all commodity subsidies would be permanent and would never need to be reauthorized or modified.” On the other hand, conservation, rural development, renewable energy, research and extension, etc. “would require periodic renewal, and could quite possibly be left in the lurch in the absence of a pressing need to renew production subsidies.”

In short, splitting the farm bill last month was and continues to be about securing permanent cuts to SNAP. Removing permanent law is about destroying the Farm Bill Reauthorization Process, as we know it. But above all, unmaking the farm bill process is about protecting the funding streams (e.g. commodity subsidies, direct payments and crop insurance) that benefit industrial farming operations (and the corporations that own and serve them) and doing away with the smaller programs that reflect the wisdom of our forbears in linking food security and food assistance to policies supporting small, family farmers, workers, and the environment. Ms. Stabenow’s warning to House members yesterday was instructive. Should they arrive in conference seeking “a simple extension of the 2008 farm commodity subsidies,” they would surely be disappointed, because this approach neither “touches on all aspects of the farm bill” nor “reduces the deficit”! Again NSAC elaborated that “many of the same conservative right wing think tanks and action groups who were beating the drum for weeks in support of splitting the nutrition title off from the farm-portions of the farm bill suddenly did an about-face and opposed the measure passed today once they realized that there would be no subsidy reform amendments allowed and that, adding insult to injury, subsidies would be put on autopilot.” Ironic indeed. (7)

(Want More Farm Bill Opinions? See Note 8.)

3. The Non-Farm Bill = No Link Between Food & Agriculture in 2018.

Since 1939, generations of Americans have invested in creating the provisions of the Nutrition Title of the Farm Bill, and the integrated policies related to the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Commerce Clause. I mention these specifically, because recent congressional actions seek to un-make the fundamental relations among these agencies and policies. For those who support protections for consumers as well as equity, justice, opportunity, and access across all titles of the Farm Bill, the death of the reauthorization process portends a great disaster.

Without farms, farmworkers, soil and water, there can be no food. Without food security there can be no peace. And without food assistance to the needy, there can be no grace. Less prosaically, without a comprehensive farm bill, specialty crops, organics, rural development, conservation, research and another handful of relatively inexpensive safety-net programs for small, beginning, disadvantaged, and veteran producers will be gone by 2018.  

Toward a Healthier, Sustainable, Equitable Food & Farming Future

One clear way forward is to rebuff these attempts to split the wise and wholesome alliances among the everyday people who constitute the real food and agriculture constituencies. We still have time to join together and ensure that the farm bill continues to strengthen links between farmers and eaters, between sustainable farming and food security interests, and among rural and urban communities. A broad range of groups across the country are collaborating in what is affectionately named “the GOAT process” with the purpose of strengthening the capacity of grassroots communities to ensure that national food and farm policy reflects shared principles of equity, justice and access across all titles of the farm bill.

Yesterday, members of the GOAT Process issued a statement containing this outline of what a full, fair farm bill must include:

▪   All nutrition programs, rejecting all cuts or changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would increase hunger or reduce access to nutrition education for any of the 47 million Americans who currently rely on the program to meet basic food needs;

▪   Full funding for farm conservation programs, enhanced and streamlined to better meet the pressing and accelerating natural resource and environmental issues of our day;

▪   The cost-saving crop insurance and commodity subsidy reforms included in one or both congressional bills including payment limit reform, national sodsaver, and conservation compliance;

▪   Robust provisions and funding to increase economic opportunity for the nation’s diverse family farmers and ranchers, farm and food workers, rural and urban communities, and Indian Tribes.

▪   Provisions to ensure that a comprehensive farm bill with all titles will be updated on a regular five-year basis as conditions in the food and farm system change.

Organizations can sign on to this statement here.

Notes and References:

1.  The Senate passed its version of the comprehensive legislation a month ago including $4 billion in reductions to SNAP; House Republicans have proposed $20.5 billion in cuts during committee mark-ups.

