On Nov., 1, 2011, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine and 35 original co-sponsors introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, a comprehensive bill intended for inclusion in the 2012 Farm Bill.
The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act revises and expands existing federal farm programs to ensure that they effectively foster local and regional food system development.
The legislation helps farmers and ranchers by addressing production, aggregation, processing, marketing, and distribution needs to access growing local and regional food markets. The bill also assists consumers by improving access to healthy food. The measure provides secure farm bill funding for critically important programs that support family farms, expand new farming opportunities, create rural jobs, and invest in the local food and agriculture economy.
“We applaud Senator Brown and Congresswoman Pingree for introducing this legislation,” says Helen Dombalis, a Policy Associate with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act revises and expands existing federal farm programs to ensure that they effectively foster local and regional food system development. The bill invests in communities – when consumers are connected to and invested in where their food comes from and agricultural producers meet this demand, local economies reap the benefits.”
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and its 40 member groups were closely involved in the development of the bill. Among the many other groups endorsing the measure are the National Farmers Union, National Organic Coalition, Community Food Security Coalition, American Farmland Trust, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and National Farm to School Network.
The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act includes provisions that cut across ten titles of the Farm Bill, including proposals that address conservation, credit, nutrition, rural development, research and extension, food safety, livestock, and crop insurance. Some of the specific proposals within the bill include:
The bill will authorize USDA’s Risk Management Agency to develop a Whole Farm Adjusted Revenue Risk Management insurance product that is available in all states and all counties and 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. Additionally, the legislation directs USDA to offer the product at the same buy-up coverage levels as other policies, include a strong crop diversification bonus, and account for all the costs involved in getting a crop to market.
Commenting on the utility of the legislation, Jack Hedin of Featherstone Farm in Rushford, MN points out: “One of the greatest challenges that a diversified, fresh market truck farm such as my own faces, as it scales up to meet burgeoning demand, is the lack of affordable, appropriately designed crop insurance such as the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act envisions. This kind of insurance would be a huge help to the growth of the local and regional food industry.”
The legislation will establish $30 million a year in mandatory farm bill direct funding for what is now the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP). The newly refashioned Local Marketing Promotion Program will do everything FMPP does, 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 scaling up food systems, and no less than 10 percent of total funding will contribute towards strengthening statewide, regional, and national market development networks.
Explains Stacy Miller, Executive Director of the Farmers Market Coalition: “This legislation makes existing programs more effective. The Farmers Market Promotion Program, which has proven exceptionally efficient at using small grants to build capacity of young farmers markets and helping them leverage other sources of support for long-term sustainability, is continued and expanded by this important new bill. It has our strong support.”
The bill will improve institutional access to local and regional foods through a series of provisions regarding school meal procurement. For example, through a “local food credit program,” originally championed by Representative Pingree in her Eat Local Foods Act introduced earlier this year, School Food Authorities could opt to use up to 15 percent of their school lunch commodity dollars for making purchases of foods in their own communities, from their own farmers and ranchers, instead of through USDA’s nationalized commodity food program.
Highlighting the systemic benefits of this approach, Illinois Stewardship Alliance Executive Director Wes King notes, “Whether you are looking at it from the perspective of the small or mid-sized family farmer who is interested in accessing new markets or the parent who is concerned about the health of his or her child, this bill makes it easier for schools to purchase fresh, healthy food from local farmers and is a win-win for everyone involved.”
Funding for Rural Development programs has declined significantly in recent agriculture appropriation bills, and these programs are at risk during the farm bill reauthorization. The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act boosts rural investment by increasing the Business & Industry Loan funding set-aside for local and regionally produced agriculture products and food enterprises from five to ten percent. The legislation will also provide authority for specific types of local and regional food system funding under Rural Business Opportunity Grants (RBOG), Rural Business Enterprise Grants (RBEG), and Community Facility Grants and Loans.
Says Dave Runsten, Policy Director of Community Alliance with Family Farmers in Arcata, CA: “We have worked with various Rural Development programs such as RBOG, RBEG, and Value-Added Producer Grants that are oriented toward job creation in rural areas. This bill makes adjustment to these programs to make them as useful as possible. We applaud the focus on recreating the local food infrastructure, a critical need all across the country.”
Within the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, the bill proposes an annual allocation for local and regional specialty crop market development. Although the program is already in place to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, which include fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts, there is no explicit focus on specialty crops marketed in their local and regional areas. This legislation would change that.
Jennifer Fike, Executive Director of the Food System Economic Partnership in Ann Arbor, MI spells out the significance of the program provisions in the legislation: “As the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, Michigan produces a vast array of specialty crops and ranks number four in the number of farmers markets. The state’s economy, however, has suffered dramatically over the past decade due to the decline in the manufacturing sector. The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act will increase economic development opportunities for farmers in Michigan and drive our agricultural economy. We have seen an increase in the formation of cooperatives and an interest in farmers seeking to work together to increase sales opportunities. This important piece of legislation will allow Michigan farmers to more effectively market the bounty that we produce and will grow jobs in agriculture.”
The bill will also be beneficial to organic producers. The legislation includes a provision to renew funding for the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) to assist producers with the regulatory costs of entering into organic production. Explains Liana Hoodes, Director of the National Organic Coalition: “NOCCSP is the only program that assists organic farmers with their cost of certification. This is especially important to encourage small and medium-size organic farms to transition to organic in order to meet the growing consumer demand and to maintain a diversity in scale of organic operations.
For more information on the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, visit NSAC.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.
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