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Local Foods Bill Will Provide Healthy Food and Create Jobs

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 yesterday in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two identical bills expand business and marketing opportunities for farmers and ranchers while increasing consumer access to healthy foods. The legislation addresses production, aggregation, processing, marketing and distribution barriers that limit growth in local and regional food markets. The bill also makes targeted investments in programs that create jobs and spur economic growth through food and farms.

“We applaud Representative Pingree and Senator Brown for reintroducing this legislation,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Local and regional agriculture is a major driver in the farm economy, yet producers face significant infrastructure, marketing, and information barriers. The bill addresses those barriers and makes smart investments that expand economic opportunities for farmers, increase jobs and improve healthy food access in rural and urban America.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has been closely involved in the development of the bill. Originally introduced in 2011, the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act gained the support of nearly 100 legislative co-sponsors and more than 280 organizational supporters in the previous Congress. Due to Congress’ inability to finalize a new five-year farm bill in 2012, an updated version of the bill is being reintroduced this year and is intended for inclusion in what will hopefully be the 2013 Farm Bill.

“This bill will improve the economics of farming in Maine and across the country,” commented Maine organic farmer Sarah Smith, who joined Rep. Pingree, Sen. Brown and Chef Tom Colicchio on Capitol Hill for the reintroduction of the bill. “Passage of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act will mean more jobs and income for farming communities nationwide and greater availability of high quality locally and regionally produced food for consumers.”

The Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act includes provisions in seven different titles of the Farm Bill, including proposals that address crop insurance, credit, nutrition, rural development, research and extension, horticulture and livestock. Many of the bill’s provisions were included in either or both the Senate-passed and House Agriculture Committee-passed farm bills in 2012.

The bill also invests in several sustainable agriculture programs that were left stranded and without funding by the 2008 Farm Bill extension passed earlier this year, including the Farmers Market Promotion Program, National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and Value-Added Producer Grants.

“For an investment of just more than $100 million a year, the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act can help a growing sector of the food system flourish,” said Hoefner. “This investment is tiny in overall farm bill terms—roughly one-tenth of one percent of total farm bill spending—but big in its power to deliver real, lasting and market-based benefits to farmers, consumers and communities.”

Some of the specific proposals within the bill include:

Whole Farm Revenue Insurance for Diversified Operations
The bill would direct U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Risk Management Agency to develop a Whole Farm Diversified Risk Management insurance product that is available in all states and all counties. The product is relevant to all diversified operations, including, but not limited to, specialty crops and mixed grain-livestock or dairy operations, contract producers, and organic and conventional farms. The new insurance product would be offered at the same buy-up coverage levels as other policies, include a strong crop diversification bonus, and account for all the normal costs involved in moving the crop off the farm and into marketing channels.

School Meals
The bill will improve institutional access to local and regional foods through a series of provisions regarding school meal procurement.  For example, the bill would create USDA pilot projects through which school systems could experiment with local food procurement and would allow small school districts to make their own food purchases on an ongoing basis if doing so creates administrative savings.

Rural Development
The bill boosts rural investment by restoring funding for the Value-Added Producer Grant program to $20 million a year and improving its delivery, with an emphasis on regional market and supply chains. The bill also strengthens the Business and Industry Loan funding set-aside for local and regionally produced agriculture products and food enterprises, and provides authority for local and regional food system funding under Rural Business Opportunity Grants, Rural Business Enterprise Grants and Community Facility Grants and Loans.

Farmers Markets and Local Food
The legislation will establish $20 million a year in mandatory farm bill direct funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. The expanded program will support direct farmer-to-consumer marketing but also will provide grants to scale up local and regional food enterprises, including processing, distribution, aggregation, storage, and marketing. Fifty percent of funding will go to direct marketing, with the remaining 50 percent to local and regional food system development beyond direct marketing, including institutional and retail value chains and markets.

The bill also increases funding for the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program and provides funding for incentives through the SNAP program to encourage low-income consumers to purchase healthy local food directly from local farmers.

Specialty Crop Block Grant Program
The bill would expand the purpose of the Specialty Crop Block Grant program to include the consumption and availability of local/regional specialty crops, the profitability and ecological sustainability of specialty crops and the affordability of specialty crops for low-income consumers.

National Organic Certification Cost Share Program
The legislation includes a provision to streamline and renew funding for national organic certification cost share to assist organic producers with the annual regulatory costs of producing certified organic products.

Assistance to Small and Very Small Meat and Poultry Processors
The bill improves market access for local and regional livestock and poultry producers by enhancing USDA’s technical assistance and guidance to such facilities. It also helps farmers, ranchers and small local processors by providing greater public information from USDA on approved meat labels.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD and FARM BILL pages for more related news on this topic.

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