2.  The full quote in Farm Policy was, “‘It may have a lot of unintended consequences,’ said by Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs at McDermott Will & Emery who deals with agriculture policy.” See “US House Farm Bill Cracks Down on Food Stamps,” by Financial Times writer Stephanie Kirchgaessnerhttp://www.ft.com/cms/s/dec8646c-ea63-11e2-b2f4-00144feabdc0,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2Fdec8646c-ea63-11e2-b2f4-00144feabdc0.html&_i_referer=#axzz2ZENRXIED

3. Heard on Friday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams by Keith Good of Farm Policy.org and reported in the “Farm Bill; and the Ag Economy – Monday,” Newsletter, July 15, 2013.

4. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) was quoted in the Times Herald-Record saying as much, and member of Rural Coalition, attendees at Senator Stabenow’s press conference yesterday, report that the Senator confirmed that the Senate will not move forward without a Nutrition Title and the President will not sign a Farm bill into law unless there is a Nutrition Title.

5. See Eric Wassen’s entry “GOP farm bill victory could prove fruitless” in On the Money, the Hill’s Finance and Economy Blog: http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/agriculture/310791-gop-farm-bill-victory-could-prove-fruitless

6. See “Parties fight for leverage on farm bill,” by Erik Wasson – 07/15/13 http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/agriculture/311069-stabenow-blasts-gop-for-blocking-farm-bill-conference

7. See NSAC for the blog and a wealth of other resources: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/house-passes-partial-farm-bill/

8.   Keith Good at FarmPolicy.org shared these recents on the farm bill in his 7/15/13 e-newsletter: On Saturday the editorial boards at The New York Times (“Missing: The Food Stamp Program”), The Washington Post  (“The House’s farm bill is a perfect disgrace”), The Wall Street Journal (“A Healthy Farm Rebellion”), and The Des Moines Register (“Rather than reduce food aid, [Rep. Steve King] should focus on fraud”) all remarked on Farm Bill issues. Andrea Drusch reported yesterday at Politico that, “CBS ‘Face the Nation’ host Bob Schieffer on Sunday took a swipe at the farm bill passed by the House earlier this month for giving money to large corporations while failing to include nutrition assistance.”

Any Ole Farm Bill Just Won’t Do

So What Can We Do

While the House argues about splitting the Farm Bill, time is running out.  (See Note 1 for a recap.) With only three weeks until the next recess, and only 12 weeks until the end of the fiscal year, we need a farm bill now. And not just any old farm bill, WE NEED A GOOD FARM BILL!

NSAC suggests a way forward: “In our view, the only workable path forward is to expand and unite the constituencies served by the bill. . . [which] in contrast to dividing the bill into parts, would allow the House to bring together a broad coalition of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to move forward on a new farm bill.” (2).

1. Urge Our Legislators to Pass a GOOD farm bill! 

As Republicans dither about whether they can carry the House vote to pass ANY farm bill, and the House whether it should split the farm bill, many of the “small” agriculture groups are working to define what a GOOD farm bill would look like at this stage. We can look at how the San Diego delegation voted on various pieces of farm bill legislation– see Issa’s food and ag votes, on VoteSmart, for instance–and urge our legislators to vote differently?

Or we could simply decide what we want to see in the farm bill, and tell our legislators what matters to us.

2. Be Specific.

This table summarizes the broader categories for key ingredients in a farm bill that builds on bipartisan interest, public support and alliances across sustainable agriculture, conservation, public health, anti-hunger, urban and rural communities.

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We cannot forget that many important programs have already been sidelined since December 31st, 2012. That is, many of the programs that provide the key linkages for building local healthy food systems won’t make it if we don’t stand up for both fair food AND good agriculture.

3. Double-Check. What’s Missing? What Did the Sequester/Extension Leave Behind?

Check the list of the SNAP programs provided by FRAC (3) and have you double-checked to see if you, personally, care about the programs that fall on the small ag side of the Farm Bill? The following list reflects the programs that got “orphaned” between the 2008 Farm Bill and today. The numbers reflecting millions of dollars, pretty small potatoes if you look closely, are attributed to Ferd Hoefner2012.

