From food stamps to farmers markets: How the farm bill may affect you



On New Year’s Eve, Congress quietly passed the extension of the 2008 farm bill, with drastic ramifications. Funding was slashed for healthy eating programs for food stamp recipients. Money was cut for organic agriculture. Specialty crop grants for a rural development program were axed altogether.

These are among the issues Jared Cates wants to see supported in the next farm bill that Congress is scheduled to pass this year. At a talk at the Irregardless Café in Raleigh, Cates, who works for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, a nonprofit focused on local, organic food, discussed how federal agriculture policy affects communities, the environment and personal health.

In the 2012 fiscal cliff commotion, you may have heard that the Food, Conservation and Energy Act, or the 2008 farm bill, expired. You may have heard people freaking out about the possibility of $7 gallons of milk.

The federal farm bill actually expired in September. House speaker John Boehner continuously refused, in Cates’ words, to bring new legislation to the House floor for a vote. “I was not surprised,’ Cates said. ‘The can was just kicked further down the road. I’m not surprised it happened at midnight, on New Year’s Eve, when everyone was on vacation.”

He’s referring to last-minute bipartisan legislation that extended the previous farm bill but that significantly cut important programs. These reductions could threaten North Carolina farmers and consumers alike. Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, called the deal “blatantly anti-reform.”

The bulk of the 2008 farm bill—almost 70 percent of its $289 billion allocation—went to nutrition assistance programs. According to the 2010 U.S. census, 17.8 percent of the state’s population lived below the poverty line, a traditional indicator of food stamp eligibility. Between 2007 and 2009, 8.6 percent of the population of the 13th Congressional District, which includes parts of Raleigh, for example, used food stamp benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Several other North Carolina initiatives, including one that would bring a mini-mobile farmer’s market to communities across the state, and another that would offer revolving loans to farmers’ markets, were cut under the extension legislation.

“It’s something we all need to be aware of,’ Cates told his audience, ‘because you are what your policy tells you to eat. .We need a farm bill for the next five years that supports community, environmental and personal health. We need to fight to get programs back into the farm bill.”

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