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 agriculture.senate.gov. You can also check out the USDA's 2007 Farm Bill page.