Conservation
Voluntary Public Access 10M
Desert Lakes 35M
Small Watershed Rehab 20M
Rural Development
Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program 3M
Value Added Producer Grants 3M
Research
Organic Agriculture Research and Extension 20M
Specialty Crop Research Initiative 50M
Beginning Farmer & Rancher Dev Pro 19M
Forestry
Healthy Forest 9.75M

Energy

Biobased Markets Program 2M
Biodiesel Fuel Education Program 1M
Rural Energy for American Program 51M
Biomass Research and Development 33.6M
Biorefinery Assistance 100M
Biomass Crop Assistance Program 38.6M
Bioenergy 55M
Specialty Crops
Farmers Market Promotion Program 10M
Clean Plant 5M
Organic Cost Share 5M
Organic Data 1M
Miscellaneous
Outreach and Tech Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers 15M

Notes and References:

1. Need a brief recap? (Check also references in previous entries.)

  • The US Senate passed a Farm Bill in May– California Senators voted for the Senate Farm Bill, and the House of Representatives Failed to Pass a Farm Bill in June.
  • San Diego’s Congressional delegation split down party lines. Republicans Duncan Hunter and Darrell Issa voting for the bill, while Democrats Susan Davis, Juan Vargas, and Scott Peters voted no. 
  • Rep. Cantor suggested splitting the Farm Bill. Sometime in the near future, House Speaker John Boehner will make a final decision about whether the Farm bill should be split—meaning he will decide whether to keep the bill as a whole omnibus legislation or create two or more separate bills for SNAP and myriad farm programs.
  • Many agriculture groups large and small oppose splitting the Farm Bill.
  • If they split the farm bill, it is unlikely that both bills could pass in the two-bill strategy. Writer Chris Day of the Stillwater Newspress (1) explains that “Lucas doesn’t favor the [splitting] approach because the Senate has approved a comprehensive farm bill.  A conference committee would have to reconcile three bills instead of two.”  NSAC’s position is that if they split the bill, “it would almost certainly doom any final action on the farm bill this year.” GAME OVER. Moreover, the current farm bill quandary is also holding up House action on the agriculture appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2014 (2).

References

1. Some Republicans want to do their jobs and create legislation. See http://www.stwnewspress.com/local/x1696736600/Lucas-will-do-what-I-have-to-do-to-pass-2013-farm-bill

2. NSAC’s letter to oppose splitting the farm bill links from this blog page: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/nsac-dont-split-the-farm-bill/

3.  See SNAP Programs – http://frac.org/leg-act-center/farm-bill-2012/#progs

Video

Isn’t Local Food also about Re-linking Urban and Rural?

On Monday, I asked my neighbors in San Diego County: “How do we think splitting the Farm Bill would affect our ability to find common ground across shared interests in food and agriculture policy?” Gridlock in Congress, fissures in the Republican party, and a variety of other splits threaten to sink more than the Farm Bill, so posing the right question for the local conversation is challenging.  Over the last few days, national news outlets took this inquiry in at least two directions.  The AP article re-printed and discussed widely, proposed that agriculture is waning in influence (1), while others highlighted an urban/rural divide (2). Thus, C-span’s Washington Journal opened its phone lines this morning to ask folks across the country, “who gets more of Congress’s attention, urban or rural communities?”  The first ten minutes from the video archive here are instructive, especially the interview with Amy Mayer. (3)

Here in San Diego, I think we might refine the question again:

Have urban communities ceased to feel connected to farmers and rural communities?   

You still may be wondering why I think finding a local answer to this question is so important. In short, I believe that one–if not the–bridge across food aid and agricultural interests in our region is the growing local food movement. Many of us have embraced a localized food system as a real path toward food security, longterm sustainability, improved health, revitalized neighborhoods, jobs and more robust economic activity, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and healing.

Is the desire to heal our local food system naive or misguided?

