SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — A bill recently introduced in Congress would expand marketing opportunities for farmers while increasing consumer access to healthy foods.
The Local Farm, Food and Jobs Act, originally proposed in 2011, was re-introduced on April 9 as part of the Farm Bill.
The bill, which has the backing of more than 200 groups, would benefit the entire spectrum of agriculture programs, including crop insurance, farm credit, nutrition, rural development, research and Extension, horticulture and livestock.
“Its goal of expanding markets for farmers and getting more healthy food to consumers correspond exactly with our organization’s goals,” said Laurie Davis, coordinator of Adirondack Harvest, in upstate New York. “For example, we’ve been working to encourage school cafeterias to buy from local farmers, or to make it easier for farmers markets to accept SNAP cards (food stamps) and other food program benefits. And these are just a couple of the myriad items introduced in this act, all of which would have a positive impact on our direct-market farmers.
“Small-scale local agriculture is a rising sector that shows great potential for economic value to the Adirondack region and across the country and we’re excited about any legislation that will support those efforts,” she said.
Adirondack Harvest’s mission is to promote profitable sustainable agriculture and protect farmland in the Adirondack region. The group has representatives in each county in the 6-million acre Adirondack Park.
The federal bill was introduced in the House (H.R. 1414) and Senate (S. 679) by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Sen. Sherrod Brown, both Democrats, from Maine and Ohio, respectively. Their goal is to have it become part of a five-year Farm Bill that Congress is expected to vote on this year.
The measure has 33 co-sponsors, including U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, N.Y.
“Congressman Tonko was a co-sponsor of this legislation in the last session of Congress,” spokesperson Clinton Britt said. “As the grandson of dairy farmers himself, Congressman Tonko knows firsthand of the importance of agriculture to the upstate economy. More and more families are buying locally grown food, enabling many smaller farms and farmers markets to emerge in the Capital Region. This legislation would help make local food even more accessible, creating jobs, bettering our food security and making our food supply chain more sustainable.”
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition says that locally grown and marketed food is a more than $5 billion industry contributing to significant job growth. The number of farmers markets nationwide jumped 17 percent in 2011 and all 50 states now have farm-to-school programs, the group says.
However, significant infrastructure, marketing and information obstacles still exist.
“The bill addresses those barriers and makes smart investments that expand economic opportunities for farmers, increase jobs, and improve healthy food access in rural and urban America,” said Ferd Hoefner, coalition policy director.
Specifically, the bill provides money for sustainable agriculture programs that were left without funding when the 2008 Farm Bill was extended. These include the Farmers Market Promotion Program, National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and Value-Added Producer Grants.
“For an investment of just over $100 million a year, the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act can help a growing sector of the food system flourish,” Hoefner said. “This investment is tiny in overall farm bill terms — roughly one-tenth of one percent of total farm bill spending — but big in its power to deliver real, lasting, and market-based benefits to farmers, consumers and communities.”
Saratoga Farmers Market in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is one of upstate New York’s most successful such organizations. Vice President Mary Pratt said the bill can only mean good things for growers and producers.
“Anything that would assist farmers doing direct marketing would be a huge help,” she said.