4. Making use of local produce

October 4, 2007  

In the past few years, Vermont-grown tomatoes, zucchini, and basil have started showing up in the school cafeteria meals of Vermont children. This is no coincidence. This new development required a great deal of coordination between public schools, nonprofit organizations, area farmers and school food service staff.

As a result of intensive work, farmers developed new markets for their products right in their own backyard, money previously used to purchase (and transport) food from out of state was now staying in Vermont's rural communities, and best of all, children began eating more healthy produce.

It's happening in several Vermont communities. In the greater Montpelier area, organizations are working together to address immediate food needs by developing an alternative distribution system that delivers fresh food from 12 local farms to 45 meal sites, including senior meal programs, early childhood education programs, mental health meal programs and emergency food sites. In Brattleboro, young adults are learning life skills and job skills through agriculture by working together to grow produce to sell at the local farmers markets, to local institutions, and to donate to local shelters and soup kitchens.

Stories like these have been repeated hundreds of times across the United States. In each case they have required a committed citizenry, knowledgeable nonprofit organizations, and, first and foremost, funding. A major source of funding for projects like these is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Programs.

First authorized by Congress in the 1996 farm bill, Community Food Projects have provided grants to cities, towns, and rural counties to do something very simple and uniquely American: develop their own solutions to local food, nutrition and agriculture problems.

But in its rush to pass a farm bill that preserved billions of dollars in crop subsidies for a relatively small number of large farmers, the House of Representatives did not provide mandatory funding for Community Food Projects, one of USDA's highest performing programs, which receives only $5 million annually. Should this kind of neglect continue in the U.S. Senate, which is now writing their version of the farm bill, it would mean the end of a program that is based on an up-by-the-bootstraps approach to community problem-solving.

The House's action flies in the face of current health data and national trends. As a nation that is currently eating itself to death — more than 60 percent of us are overweight or obese — it makes no sense to take money away from one of the few federal programs that is promoting healthy eating. And as a nation that is rediscovering both the wonders and value of eating locally, it makes no sense to ignore a program that has found new and exciting ways to connect local farmers to low-income communities for the benefit of both.

If the House version of the farm bill stands, projects like the Lower East Side Girls Club of New York, which has taught healthy eating to thousands of lower income city girls, will disappear. Lack of funding will also mean the end to projects like that on the Tohono O'odham Tribe's reservation in Arizona, where local innovation has seeded the revival of traditional Native American crops that are necessary to stemming the diabetes epidemic now running rampant through Indian Country. And in all likelihood, it will terminate funding for projects like the Community Garden Outreach Program in Green Bay, Wis., which has enabled Southeast Asian refugees to grow, market and process their own food.

In these days of multi-billion-dollar federal programs administered by cumbersome bureaucracies from the top down, it is unusual to find programs that only spend a few million dollars and encourage local people to find their own answers. Large-scale, institutional responses like food stamps are necessary to keep millions of Americans from going hungry, but small-scale programs like Community Food Projects are necessary to nurture community-based problem-solving that may one day end hunger.

I encourage readers to contact our two U.S. Senators, in particular Senator Leahy who has been the historic champion of these issues, and let them know how important Community Food Projects are to Vermont. Ask our congressman to not let this important program go unfunded. This affects all of us.

Dana Hudson works for Vermont FEED (Food Education Every Day, www.vtfeed.org) and has recently started as the Northeast regional leader for the National Farm to School Network, a position she shares with the Lincoln County Economic Development Office in Wiscasset, Maine

5. Countdown to the Senate


Farm Bill Review

Congress has been on recess for the Columbus Day holiday, so it has been a bit quiet here in Washington DC. The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to meet to go over Chairman Harkin’s proposed Farm Bill the week of October 22, but no specific date has been set. We here at CFSC hope that you've had the opportunity to call or email our Senate Champions and thank them for their support! If you need a reminder, please see our update from last week.


This gives us a great opportunity to share with you some aspects of the Farm Bill that we don’t usually have the time or space to talk about in our regular updates. For one thing, we thought that it might be useful to point out that we have a document on our website that goes over the ten separate sections of the Farm Bill and what all is included in these ten different components of the legislation. You can check it out here. Along with these ten sections of the Farm Bill, there are some additional titles that have been proposed in the past and are coming up again in this round.


One of these proposals is a set of bills known collectively as the Competition Title. These proposals seek to combat increased concentration and lack of competition in the agricultural sector that occurs as a result of a few companies owning most or all of the components of the food production chain. Small farmers are hurt by concentration and consolidation because it lessens their bargaining power, enables prices to be manipulated, and restricts their options in negotiating contracts. The National Farmers Union found that the top four companies in the beef, pork, poultry, flour milling, and soybean crushing sectors controlled more than 40% of the market, which is the limit at which economists say that competition starts to decline. That report can be accessed here.


An agricultural market that lacks legitimate competition not only affects small farmers, but also consumers. When competition decreases, consumers can be faced with fewer choices, higher prices, and lower quality products. With the recent upsurge of food recalls, it is important to consider how the consolidation of food production can negatively affect food safety. In February of 2007, the Center for Food Safety, along with the National Black Farmers Association, criticized a Monsanto merger in a report found here.