An editorial in the Globe today promotes severing the connection between SNAP and ag subsidies by splitting the Farm Bill, concluding that “the debate about SNAP’s efficacy is tied to the lobbying interests of major agribusinesses fighting to keep farm subsides intact” (4). The rationale emphasizes that most agricultural entitlements meant to provide a safety net for individual farmers, actually favor large-scale farm corporations:

  •  In 2010, 10 percent of farmers received 75 percent of the money allocated to the agricultural sector such as direct payments.
  • Last year, the smallest 80 percent of farmers received an average $5,000 of government aid, compared to the millions received by industrial farming operations. (4)

The critique of farm subsidies to corporations is sound on many counts, however, it doesn’t touch on how either small farmers or 5o million SNAP recipients would fare if we split the bill.  It seems that most of these groups are very wary. For the record, many larger farm interests also oppose splitting the bill, but here is where the Globe writer hints at a possible answer: “the first farm bill — passed in 1933 to help small farmowners struggling during the Great Depression — included a nutrition program. Later, the Food Stamp Act of 1964 banned using the stamps to buy imported foods as a way of encouraging growth in the agricultural sector.”

In 1964, domestic produce was local food! Wenonah Hauter has a great chapter on California in her book, Foodopoly, which breaks down how over the past three decades small, local produce growers have been driven out of the “fresh” and “organic” global food supply chain by large packers, shippers, distributors and grocery chains. In 2006, Walmart announced its commitment to locally grown produce, but by 2011, when Michelle Obama worked with Walmart to “make food healthier, and healthy food more affordable,” the corporation was well on its way to defining local food as “food consumed in the state in which it was grown” and “affordable” as squeezing out the small producer, who cannot absorb the high costs of packing, shipping, refrigeration and transport. (5)

The USDA’s ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food‘ initiative emphasizes the need for “a fundamental and critical reconnection between producers and consumers.” The effort builds on the 2008 Farm Bill, which provides increases and flexibility to USDA programs in an effort to revitalize rural economies through the promotion of local food systems. Aimed at strengthening the connection between farmers and consumers, the initiative also increases local market access for farmers, and expands access to healthy food for all Americans.

Clearly, we have so many fronts if our fight is simply against industrial food and corporations, but I say let our shared interest in LOCAL FOOD be our guide. Let local food be the vanguard for re-connecting rural communities to urban communities, eaters to producers, the hard working lower and middle classes to each other and to the needy, food to agriculture, and people to the land, water and air.

(See also Fair Food’s info-graphic on the economic impacts of the shift toward local purchasing!)

Cheers, ALA

Notes
1) See “Farm Bill Defeat Shows Agriculture’s Waning Power” in the New York Times, July 3, 2013.  At: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/03/us/politics/farm-bill-defeat-shows-agricultures-waning-power.html?emc=tnt&tntemail0=y&_r=0

2) See, Thomas Beaumont’s “Farm Bill Vote Breaks Down Urban-Rural Alliance’ in US NEWS & WORLD REPORT July 2, 2013 at http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2013/07/02/urban-rural-alliance-breaks-down-on-farm-bill-vote

3)  “Urban Vs Rural: Who Gets More Attention From Congress?” on CSPAN, Washington Journal for July 5, 2013 at: http://www.c-span.org/Journal/#

4) See ” Why Hold US Nutrition Aid Hostage to Farm Subsidies?” in the Boston Globe July 4, 2013. At: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2013/07/04/failure-farm-bill-blessing-disguise/m7xZU2z6ylYBTv4nlvILBP/story.html

5) Hauter, Wenonah. Foodopoly. (The New Press.) 2012.

6) See USDA’s Know Your Farmer program website: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/knowyourfarmer?navid=KNOWYOURFARMER

7) Bonus. Here’s a video of Mr. Cantor’s fight with Mr. Hoyer about who’s fault the farm bill failure in the House was, as mentioned in one of my early entries. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/02/farm-bill-vote_n_3532791.html

Is the Object to Break Up the Farm Bill or Split the Equity Alliance?

