Saturday, May 05, 2007

Where There's a Bill, There's a Way

This year, the 110th Congress has pored over the massive Farm Bill and looked for ways to make changes. Laden with legislative pork fattened by corn and soy subsidies, the Farm Bill has in years past generally favored the big agribusinesses using monoculture and heavy applications of pesticides, leaving the small farmers of "specialty crops" -- those being the rest of the fruits and vegetables that we're all supposed to eat in a balanced diet -- without much help at all.

That might be about to change.

As reported by Tom Philpott over on Gristmill and the lovely people at the Ethicurean, Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Wayne Gilchrest have come together to create a bipartisan Farm Bill that cuts the subsidies to Big Ag and supports small farms, specialty crops, and the states' individual abilities to judge what agriculture might be best for their regions. Sweet Reason!

A more detailed article at Living the Country Life outlines some of the benefits:

--Improve the food stamp program by stopping the erosion of food stamp benefits and streamlining the application process;
--Expand programs that facilitate consumer access to healthy foods and promote specialty crops at the local and regional levels;
--Expand fruit and vegetable programs to schools nationwide and allows for geographic preferences in food purchasing programs;
--Provide states with a significant sources of funding for programs and projects that reflect the diversity and needs of each state's agricultural sector-programs;
--Improve the operation of working lands conservation programs and increase access for producers by recognizing the unique characteristics of their farming operations in formula allocations and funding priorities;
--Expand a state's ability to access and develop many different sources of renewable energy produced by agricultural operations and improves on-farm energy efficiency;
--Ensure that dairy programs reflect the unique needs of various regions; and
--Create a new national organic certification and transition program, and promotes research into invasive species.

Granted, that's a simplification of the bill's features, but those all sound pretty good to me, and if the president of the American Farmland Trust approves, it's most likely worth supporting.

It's probably not likely that this bill will pass as it stands now, because Congress has a tendency to pick apart good ideas and witter about how much good ideas cost (while, of course, turning an apparent blind idea to funding bad ideas). But if Congress hears from the American people as to what they want from a Farm Bill -- and I'm sure they don't hear from many people on a colossal piece of legislation like this -- maybe they'll do the right thing for once. After the recent food safety scares, we all need to realize that what Congress legislates for our food supply affects each and every one of us every day.

So get involved. Take a look at the bill (PDF) if you're into heavy-duty legislative reading. Contact your Representative and/or Senators (and remember that while signing an email petition is good, an individual letter is better). Write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. Support your local farmers' market and other local growers. Tell all of them, you eat and you have a voice in deciding how we produce food in this country.

Because eating local depends on support at the federal level, too.


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