Farm bill will benefit both Michigan farmers and families

November 16, 2011

Author: Dr. Oran B. Hesterman, president/CEO, Fair Food Network: Keith Creagh, director, Michigan Department of Agriculture& Rural Development; and Rob Casalou, President/CEO, St. Joseph Mercy Hospitals, Ann Arbor, Livingston, Saline

Michigan residents have a big stake in decisions being made in Washington, D.C., around the upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Two Michigan congressmen, Fred Upton and Dave Camp, are members of the Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, charged with finding an additional $1.5 trillion in debt savings over a 10-year period. And Senator Debbie Stabenow is chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The next Farm Bill will be fashioned by a combination of program cuts and modifications from the Select Committee and reauthorization of elements of the current legislation. As our elected officials make decisions concerning the next Farm Bill, it is critical to discuss how to effectively use government funding to improve the economic health of our local farmers and communities while also improving the health of our Michigan citizens.

The good news is that supporting Michigan’s fruit and vegetable producers and local markets can have a strong positive effect on the local economy while simultaneously providing more healthy food for Michiganders. In a study conducted by economist Michael Shuman, if the city of Detroit shifted 20 percent of food spending to local sources, more than 4,700 jobs could be created. And the city would receive nearly $20 million more in business taxes each year.

The challenging news is that approximately 1.9 million Michigan residents (over 19 percent of the state’s population and considerably higher than the 12.9 percent national average) receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), yet in Detroit alone, over 500,000 residents have limited access to healthy food near their homes and are therefore more prone to serious health conditions including diabetes and heart disease. Obesity, also directly related to the types and quantity of food available and eaten, has become a serious issue for both children and adults and costs the U.S. $147 billion a year according to the CDC.

Michigan government, for-profit, non-profit, healthcare, and farm communities are uniting in creative ways to improve health for vulnerable citizens, increase farm revenue and keep dollars in the local economy, where they stimulate growth. We’ll tell you about two organizations that are leading the way with creative and successful innovations.

Ann Arbor-based, non-profit Fair Food Network (FFN) is connecting vulnerable Michigan citizens with farmers to benefit the health of our families and the local economy. FFN’s Double Up Food Bucks Program (DUFB) allows SNAP shoppers to double their SNAP benefit dollars at 54 participating Michigan farmers’ markets, purchase more fresh produce and support local farmers.

Since the June 1, 2011, start of the program season, more than 34,000 people have used DUFB, bringing close to $1,060,000 in SNAP and DUFB buying power into farmers’ markets across the state. Since farmers tend to spend their money in the local community, using the USDA multiplier of 1.8 for SNAP expenditures, this program is stimulating economic activity by more than $1,907,000.

St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Ann Arbor is another institution sparking great food system innovations: the hospital has altered its menu to meet American Heart Association guidelines using vegetables from its own farm to feed staff and patients and sells fresh, organic vegetables at a farmers’ market in the hospital lobby. Remaining produce is donated to Food Gatherers of Washtenaw County. In addition, SJMHS support the Michigan Good Food Charter’s commitment to source 20 percent of food purchases from Michigan growers, producers and processors by 2020.

There are inevitable cuts to federal spending on agriculture in the near future, but supporting initiatives such as the two above is an investment in our future at a fraction of the cost of current programs. We believe that Farm Bill dollars should continue to be available to support programs that are making a difference, particularly those that link the public, for-profit and non-profit worlds in pragmatic, cost-effective ways.

As the Select Committee budget debates continue and the Farm Bill is reauthorized, it is our hope that the Michigan delegation recognizes community-based programs such as Double Up Food Bucks and the St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor farm and market and choose to lend their support to innovative programs that create and preserve jobs while contributing to improved health and well-being of our Michigan citizens and communities.