Dear neighbors of San Diego County,                                                                                      You may have noticed the headlines about a new wrinkle in the Farm Bill Reauthorization Process today. Namely Representative Cantor’s suggestion that Congress split agriculture related legislation from food assistance programs (SNAP). Many policy analysts are scratching their heads and debating what would be the real impact of separating these two major policy areas. As a recently arrived promoter of equity in policy across all of the titles in the Farm Bill, however, I hear another underlying question. Would splitting the bill alter the natural alliances between those who work to provide a safety net for the hungry and those whose primary focus is on providing a safety net for small family farmers, farmworkers, the environment and healthy regional food systems?

I believe those of us who first took interest in the Farm Bill by way of local involvement in San Diego’s urban agriculture, healthy food access, food justice, ethical consumer and sustainable farming movement(s) over the past decade may be particularly well-situated to shed light on this burgeoning question. In fact, I think we could ask one another the following:

Looking back over the past, say, five years, where would our regional food system — eaters, producers, land, water, the economy — be today without the combined resources of SNAP, SNAP-ed programs like farm-to-school, conservation programs and research related to water, soil, bees, safe pest control, and all of the other forms of technical assistance, federal, state, county, private, direct and matching funds related to public health emphases on obesity, diet and the built environment, such as community transformation grants, Healthy Places, Healthy Works, etc.?

While there are many layers to this policy/governance onion (see NSAC’s analysis here), I think we can avoid the rhetorical quagmire that can distance us from what seems an abstract process involving legislators in DC.  Rather, here at home, together, we could use our individual experiences and perspectives to do some quick collective analysis.

Do you think separating anti-hunger programs from agriculture and eliminating most of the programs that bridge these issue areas would make our regional and national food systems healthier?

My short answer is, I don’t, but I’d love to hear some other perspectives. PLEASE POST YOUR COMMENTS, whether you agree or wholly disagree with the position I am taking on this process, and thanks in advance!

Best,

Annie Lorrie

Aside

Since last week, folks in my local and far-flung networks have been asking, “what happened to the Farm Bill?” If you are dismayed, frustrated or angry, you aren’t alone. Many of my colleagues who have been following closely for years say that the 2013 Farm Bill Reauthorization Process is wholly distinct from the process that produced 15 prior farm bills, roughly every five to seven years since 1933. This is my take on what happened.

Background: Groundhog’s Day? Since the US Senate passed its version of the 2013 farm bill earlier this month, the heat has been on the House of Representatives. When the House failed to pass their version last week, a team of researchers and advocates at the Rural Coalition described it as Groundhog’s Day. Presumably, they were referring to the 11th hour negotiations with Big Ag that killed what would have been the farm bill on December 31, 2012. Then as we all remember, Congress hung the nation over the so-called “fiscal cliff” by refusing to agree on a federal budget. In the interim, sequestration and stopgap measures such as the continuing resolution provided only enough funding to keep the government running until September 30, 2013.

 “This is the first time, as far as I can tell, a [farm] bill was rejected on the floor.” –  Agricultural Committee Chairman Lucas on the radio in Oklahoma (1)

The question here is why couldn’t the House pass a Farm Bill? One interpretation is that Democrats could not abide the systematic attacks on the safety net for 45 million people, including children, families, seniors and other vulnerable people who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to stave off hunger. The total $20 Billion in cuts to SNAP, commonly known as “food stamps,” was just too much for people of conscience, even when the bill achieved some crop insurance reform and several other bipartisan farm bill firsts. (2)

Why Hold SNAP Hostage & Dems Responsible? I offer an additional interpretation that SNAP is being used as a foil to keep the Farm Bill from going forward. I say this because, without a Farm Bill, SNAP funding remains the same.(3) Folks who genuinely want food, farm and jobs policy reform ostensibly could leave SNAP alone for the moment and work towards agreement on the other issues like subsidies benefiting factory farms, conservation compliance, crop insurance, food safety and international food aid. I also say, look at the spin that makes SNAP and progressive Democrats the culprits.

