By Brian Filipowich, Director of Public Policy at The Aquaponics Association
About every five years the Federal Government passes a massive, far-reaching “Farm Bill” with the main aim of providing an adequate national supply of food and nutrition. The Bill affects all facets of the U.S. food system including nutrition assistance, crop subsidies, crop insurance, research, and conservation. The 2014 Farm Bill directed the spending of about $450 billion.
Unfortunately, in recent decades, the Farm Bill has become a boondoggle for “corporate mega-farms”; multi-billion dollar operations that control vast acreage. The Farm Bill has failed to provide commensurate assistance to urban farmers. In effect, our government is using our tax dollars to give an advantage to corporate mega-farms over our small urban farms. Sad.
For example, the Farm Bill is the main reason high-fructose corn syrup is so cheap and loaded into 70% of food in the grocery store. In his book, Food Fight: The Citizens Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill, Daniel Imhoff writes: “Fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains – the foods most recommended by the USDA dietary guidelines – are largely ignored by Farm Bill policies.”
The Farm Bill has provided us a large, reliable quantity of food, but a food system racked with economic consolidation, environmental damage, and poor health outcomes.
The Urban Agriculture community has a great opportunity to shape the 2018 Farm Bill for two big reasons: 1) we offer benefits that appeal to politicians across the political spectrum, and 2) the public is already with us on this issue, ahead of the politicians.
Urban Agriculture boasts the following benefits that politicians love to hear:
- Year-round controlled-environment jobs and local economic growth;
- More fresh food to improve our diets and lower healthcare costs;
- Less waste from food spoilage and food transport; and
- Better food security.
The American consumers’ spending habits show that they are ahead of the politicians on this issue: Consumer Reports found an average price premium of 47% on a sample of 100 USDA Organic products. If folks are willing to pay 47% more for organic, then they are also willing to call their representative’s office, attend a town hall meeting, and show up at the ballot box. The energy to make the change already exists, we just need to channel it.
We have already seen the first step to shifting the Farm Bill toward our direction: Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, recently introduced the Urban Agriculture Act of 2016. The goal for the Act is to be eventually included as its own Title of the 2018 Farm Bill.
Here are some provisions of the Act:
- expands USDA authority to support urban farm cooperatives;
- makes it easier for urban farms to apply for USDA farm programs;
- explores market opportunities and technologies for lowering energy and water use;
- expands USDA loan programs to cover urban farm activities;
- provides an affordable risk management tool for urban farms to protect against crop losses;
- creates a new urban agriculture office to provide technical assistance; and
- expands resources to research, test, and remediate contaminated urban soils.
In Washington, DC, change is sometimes painfully slow. Positive changes for Urban Agriculture are by no means a foregone conclusion, especially in our unpredictable political environment. Politicians need to see that this issue will move votes.
So let’s stress our message and get the word out now, the politicians are ready to listen. Urban Agriculture offers jobs; fresh food and better health; less waste; and better food security. The legislative soil is fertile my agricultural amigos, now it’s our job to plant the seeds of an urban-friendly Farm Bill!
One way to stay involved is to sign up for the Aquaponics Association’s 2018 Farm Bill Coalition. Or there are many other groups that will be getting involved, including a few listed below.
Here’s some related resources to learn more:
- National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Farm Bill Primer
- Haas Institute: The U.S. Farm Bill; Corporate Power and Structural Racialization in the United States
- Food Tank, the Think Tank for Food
- Association for Vertical Farming
- Congressional Research Service 2014 Farm Bill: Summary and Side-by-Side
- Congressional Research Service The Role of Local Food System in U.S. Farm Policy
- The Atlantic: Overhauling the Farm Bill; the Real Beneficiaries of Subsidies
Director of Public Policy
The Aquaponics Association