The U.S. Farm Bill which is currently being discussed in Congress, is a huge piece of legislation that covers everything from crop subsidies, to “specialty crops” (meaning the fruits and vegetables we actually eat), to SNAP and WIC benefits, to land conservation program incentives. It is dense; it is complicated; it has the ability to strongly influence this country’s (in)ability to feed its citizens in the coming years. With a huge budget of nearing $420 billion, the Farm Bill is on the chopping block as part of the attempt to cut the budget deficit. However, the programs at risk of being scrapped are the very ones that need to be kept; the large payouts that keep subsidizing agribusiness are the ones that need to go. Doing so would turn our food system around and morph it into a system that is supportive of healthy foods, locally raised and grown produce, as opposed to Big Corn, Soy, & Rice, a process which helps to keep junk food cheap.
And currently this bill is being discussed in Congress behind closed doors and possibly will be enacted without any legislative debate.
So what are we, as consumers, supposed to do about this? First educate yourself. Know what the Farm Bill is (a challenging task, I know) but there are many resources and websites which have done a great job at unpacking the legislation into manageable bites of information. Second, write to your Congressman or Congresswoman. Already there has been a bipartisan group that has spoken out against this “secret” Farm Bill, but there needs to be more support. Third, continue to support your local farmers and urban growers. By supporting the local food system, we keep money in our communities as opposed to in the pockets of large multinational agribusiness corporations. As Wendell Berry is often quoted: “eating is an agricultural act.” It is true: where you choose to purchase your food is an agricultural choice as you are choosing to support a farmer and her/his agricultural practices. It is also a political one as well, as you can help to shape the kind of agriculture that U.S. policy supports and funds.
A few resources to help understand the Farm Bill:
Food and Water Watch’s Fair Farm Bill webpage.
Also the Facebook page Understanding the Farm Bill is an excellent wealth of news and information.
Understanding the Farm Bill Starts Here: All Our Articles in One Handy Place, May 25, 2011, by the Simple, Good and Tasty blog
An EXTENSIVE list of readings, articles, reports and explanations of the history of the Farm Bill, the programs within the omnibus bill, from the Community Alliance for Global Justice (CAGJ) out of Seattle, Washington. I would go here first for information.
Article on commodity subsidies (i.e. corn, soy, rice, milk) is a required read as well. By the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group.
An amazing website on the Declaration of the Youth Food Bill of Rights, which was the product of this summer’s Rooted In Community (RIC) Leadership Summit. The Summit was hosted in Philadelphia, PA and attracted 37 different groups of youth gardeners, food justice advocates and urban gardeners from across the U.S. This raises the question of is our Farm Bill supporting the people’s right to food access and security? If not, then perhaps it needs to.
A few recent articles on the “Secret” Farm Bill. A quick search online will turn up many more.
Budget cuts could be recipe for change or disaster, October 24, 2011 & Digesting OWS: Why Food Lovers Need to Come to the Table, October 29, 2011, by Slow Food USA
27 Bipartisan Members of Congress Unite to Oppose “Secret Farm Bill”, November 3, 2011, by Oxfam America
Memo to Congress: No Secret Farm Bill, November 2, 2011, by The Nation‘s Mark Hertsgaard
And for some satire via political cartoon (thank you www.MisaSaburi.com and Slow Food USA):