Fair Food Network and 2012 Farm Bill Action

Author: Kate Fitzgerald

Case Visser of Zeeland’s Visser Farms spoke at a House of Representatives briefing on March 28, explaining that he is “passionate” about FFN’s Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) program because he has seen it change people’s lives. 

Visser told the packed House Agriculture Committee hearing room audience about an unemployed customer who started coming to the Fulton Street Farmers Market in Grand Rapids last June and used DUFB incentives to try new fruits and vegetables.  She became a regular customer and lost 55 pounds over the following eight months.  She now has a job and no longer receives SNAP benefits or DUFB, but she still shops at the farmers’ market every week, spending as much of her own money for farm-fresh food as she did when she received the incentives.

With Dingell Aide Greg Sunstrum
Aide to John Dingell (D-MI) Greg Sunstrum, Case Visser of Visser Farms,
and DUFB Program Director Rachel Chadderdon Bair

Visser’s example was reinforced by speakers from the Massachusetts Farmers Market Association, Inova Health System of Northern Virginia, and Buffalo, New York’s Massachusetts Avenue Project, all of whom emphasized that small but strategic federal support for programs that link family farmers with low-income consumers can have outsized impacts on farmer income, health, and community economic development. 

Rachel, Case Visser, Rep. Huizenga
Rachel Chadderdon Bair, Case Visser, and Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI)

The House briefing follows a similar Senate appearance on March 1 by FFN’s Oran Hesterman and reflects the accelerated timeline as the Agriculture Committees in both houses race to complete a new farm bill before the current one expires on September 30th. 

Members of Congress are at home for the spring recess now, but when they return to Washington, D.C. on April 16, the members of the Senate Agriculture Committee will hunker down for the final stage of negotiations.  Senator Stabenow is expected to provide her draft bill (the Chairwoman’s Mark) to the committee around April 20.  About a week later the Committee will hold a “mark-up,” the horse-trading session when language tweaks are made, amendments offered, and final cuts agreed to. The Ag Committee will then pass the final language and send it to be scheduled for a vote on the floor by the full Senate.

The process in the House will be delayed and more contentious.  The House budget included a mandate that six committees (including Agriculture) present a plan by April 27 to cut funds under their jurisdiction.  Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) must come up with a proposal to cut $33 billion over the next ten years, including $8 billion in 2013.  Last year’s House and Senate Ag Committee leadership plan called for $23 billion over ten years.  This higher benchmark will be hard to achieve and the front-loading of the cuts means that the Democrats on the Committee will almost certainly vote against it.  Rep. Lucas’s staff maintains that as soon as the budget exercise is completed, a more regular farm bill drafting process will begin and that it will take place a month or so after the Senate. 

Time is of the essence in this election year.  The current law’s September expiration (at which point many excellent programs disappear) and member’s desire to return to their districts to campaign as soon as possible, reduce the number of days Congress can act.  Floor time for votes is at a premium and leaders in the Senate and House are unlikely to schedule a farm bill vote if they are not confident that it can pass with a minimum of rancor.

Though farm bills are far from perfect, the 2008 version included many programs that are helping build a more sustainable, diverse, healthy, food system and are worth defending.  Last fall’s draft not only protected most key conservation programs, it also expanded local and regional food programs, the basis of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative.  It included one hundred million dollars’ worth of new efforts to improve nutrition programs by linking them to local agricultural production.  Finally, the bill also abolished the direct payment program – the most egregious of the commodity support programs. 

Congressional directory

Let your elected representatives know what’s important to you in a farm bill and that you would like them to pass a bill in 2012! You can easily find contact information for your member of Congress here: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/directory/congdir.tt.