The version of the Farm Bill that was passed in the House in July did not address competition in a meaningful way. A competition title was proposed for inclusion in the 2002 Farm Bill, but was blocked in part by the lobbying efforts of large livestock companies. More information about what is specifically contained in the bills known as the Competitive Title can be found on the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s “Understanding the Farm Bill” report. 


Aimee Witteman from the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition also wrote a piece about the competition title on the Grist blog, found here.


While CFSC does not have an official position on the Competition Title, we do believe that promoting fair and active competition in the food system helps keep our food safe, the marketplace healthy, and family farmers on the land. We encourage you to follow the links above and become more educated on these proposals.

Farm Bill Chatter


Senate Dynamics

The “Washington Insider” section of DTN stated that Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) are working with other members of the Agriculture Committee to come up with enough votes to approve the alternative plan they have generated. The article states that Sen. Conrad has already wooed Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), by offering more funding for the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, and he will continue to work on other members. The alternative plan is considered by some to be a direct challenge to proposals made by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA). (FarmPolicy.com, Oct. 10)


Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) made some comments regarding the Farm Bill process in the Senate so far. Sen. Grassley mentioned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who has a different approach from former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) who worked aggressively on the 2002 Farm Bill. Sen. Grassley said Sen. Reid is pretty consistent in keeping out of committee work and relying upon the chairmen to get their work done. Sen. Grassley also defended Sen. Harkin's handling of the Farm Bill, stating “Harkin ‘can’t be condemned for not coming forth with a bill if he doesn’t know how much money he’s dealing with,’ says Grassley. Grassley urged Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss to use those dollars for conservation programs and value-added agriculture. He would also like to see some of the money go to the African-American farmers who were denied entry in the Pigford settlement case. (FarmPolicy.com, Oct. 11)


"Make the Farm Bill Fair"

A coalition of nine groups including Oxfam America, the Environmental Working Group, and Taxpayers for Common Sense are putting pressure on the Senate to institute meaningful reforms to commodity payment programs. The campaign includes a tagline "Make the Farm Bill Fair".  Although united for reform, the groups making up the coalition have some different goals. Some, like Environmental Working Group and the Land Stewardship Project, based in Minnesota, want more money for land stewardship and rural development. Taxpayers for Common Sense would phase out crop supports altogether. (FarmPolicy.com, Oct 11)


Conservation Advocates Push Senators 

Twenty-three conservation and environmental groups have co-signed a letter to U.S. senators telling them the Senate farm bill has to at least match the House farm bill on conservation spending or the proposal "falls short." The groups called on the Agriculture Committee to add at least $2 billion more in funding to the pot created by the Finance Committee package. The letter sent to Senate leadership as well as the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee. A spokeswoman for Harkin said Thursday that he is still looking to spend more on conservation than the House bill, though he noted in a news conference last week that conservation was "under attack" by forces wanting to spend more money elsewhere in the bill. (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Oct. 11th).


Specialty Crop Growers

An article in the Financial Times talked about the demands of specialty crop growers, which include increased money in research on issues specific to specialty crops, and also market development. They have not requested subsidy payments similar to what is received by crops like corn, wheat, and rice.


Specialty crop growers do support the current restriction on planting fruits and vegetables on acres that are considered "base acres" for commodity crops. They feel that landowners who receive commodity payments would have an unfair advantage over farmers who have traditionally only planted specialty crops, and therefore can't fall back on subsidy payments. This restriction has been a point of contention in the World Trade Organization, and there is some movement to do away with that planting restriction.


The Price of Food

Food prices are up, and many people have ideas as to why this is. Some factors may include the rising cost of oil, federal subsidies, a weak US dollar that raises the price of imports, higher commodity prices, and a larger global growing middle class increasing demand on foods, especially meat. Demand for wheat is also at a record high due to a shortage of supply, making the price skyrocket. Many of these issues were discussed on The Diane Rehm Radio Show last Tuesday, and the guests included Bruce Babcock (professor of economics and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University), Dan Morgan (special correspondent, Washington Post and fellow, German Marshal Fund of the United States) and Lauren Etter (reporter, Wall Street Journal). You can listen to the show by clicking here. (FarmPolicy.com, Oct. 9)


Concerns Over Ethanol 

Cornelia Dean reported in the New York Times on Oct. 11 that increasing the acres of crops grown for ethanol could harm water quality and leave some parts of the country more prone to water shortages. Corn is the most widely grown crop to produce fuel in the US, and it may cause more damage per unit of energy than other fuel crops. This makes conservation provisions in this coming Farm Bill more important than ever.



6.  Alerts from Our Allies
Support the Efforts of other Organizations

Conservation Call-In Day, October 17
:  The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition along with national conservation and environment organizations will be participating in a nationwide call to action for the Senate to commit to conservation in the Farm Bill. They are asking that constituents call their Senators next Wednesday and ask them to:
   "Provide at least $5 billion more for conservation in the farm bill, including $2 billion for the Comprehensive Stewardship Incentives Program."



Thanks for your support, and be sure to call our Senate champions to say thank you! 



Steph, Kacie, and Sarah



Community Food Security Coalition
110 Maryland Ave. NE Suite 307
Washington, DC 20002
Phone: 202.543.8602
Email: [log in to unmask]



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