The Farm Bill Needs You

"This is not just a farm bill. It's a food bill, and Americans who eat want a stake in it." —Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa

After reading about the new farm bill before Congress, it's clear that food lovers everywhere need to do whatever they can to support this bill. Why? Because for the first time maybe ever the farm bill actually tries to do something for the people who grow our fruits and vegetables, the caretakers of our land, and for people who love food.

Consider the coalition supporting the changes in the farm bill:

Changes in the farm bill are being supported by the Bush administration and an unusual alliance that includes the American Heart Association, Environmental Defense, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and GMA/FPA, a food industry association. They agree that some subsidies should be cut and money spent instead to help fruit and vegetable growers, protect farmland, support small farmers and promote healthy eating.

Consider the following aspects of the farm bill currently being debated in Washington as reported by Marian Burros in the New York Times:

Some of the bills before Congress are aimed at helping growers of fruits and vegetables and adding to the supply of local food.

One goal is helping to pay for new processing plants and slaughterhouses so that small farms could more easily market their products in their regions rather than sending them long distances. Many regional plants went out of business when the food industry became more concentrated.

Another is setting up more farmers’ markets and helping farmers sell to nearby schools, hospitals and other institutions, and helping low-income older people buy from small farmers.

Other ideas include giving grants, loans and technical assistance to beginning, immigrant and minority farmers to start new farms or to keep small struggling farms in business, and providing money for farmers who want to convert to organic methods.

Spending money on researching the cultivation of fruits and vegetables would help farmers find more efficient ways to irrigate and fertilize crops and deal with pests while cutting back on pesticides. Greenhouses would also be built to extend growing seasons.

Food Stamp benefits would be increased so that a family of three would receive $317 a month, up by $10.

Some bills would expand farm and ranchland preservation programs, restore and protect more wetlands, grasslands and watersheds, and improve water quality by cutting back on pesticides and preventing nutrients and pesticides from washing off farms and into streams and lakes.

Others include money for research and incentives for renewable energy on farms and ranches for wind power, biofuels from crops other than corn and for equipment to capture the methane from manure and turn it into an energy source.

You don't have to be a policy wonk to understand that a lot is at stake here. It seems as is this is a seminal moment for people who care about the food they eat and the people who grow it. Let's not let this farm bill get lost in a sea of lobbyists and special interests. Email, call, and write your representatives and anyone and everyone who is involved in this legislation.

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