Observing the House debacle from the Senate side, Agricultural Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) called the House bill “immature” meaning that the committee had not sufficiently achieved bipartisan support for the bill before introducing it on the floor (4), but several analyses point to the studied intentions of the Republican-led House Agriculture Committee and its Chairman, Rep. Lucas of Oklahoma.

In the official Congressional record, House Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) explained precisely who was responsible for turning the bipartisan bill that emerged from the committee “into a partisan bill.” Namely, “58 of the 62 Republicans who voted against your bill, voted for the last amendment. . .knowing full well that our side could not support that.” (5)

This implies that Republicans did not want the Farm Bill to pass.  According to Politico’s David Rogers, “among the 62 House Republicans voting against the farm bill last week, all but one had voted minutes before a controversial food stamp amendment that undercut Democratic support for passage.” (6)

This means that 61 Republican Representatives had already voted the bill down, before the Dems even heard the final amendment.    As Lucas said, again on Radio Oklahoma, “that doesn’t mean that the process is over with. That doesn’t mean that the reforms that were included in the bill, whether it’s the commodity title or nutrition or conservation, aren’t important, relevant and won’t ultimately become law, it just means on that day, on that bill, at that moment that Mr. Peterson and I could not persuade a simple majority-218 of our colleagues-to vote with us.” He then added,

But also, in all fairness, Ron, I cannot criticize the Democrats exclusively because 61 of my Republican colleagues, who voted for every one of those major reforms on food stamps, wouldn’t vote for the final bill, and that’s even more amazing. (7)

Is Partisanship like the Civil War? Despite Chairman Lucas’s optimism about passing a bipartisan Farm Bill, I think its failure in the House shines a disturbingly bright light on what is happening across all branches of our federal government. Yes, the emphasis on photo identification, proof of citizenship, exclusion of felons, green cards and the like in legislation about work, voting, eating, driving reflects a transparent and much broader assault on the rights of working people and the socially disadvantaged, including small family farmers, farmworkers, veterans, and the poor. Moreover, following the linkages among the most egregious farm bill amendments, recent decisions in the Supreme Court, and provisions in the Immigration bill signals a heavy and deeper debate, as Armando Nieto of CFJC alluded, between those who favor federalism and those favoring states’ rights. As we celebrate LOUDLY the long overdue decision to overturn DOMA, let’s also keep one eye on our civil rights and the decisions related to who prevents workplace harassment, defends equity in education, and, well, just about everything else.

Notes and Links to References:

1. Thanks to Farm Policy who transcribed the interview for their report. The full recording of the Radio Oklahoma Network’s interview can be found on the Oklahoma Farm Report: http://www.oklahomafarmreport.com/wire/news/2013/06/06103_LucasOnFarmBillFuture06262013c_160949.php#.UczG_7-xFcS

2. See “Food Stamps Changes Helped Defeat the Farm Bill” in the WSJ’s Washington Wire: http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2013/06/20/food-stamps-changes-helped-defeat-house-farm-bill/?mod=WSJBlog&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

See also “GOP’s Food Stamp Amendment Sinks the Farm Bill.”  http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/06/20/2191801/gops-food-stamp-amendment-sinks-farm-bill/?mobile=nc

3. If you want more information about why we need a farm bill, NSAC has a great site to peruse, and FarmAid has a study guide here. If you seek a few sites reporting on the continuing resolution start with these:

a. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/26/obama-continuing-resolution_n_2958200.html

b. http://appropriations.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=308400

4. I’m still verifying whether Stabenow made this comment on the record somewhere or in the presence of DC advocates, but for the moment, here’s an article where she celebrates the bipartisan nature of the Senate bill: http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/06/senate_passes_farm_bill_us_sen.html

5. See the congressional record at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r113:H20JN3-0022:/

6. See David Hogers, Politico, “How the farm bill failed” at: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/06/how-the-farm-bill-failed-93209.html#

7. See reference number (1).

The Local, Moral Hazards of the Global Trade in Food & Shelter

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have resolved to respond to “bigger-picture” global analyses by finding local ways to “be the change.”   This post begins with the global food crisis and narrows to focus on hunger in San Diego.

