Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Laurie Davis: The Farm Bill, Local Foods, And You

adirondack harvest logoIt’s been a few months now since President Obama signed into law the Agricultural Act of 2014. You probably remember hearing about it under another name: the (long overdue) Farm Bill. There was much hoopla in the press when, after a delay of over a year, it finally became a law. OK, I can sense your eyes glazing over or darting to the next article. But wait! Just bear with me.

The Farm Bill (as we shall refer to it from here on out) is chock full of some good news for the local food movement and, whether or not you realize it, many parts of this legislation will affect you. I’m going to break this article up into two parts to address all the positives that will be supported by this Farm Bill, so let’s begin part 1!

My Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) colleague, Peter Hagar, wrote an excellent article back in March about the impact of the 2014 Farm Bill on the Northern New York dairy industry, but I will come at this from the local foods perspective. Not that dairy is never a local food – it’s just that most of our dairies in this region do not directly market their milk products to the consumer. And direct marketing is a huge part of the local food business structure.

To start, funding was tripled for something called the Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program (FMLFPP). This grew out of the 2002 Farm Bill which established the Farmers Market Promotion Program. See how they slipped in “Local Foods” this time around? The new expanded funding will support not only farmers markets but also community supported agriculture (CSA), farm-to-institution, and food hubs (businesses that may process, aggregate, store and distribute regional food). $30 million is available annually as grants over the next five years! We can definitely use some food hubs up here to facilitate easier distribution from our increasingly productive farmers to stores, restaurants and institutions.

Another program, the Value-Added Producer Grant, which was established in 2001, also received a bump in mandatory funding levels, providing $63 million over five years. These grants help our small farmers to develop, process, and sell value-added items derived from their own farm products. These can range from cheese to pickles to preserves and more and having them available allows the farmers to have products to sell in the off-season.

The interest in certified organic food continues to be high so the new Farm Bill added an extra $35 million to its budget to help farmers transition from conventional to organic growing methods. Plus, it takes funding to oversee the organic food program in the United States so they’ve increased staffing money as well. In the past, the organic program has only had support from the Democrats, but in this bill support was fully bipartisan – a clear indication of a mainstream embracement of organics.

There is also something that’s been around since the 2008 Farm Bill called the “Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.” Adirondack Harvest and CCE have been awarded several of these grants and all have served to help us support and promote local foods in the North Country. The new Farm bill has increased funding for this grant by about $20 million each year for the next 4 years, then an extra $13 million above that starting in 2018.

And one more thing: there is new money to help the Christmas tree industry with promotion. Um, local foods how? No, we’re not gnawing on our trees for sustenance, but this is a big industry here in the North Country and federal support can give this local business a boost.

While the Agricultural Act of 2014 does not represent a total overhaul of the industrialized food system, it definitely has made some major inroads into support for local food. Be sure to visit adirondackharvest.com to find your farmer and food!

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Laurie Davis is an Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County and is the Coordinator for Adirondack Harvest.

For more information on agriculture in Northern New York, visit the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Northern New York website at www.ccenny.com and www.nnyagdev.org or call 518-962-4810.

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