Why should planners care about the Farm Bill?

Lisa Feldstein's picture

Every five to seven years, Congress votes to reauthorize one of the largest and most significant legislative measures affecting land use policies in the U.S - the Farm Bill. This year, Congress will debate the omnibus legislation that defines not only America's agricultural policy, but determines funding priorities for rural development, food and nutrition assistance, energy and environmental issues.

The 2007 Farm Bill represents a major opportunity to create a healthier and more sustainable food system. Unfortunately, many of the policies and spending priorities of the Farm Bill fail to meet the needs of farmers, communities, and citizens. At its core, the Farm Bill was designed to create stable and sustainable rural communities. However, the current farm safety net provides support to less than half of the nation's farms. The bulk of the payments support a narrow set of commodities, including corn, soy, and wheat, that provide cheap raw materials for processed ingredients and animal feed. And while about half of every Farm Bill dollar goes to the federal food and nutrition assistance programs, more than 35 million Americans struggle to feed their families and rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases have reached epidemic proportions. Our Farm Bill policies have failed to halt the loss of farm land; contributed to poor water quality and soil erosion; and compounded economic instability in farming communities around the world who must compete with subsidized American commodities.

This year, the debate in Congress is spreading far beyond the traditional farm bill interests. Environmentalists, public health advocates, and community development advocates are joining the call for a Farm Bill that promotes a healthier and more sustainable food system. These advocates have recognized that the Farm Bill policies and allocations fail to reflect what farmers, the environment, and communities actually need. This Farm Bill represents an opportunity to advance a national dialogue about the future of our food system.

What can planners do?

  • Consider joining the American Planning Association and more than 400 national, state, and local organizations who have signed on to a policy statement put forth by the Food and Farm Project. The policy statement outlines strategies to renew American agricultural, reduce hunger and improve health, enhance urban and rural community development, and protect the environment.

  • The Community Food Security Coalition has also identified a set up legislative priorities to create healthy urban and rural communities.

  • Beyond advocacy, the Farm Bill debate represents an opportunity to become more informed about how the food system functions.

    • Educate yourself about issues facing family farmers.

    • Learn more about the challenges low-income people in your community must overcome to provide a healthy, affordable meal for their families.

    • Find out what food stamp participation rates are in your state and how many households are classified as "food insecure."

Lisa Feldstein seeks to use land use as a tool for social and economic justice.



Farm Bill not just about farms but also rural development

Thank you for bringing up this important topic! I agree with the points Lisa outline that the Farm Bill needs to focus more on supporting local farmers and local food systems rather than providing subsidies to large corporations focused on maximizing dollars rather than providing healthy and sustainable food. This affects a wide range of the economy, including the transportation sector (shipping food), grocers, and of course, peoples' health (ranging from health care costs to worker productivity).

Moreover, the "Farm Bill" is a misnomer given that much of the language is centered around rural development in addition to agriculture. Some important points about rural development:

-- Spurring innovation and job creation in rural communities is key to rural America’s long-term future
-- Small-scale entrepreneurship is a proven strategy to spur innovation and job creation in rural communities
-- Rural America needs help – 226 of the 250 lowest income counties are rural
-- Rural America is facing a federal funding deficit – every year since 1994, federal dollars funded 2-5 times as much for urban development as for rural development, a $16.5 BILLION funding disadvantage
-- Entrepreneurship will attract young people and young families to rural communities, which provide safe community environment and close networks

Solutions to rural challenges can be found in rural America – for example, microenterprise development builds on the talents and knowledge of those living in rural America.

For more information, see the Center for Rural Affair's article, "Administration's Farm Bill Proposal" at www.cfra.org/news_media/newsletter.

Katie Lima

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