The Senate Ag Committee held a farm bill hearing on March 7 titled “Healthy Food Initiatives, Local Production and Nutrition.” This hearing explored innovative opportunities in agriculture through policies that assist the development of local markets for farmers – connecting them to the growing consumer demand for locally produced, healthy food options.
“The continued success of the agricultural economy and the continued growth of jobs in agriculture require both traditional production and local efforts. America’s farmers aren’t just feeding the world; they’re also feeding their neighbors and their local community. Local food efforts are leveraging private dollars to create more economic opportunity in rural communities and more choices for consumers.”
—Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan)
"These relationships are critical for a generation with no living memory of a time when much of America was involved in agriculture. Many Americans learn about farming for the first time when they meet a local farmer or read about their products and production methods in a store. In this way, local and regional food economies help the 98 percent of Americans who don’t farm to reconnect with our Nation’s farmers and ranchers, and better understand the important role they play in our their families lives and the strength of our nation."
—Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture
“To assist with the development of a national network of food hubs we urge support for measures to help fund food hub development. Continued support of USDA AMS to conduct research and provide technical assistance needed to support food hub development. Identify partnerships with HUD and DOT to include food hub development as part of the Sustainable Communities Initiative. Remove barriers within existing USDA program to using infrastructure development funds for food hub projects in urban areas that benefit rural growers.”
—Dan Carmody, president
Eastern Market Corporation, Detroit, Michigan
“We regularly talk with our supplier partners – your constituents – and we clearly understand that farming specialty crops is a difficult and risky business. The challenges include unpredictable weather patterns, the lack of a ready labor force in some parts of the country, complex H2A visa requirements, a lack of capital and the general aging of America’s farmers.
“These big challenges indicate that large conventional farms in traditional large agricultural states will remain a very important part of our business. But as we grow, the U.S. population grows, and if we can encourage greater consumption of fruits and vegetables, we’ll need local and regional sources of product to meet the demand we expect.”
—Ron McCormick, senior director of local sourcing and sustainable agriculture
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Benton, Arkansas
“We were not able to tap the school market and in fact had to turn schools away. We have the buyers lined up. We have the demand lined up. We even have a grassroots effort in our state to get farm to school programs going, to get Arkansas-grown food into our schools. We just cannot get the critical mass due to a distinct lack of the necessary infrastructure to meet the demand…I have come to realize that we need public dollars to jump-start the initiative as a public-private partnership. I am thrilled to report that we are getting local cooperation and some state help, but we still need federal support.”
—Jody Hardin, farmer
“There are three important steps that the Committee can take in the Farm Bill to prevent such significant shortfalls between supply and demand. First, increase mandatory funding for TEFAP commodities to better reflect the rising demand for food assistance resulting from higher unemployment and food insecurity … The Committee should also enhance the Secretary of Agriculture’s authority to purchase bonus commodities not only when agriculture markets are weak but also when the economy is weak and the need for emergency food assistance is high so the program is responsive to both excess supply and excess need … Finally, the Committee should designate that a portion of the specialty crop purchase requirement be provided to food banks.”
—Anne Goodman, president and CEO
Cleveland Foodbank, Cleveland, Ohio
“The Farm Bill has the power to change the way America eats. One in three children born today will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. This not acceptable for our children's health and not sustainable for our economy. By expanding these initiatives nationally we know that we can create thousands of jobs, as well as prevent obesity and diet-related diseases that threaten to worsen our deficit and hurt our economy. We also know that our continued progress depends on a strong Farm Bill that steers our citizens toward healthier foods, supports regional farm systems, and ensures that all children grow up surrounded by easily-accessible, affordable and nutritious food.”
—John Weidman, deputy executive director
Food Trust, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania