Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hugh Joseph calls for "A Pro-Food Farm Bill"

Most public attention focuses on the major multi-billion-dollar USDA programs for crop subsidies, nutrition assistance, and conservation. By contrast, on the op-ed page of yesterday's Boston Globe, Hugh Joseph, of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project here at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University, spends more ink on innovative and comparatively small programs for local food systems :
How do we strengthen the "food" components of the farm bill? We could support supplementing school meal programs with hundreds of millions of dollars of additional fresh fruits and vegetables. This would encourage children to eat better, and open up large new markets for local and regional farmers. A stumbling block is the Department of Agriculture, which has told local school districts that they cannot give a preference for food purchases to local farmers.

Massachusetts currently benefits from USDA programs that promote local foods. Community Food Projects, started a decade ago, has funded 18 projects across the Commonwealth with grants up to $250,000 to support innovative anti hunger and nutrition programs that link to local food production and marketing. But the program receives only $5 million a year nationally. The $30 million authorization currently proposed in the House agricultural subcommittee would have a commensurate impact on our food producers and consumers.

Massachusetts also started the Farmers' Market Nutrition Program two decades ago, a program providing $20 million this year to WIC families nationwide to obtain fresh produce at local farmers' markets. A similar program for seniors is currently funded nationally at $15 million. A three- or four fold increase would help address the enormous unmet demand in Massachusetts and other states for these benefits at a tiny fraction of what is now spent to support large commodity producers.

The 2007 farm bill should encourage farm stands and other direct marketing links with consumers, and foster urban food growing, school gardens, and local food procurement efforts by institutions. It should also strengthen the Emergency Food Assistance Program and other food and nutrition assistance programs such as the Food Stamp Program, WIC, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. These are front line defenses to prevent hunger and food insecurity while promoting nutritional health, particularly among children, older adults, and families at highest risk.

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