photo by 9to5poet
By Anthony Giancatarino, Coordinator of Research & Advocacy
Congress has once again proved that making sausage is a more attractive process to watch than law-making in a gridlocked Congress. Two days ago, Congress finally reached a partial and time-limited agreement to avert the fiscal cliff.
In the midst of the deal, they pushed thousands of family farmers over the edge, leaving many of us to question our commitment to family farmers and to improving the health of rural and urban residents.
The Farm Bill, which provides grants and loans to farmers for food and energy production, supports fresh foods in schools, and builds our local economies, expired over 3 months ago. Instead of simply renewing the Farm bill, Congress opted for a partial extension that renews nine months of subsidies that favor big agricultural corporations and ignores the needs of the small farmers who are often responsible for our vegetables, fruit and beef.
Congress failed to renew funding for critical programs like specialty crop grants, conservation or outreach to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. They also failed to provide disaster aid for livestock producers, and fruit and vegetable growers who are not protected by crop insurance and do not receive direct subsidies, unlike the agricultural giants, ConAgra or Monsanto.
This is bad news for family farmers of all races.
Small farmers from Oklahoma to New Jersey will lose over $664 million dollars in support and assistance for natural disasters or droughts. Further, financial investment that helps farmers be more sustainable and productive will disappear. For example, the Transition Incentive Program, which helps beginning farmers and farmers of color with limited resources access farm land, costs 50 million per year – a drop in the bucket compared to 5 billion in subsidies that supports large landholders.
Another program that will lose funding is the Specialty Crop Grant program. This grant provides funding to states to help farmers produce vegetables and fruits, reach the local market and increase food distribution. This supports family farmers struggling to stay in business and produce quality foods like tomatoes in the summer or kale in the winter. Without such a grant, small family farms may be forced to leave their land, while we would be left getting our produce from big agribusiness around the world. These cuts disproportionally affect family farmers of color, like Hmong farmers in Minnesota, whose livelihoods rely on providing these crops to the market.
And the short-sighted extension did not fund a critical program known as Section 2501, a program that “assure[s] that socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers have opportunities to successfully acquire, own, operate and retain farms and ranches and equitably participate in all USDA programs.” Over 1 in 13 farms are operated by farmers of color. Yet, dedicated support to farmers of color make up less than 1 % of total farm expenditures.
Funding for 2501 is well-spent. In 2012, 19 million dollars reached over 70 organizations working with farmers of color. Projects range from marketing support to legal and technical assistance. For example, 2501 grants provided necessary funding to the Black Family Land Trust and Land Loss Prevention to provide legal and technical support to Black farmers, who have lost 25% of their land over a 25 year period compared to a 2.3% loss among all farms. While other 2501 grants help Native Americans limit food insecurity in Arizona through local production to legal assistance to Asian vegetable farmers in Ohio.
More than 1 in 2 farmers of color raise cattle or grow vegetables and fruits and will no longer have a safety net compared to large-scale agricultural growers who receive direct subsidies to grow corn, wheat and soy.
This is also bad news for the rest of us. The Farm Bill feeds us – literally. It is an engine for producing, accessing and affording food. The Farm Bill authorizes loans, grants or disaster aid to support small farmers’ ability to produce our meat and vegetables. And it supports programs that increase access of fresh foods that are crucial to a healthy community, like farmers markets and bringing fresh food to grocery stores and schools.
The extension leaves programs unfunded such as the Farmers Market Promotion Program, the Hunger Free Community Grants, Community Food and Urban Food Healthy Development Grants and the Healthy Fresh Food Financing Initiative. These programs provide communities with technical assistance and upfront capital to support local efforts to tackle hunger and attack our growing health crisis.
Communities of color more often find it hard to get healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables. While 13 million Americans live in a “food desert”, lacking access to fresh foods. Black communities are four times more likely than White Communities to lack access to healthy foods. The result: 1 in 4 Black and Latino youth and 1 in 5 Native American youth are obese or overweight, compared to 1 in 7 White youth. Lack of access has been identified as a major contributor to the gap.
While urban and rural communities across the nation are facing this struggle, local communities are creating solutions to both provide and grow healthy foods. Groups like the Detroit Black Food Security Network, and People’s Grocery in Oakland, are examples of innovative efforts to produce and distribute affordable and healthy foods to support the wellbeing of families.
By switching out a full Farm bill with a partial extension, these grants that have the potential to curb the incredible gains made to slow childhood obesity and build healthier communities for our children are left without support.
Two days ago many of our elected officials chose to keep us on the fiscal ridge. But in the process they have pushed off thousands of family farmers. Starting today, the 113th Congress will take control. We must demand they work on an equitable Farm Bill that fully supports core programs such as Section 2501, conservation, specialty crops grants and community food grants to provide family farmers and farmers of color with the opportunities to fuel our economy, feed our stomachs and support healthier communities.