IS AGRICULTURE PART OF THE GREEN REVOLUTION?

Had I arrived hours earlier to the Van Jones lecture the other night, I might have secured a place in the long line at the microphone to ask how green revolution economists are factoring in the impending burst of the global food bubble, and whether localized movements to make farming viable and sustainable are registering in these analyses. 

For those of you who couldn’t make it, Jones spoke directly to the average, university-aged audience members about their generation’s three interlocking challenges:  to overcome the (moral) failure of the current economic system, to outwit the petroleum-based energy bubble, and to reverse environmental degradation through thrifty, conservation-based, green, innovative entrepreneurship.  His final point was that politics must transcend outdated partisanship –that is, as he sees it, “liberal” government (or regulation-only) solutions will not suffice, and wasteful, destructive (“drill-baby-drill”), credit-based market solutions got us into this mess in the first place.  As shorter term solutions, Jones suggested employing Boeing technology and the highly-skilled workers of Detroit and Michigan to fashion wind turbines and solar panels, and employing unemployed folks in urban and other economically-depressed areas to make homes more energy-efficient.  He closed with a theological message of stewardship and love (of nature/country/one’s brother) as genuinely patriotic values that countermand contemporary market trends, namely greed and recklessness.

It was a very good talk, but unfortunately for me, despite a brief mention of bio-fuels, which his emphasis on solar and wind precludes, Mr. Jones never spoke of agriculture or the farming industry or what middle-aged folks can do, now that they/we have messed everything up so terribly.

THE GLOBAL PICTURE – IS THE FOOD BUBBLE LIKE THE HOUSING BUBBLE? 

The Real News network has a terrific two-part interview with Jayati Ghosh explaining how the global food market, specifically the commodities futures market, has become the new speculative bubble that is about to burst.  (Thanks R. Patel for posting it!)  (Go here for Part I, and here for Part II.) 

And yes, it is the same bubble as the subprime lending bubble

Here’s a brief summary of Ghosh’s interview.  In 2007, when USAmerican “index investors” — familiar characters like Goldman Sachs, whom Jones would call “banksters” — were forced to bring monies back home to cover their losses in the subprime market, they began speculating on commodities futures, known to the rest of us, as rice, maize and wheat.  The global price of rice tripled, and wheat and maize followed closely behind, more than doubling.  Smaller, developing countries on the margins of subsistence experienced famine, forcing them to work directly against the “advice” of the IMF and World Bank.  Malawi, for instance, returned to localized, public procurement strategies, over-the-counter (OTC) trade, and subsidizing farmers to grow “food” that is meant to be consumed, rather than traded as a piece of paper or “commodity.”  

In particular, low interest rates for speculators in the United States present the same “moral hazard” that created the housing bubble. Ghosh points out that, effectively, risk-taking investment is encouraged in the present market, because there is no downside to failure.  She suggests that necessary future protections include international regulation (explicitly banning speculation in the commodities market), making farming viable, and reducing information asymmetry–that is, where farmers are the last to know whether prices are expected to change and often plan their harvests around last year’s trends.  I encourage you to see the interview in its entirety. 

OCCIDENTAL EFFECTS:  While it is argued that the United States and other developed nations have yet to feel the real impacts of the global food bubble, the citizens of many countries around the globe noticed rising prices in 2007 and were alarmed.   In Italy, “Spaghetti Shock” reflected the “inability” of the Association of Pasta Makers to absorb premium prices for durum wheat.  In Mexico, the price of tortillas went up, and in Germany, beer drinkers took the hit.  All of these price increases were attributed to the effects of biofuels market and/or speculative activity.

THE LOCAL PICTURE:  WHAT’S HAPPENING IN SAN DIEGO? 

