Monday, January 22, 2007

Let's transform the "Farm Bill" into a "Food Bill"

By Brian Rohter

One of the things I strongly believe in is the concept of “voting with your dollars.” Sending messages to businesses by deciding to buy, or not buy, their goods can have a real impact on the world around us. For instance, the increasing demand for local, sustainable and organic food has resulted in thousands and thousands of acres of land being converted to more environmentally sound growing practices. Stores like ours, the people who grow food we sell and the folks who choose to shop with us have led the way. I believe positive change in the food system has happened more quickly because of shoppers making tiny decisions every day than it has as a result of public policy. However, every once in a while a political issue comes up that has the potential to really make a huge difference. I think the Farm Bill of 2007, which will be considered by this Congress, is one of those issues. For starters, why is this called the “Farm Bill”? Wouldn’t calling it the “Food Bill” be more accurate? That little tweak certainly would change the tone of the conversation.

Why is the Farm Bill important? It was originally set up to help stabilize the incomes of our farmers (that was a good thing) but it’s really turned into a massive subsidy program with over 90 percent of its billions of dollars going to five crops; corn, soybeans, cotton, rice and wheat. Guess how much money from this program goes to the Stewart family of Columbia Gorge Organic Fruit Co. in Hood River, who provide us with our apples and pears? None. Guess how much money goes to the Boden family of West Union Gardens, in Hillsboro, who raise the incredible berries we offer in season? None.

As a matter of fact, with some possible tiny exceptions, no subsidy at all is provided for any Oregon growers of fruits or vegetables. Instead our tax dollars are used to support the consolidation and globalization of our food supply. Now, I’m not saying that Columbia Gorge Organics or West Union Gardens has asked for any money and I don’t know if they’d even accept it if it were offered. I do know that most of the growers that we work with believe that the system is seriously broken and at the very least the playing field needs to be leveled.

Here’s what I'm hoping the Food Bill of 2007 will look like:

  • I want it to prioritize the health of our nation’s children.
  • I want it to incentivize the preservation of farmland and farming communities.
  • I want it to help create a good life for the hard working people who plant, weed and pick our food.
  • I want it to incentivize the transition of farmland to sustainable agricultural practices.
  • I want it to incentivize on-farm wildlife and habitat conservation.
  • I want it to support farmers markets.I want it to encourage local food systems.
  • I want it to incentivize diversity in our food systems--18 varieties of local tomatoes and 20 varieties of local melons should be the norm.
  • I want it to ensure that livestock is raised and cared for with kindness and respect.
  • I want it to help disconnect our food system from fossil fuel.
  • I want it to help sustainably grown and healthy food to be affordable for everyone.

What do you want?

*Make your voice heard. Contact our United States Senators from Oregon, Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith, to let them know how you feel about the 2007 Farm Bill. To keep an eye on the 2007 Farm Bill as it moves through the U.S. Senate and to comment directly to the U.S. Senate's Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, go to You can also check out the USDA's 2007 Farm Bill page.


straycat said...

This is an interesting issue. I had not known of this bill prior to reading it here… I’m still trying to understand it all. So it’s going to subsidize incomes to big farms based on crop? Why? Why not small ones as well? How can we assist in the re-defining of this bill in addition to voting with our dollars? Contact our members of Congress I assume? Thanks!

chili said...

Wow! New Seasons Market has a blog now? Just another example of how different your store is from other grocers. I like your “Food Bill” idea. But how do we make it happen?

Eileen Brady said...

Another great article to read is Dan Barber’s Op-ed in the NY Times from Sunday, January 14th, Amber Fields of Bland. Here is the link.

It is really important for the urban voice to be heard in the farmbill discussion. It is time for nutrition experts, doctors, nurses, coaches, natural food stores and people concerned about the quality of the food we are eating to get into the farmbill conversation.

Devoted Customer said...

yet, you carry coca-cola in your stores.

Brian Rohter said...

We just received some information from Congressman Blumenauer about a forum he’s co-hosting to discuss some of these issues. It’s pasted below.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer Announces Farm Bill Forum

The scheduled reauthorization of the federal Farm Bill later this year gives us a unique opportunity to help Oregon farmers, ranchers, vintners, and nursery growers; bolster Oregon’s economy; strengthen both our rural and urban communities; and protect Oregon’s environment.

To this end, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Portland State University, and Oregon State University are co-hosting a

Farm Bill Forum: Common Ground

for Countryside and City, Agriculture and the Environment

Saturday, February 10, 2007 9:00 am – 3:00 pm

Hoffman Hall, Portland State University (1833 SW Eleventh Avenue)

This event will also feature Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA), key members of the Oregon House and Senate, and representatives from state agencies, agricultural interests, business and environmental organizations and other nonprofit groups.

The forum will focus on invited testimony and discussion from expert panels on how the next Farm Bill can best address these topics:

· Urban Opportunities for Oregon Agriculture: Direct Markets, Better Health, Revitalized Communities

· Protecting Farmland, Preventing Sprawl, and Helping Farmers

· Regional Institutes for 21st Century Agriculture: The Northwest Example

· Agriculture’s Role in Energy Independence

· Promoting Good Jobs in Agriculture in Rural and Urban Oregon

Although there will be an opportunity for audience comments and questions, we will have to limit those to the five topics above. However, please send your thoughts on other topics to Meeky Blizzard in Congressman Blumenauer’s office at ( or 503-231-2300).

Box lunches will be provided for registered attendees, but space is limited. Please RSVP to Joe Bolenbaugh ( as soon as possible to reserve a spot.

OrangeClouds115 said...

Thanks for writing this! I look forward to seeing progressive changes in the next Farm Bill as well. I’ve been writing on food politics at DailyKos and it’d be cool if you could post your opinions there to get this sort of conversation going.

salem shopper said...

Thanks for the blog, the web site, and the store(s). My fervent wish is that you would move south with a store in Salem.

I’ve already passed the Feb 10 Farm Bill workshop info on to our State agency sustainability network. I’ll check the Blog frequently for timely information and ideas for activism.

sam said...

Here’s the Washington Post Farm Subsidies investigative series called “Harvesting Cash” so people can read up on the program. Very interesting stuff.

It’s my understanding the Farm Bills are why we have mass marketed Corn-Fed everything even though that isn’t a natural food for most and so much soy including dozens of different names for MSG.

Davie said...

you have the best food i have ever eaten!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Theres no place that can compare to new seasons market!!!!!!!!!!! My friend Dave told me to shop at new seasons and now i am hooked. See you soon.

john said...

what is up with the NATIVE salsa???? It’s frozen and then NS thaws it with a spoil date as if it’s fresh?? that’s dishonest and manipulative, especially since the product says fresh on the package. I want to know when a product is frozen then thawed.

Lisa Sedlar said...

Thanks for being in touch regarding the Native salsa. I can understand your disappointment in learning that Native salsa arrives to our stores frozen.

Proper labeling is extremely important to us; we encourage our customers to read labels, and support efforts to make food labeling clear for the consumer.

We agree that the labeling on this salsa isn’t super clear. We will contact Native and ask them to change their labeling.

Thanks again for taking time to share your thoughts. Please don’t hesitate to be in touch again should you have ideas or suggestions to make New Seasons Market easier or more fun to shop.