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Why should one care about the Farm Bill?

Isn’t the Farm Bill just a piece of legislation that deals with farmers out in the Midwest?  Doesn’t the Farm Bill deal with people who live in places like this:

Photo Credit: http://www.activistpost.com

When in reality the Farm Bill is a comprehesive piece of legislature that deals with both farm and  food polices.  The Farm Bill which should be called the Farm and Food Bill should conjure up images like this:

Photo Credit: http://www.njfoodbank.org

Roughly 2/3 of the Farm bill goes to SNAP aka food stamps spending, a benefit used by 45 million Americans (Delaney, 2012). And in 2011, there were a little over 800,000 people in New Jersey, meaning nearly one out of every 10 residents in New Jersey receiving assistance (Sagara and Stirling, 2011).

Photo Credit: Washington Post

Here is the breakdown of costs in Farm Bill (Plumer, 2012- for the breakdown of the pie chart):

  • Food stamps and nutrition, $768.2 billion over 10 years. This is by far the biggest part of the farm bill, with the bulk of it taken up by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps low-income families pay for food.
  • Commodity programs, $43.2 billion over 10 years.  Commodity usually means any agricultural product but in the Farm Bill it typically refers to five commodity crops (corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice). These five crops receive the most government subsidies.
  • Crop insurance, $94.6 billion over 10 years. This is insurance available to farmers against loss or damage to growing crops as a result of natural hazards  (hail, drought, flood, insects).
  • Conservation, $57.7 billion over 10 years. This includes programs to help farmers protect against soil erosion and to use ecologically friendly methods like drop irrigation.

Everything Else:

  • Trade, $3.4 billion over 10 years. These programs involve promoting U.S. crops overseas and offering food aid abroad. The government also provides some technical assistance to farmers in developing countries.
  • Energy, $1.4 billion over 10 years. This includes money for biofuels as well as energy efficiency in rural areas.
  • Miscellaneous, about $6 billion over 10 years. This includes everything from forestry programs to rural development to research and development. There are programs for promoting farmers markets, selling off timber on federal lands, and even research into organic agriculture.

Important Take Away Points:

  -Every five years, Congress renews the Farm Bill through the re-authorization process and the five years is up in 2012.

-The Farm Bill has a great impact on the food we eat, the price we pay for food and our access to healthy food.

-The Bill gives large subsidies to companies/farmers that produce commodity crops. This makes it harder for farmers to grow specialty crops like fruit and veggies.

-National monopolies have formed as a result of these subsidies- the commodity program- 4-5 companies produce most of our crops. This has led to less variety of crops and in who produces our crops. Food is regionalized rather than localized.

How to learn more about the Farm Bill:

http://www.farmbillfacts.org/farm-bill-facts

 

Food Research & Action Council:

http://frac.org/leg-act-center/farm-bill-2012/strengthening-snap-in-the-2012-farm-bill/

 

Food and Water Watch:

http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org

How can I make a difference with the policies the government makes?

Take online courses:

http://thecitizenscampaign.org/tool-kit-glance

 

How to get involved in grassroots politics:

http://sustainableagriculture.net/take-action/

And try to eat local, seasonally, organically when possible:

Join a CSA or community supported agriculture:

The Sustainable Farm at Rutgers:

http://aesop.rutgers.edu/~studentfarm/join.html

 

Local Farm in South Brunswick:

http://www.vonthunfarms.com/frequently-asked-csa-questions/csa-program/

Or shop at a farmers market:

Rutgers Garden Farmer’s Market:

http://rutgersgardens.rutgers.edu/farmmarket.htm

New Brunswick Community Farmers Market:

http://www.nbcfarmersmarket.com/

References:

  • Delaney, A. (2012, June 21). Democrats not trying to prevent food stamp cuts, breaking promise.Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/21/democrats-not-trying-to-    p_n_1614248.html
  • Plumer, B. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/post/the-senate-farm-bill-in-one
  • Sagara, E. and  Stirling, S.(2011). New jersey real-time news. Retrieved from             http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/11/number_of_nj_residents_on_food.html
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