As anyone reading this blog is well aware, I have concentrated my research and civic participation lately on ameliorating the effects that the CA state budget is having on San Diego’s most vulnerable populations.  In absence of a graph demonstrating how local San Diego farmers and consumers have been impacted by the Great Recession or the multiple effects of the simultaneous petroleum, water, housing and employment crises over the last three years, I’ll offer my initial findings about approaches to dealing with hunger on the local level; so far these approaches appear to include renegade activism, philanthropy (charity), government programs, governance reform, and advocacy.

In the US, hunger or “food insecurity” increased by 46% this year.  In San Diego, poverty is up 50%.*

  • For the first time ever, the San Diego Food Bank is holding a summer food drive to collect non-perishables.  The red barrels that usually arrive during the fall/winter holiday season are stationed now at San Diego County Albertsons/Sav-on Pharmacy stores, Jack in the Box “restaurants,” and Stater Bros. 
  • For families with children, the Summer Lunch Cafe will be providing free lunches at parks throughout the county.  (And yes, these lunches are regulated by USDA standards that often preclude fresh food donations from local, organic growers.) 
  • Food Not Bombs is known to feed hungry people in parks and anywhere they can around San Diego — currently Downtown at 16th & Island, Wednesdays around 5:30 — by preparing food “rescued” from grocery stores, bakeries, etc. before being discarded.  While the group has become well known in various cities, and has secured relationships with several local businesses to ensure the safety of rescued food, this approach to feeding the hungry has met with controversy over the years.  Perhaps as the need becomes greater, businesses that discard foods will create policies to donate food earlier than the last possible moment and reduce the ick factor and increase the dignity quotient in serving salvaged food.

WHAT CAN I DO? Many conscientious, low to moderate- income, householders in San Diego have begun to focus on eating locally, consuming more fresh foods and shopping primarily at the Farmers’ market (or subscribing to a CSA).  Of course, you can plant a garden or keep chickens or bees in your backyard, if you have one, or grow food in a container if you have a patio that has a hose and gets enough sun, but let’s face it not all of us do.  I am a strong proponent of the 1 in 10 platform and an advocate for policies to allow San Diegans to consume locally produced food, but if our family is at all representative, we do not frequent Jack in the Box, but we do supplement our fresh food with staples, non-perishables, and a host of sundries, which we purchase weekly at three local stores.  Finances may change our spending patterns and those of families like ours, but for now I decided to call up the stores that most frequently get our business to see how they are responding to the local hunger crisis.

Whole Foods, Hillcrest – While they weren’t participating in the food bank’s summer food drive, Ray Kau was very excited about a host of programs, including a farm-to-schools project with such partners as the SDC Children’s Obesity Initiative, and a local growers project with such partners as Terra Miguel, and last fall’s SuperFood Drive, which focused on nutrition-dense non-perishable, food donations (e.g., canned black beans). 

Trader Joe’s in Hillcrest – John Crumley explained by phone that TJ’s donates on a store-by-store basis, and they neither keep records, nor publicize donations. 

People’s Co-op in Ocean Beach – They collect donations all year-long and have done so for 20 years, but I’ll have to call back tomorrow to speak to Nancy Cassidy who manages the donations, which are distributed by OB Mainstreet.

Next Post:  Opportunities to Change Food Policy & Alleviate Hunger in San Diego

References & Notes

1.  See the report “Hunger & the Safety-Net in San Diego County.”

2.  *It bears repeating that only thirty-five percent of San Diego County residents who qualify for supplementary nutritional assistance (food stamps) benefits received help last year–the worst performance of any county in the nation!  This news spurred a host of responses ranging from cooperative agency-government partnerships and volunteer efforts to increase participation in food stamp programs to bolstering the Prop B campaign to ouster these indifferent County Supervisors. Why?  Well, in an interview with the Voice, Supervisor Dianne Jacob expressed her dilemma/challenge/duty with the following harshness:

“if I take police officers off the street to hand out welfare checks to those who don’t deserve it because I’ve eliminated a fraud program, am I doing my job? I’d say no.” 

Ouch!  How’s that for a message from a public servant (paid to administer state and federally-funded social programs)?