The 2012 farm bill: An opportunity for justice

by Jesse Epp-Fransen

 

The farm bill addresses hunger in the United States through nutrition programs, which address direct needs, and through agricultural policy, which addresses what will be grown and receive government support.

Nutrition programs

With the financial recession starting in 2007 there has been increased strain on safety net programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). According to the U.S. Census Bureau the official poverty rate for 2010 increased to 15.1 percent.

Programs such as SNAP have been effective at responding to poverty. It is vital that funding for this program, and others that address similar needs, be continued when Congress makes decisions about the farm bill.  While programs like SNAP and WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) meet the immediate needs of people, reforms need to be made in the wider food production system to more justly and sustainably provide sufficient nutritious food for everyone to eat.

SNAP-Ed is an educational resource helping those who receive SNAP to make healthy food choices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has helped farmers markets accommodate Electronic Benefit Transfer cards (the primary way that SNAP is administered) to increase the availability of healthy food in underserved communities and build connections between rural farmers and urban consumers. These programs should be expanded in the 2012 farm bill to strengthen local food systems.

 Agricultural policy

The direct payments program–which provides lump sum payments to owners of farmland that have historically grown program crops (wheat, soybeans, cotton, rice and corn)–has been targeted for cost savings in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request. Counter-cyclical payments, which are designed to protect farmers from market price fluctuations, have already been on the decline due to record high commodity prices and were not included in the FY 2012 budget.

Farmers are vulnerable to unstable weather and financial markets. To support them as they grow the food we all need, government-sponsored crop insurance programs should be reformed to support farming a mixture of crops, raising organic crops and making value-added products. Each of these reduces the vulnerability of the farmer and empowers them to make the best choices for their farms.

Additionally, direct payments have often benefited large farms the most. From 1995 to 2010, the largest 10 percent of farms received 76 percent of federal farm support. The support system needs to be reformed to meet the needs of all farmers and to help young people interested in starting to farm to gain access to land and equipment.

Stuart Newcomer, right, and Scene Mudenda, who works with an MCC agriculture project in Choma, Zambia.

Connecting farmers 

Stuart Newcomer, a farmer from Medina County, Ohio, was introduced to the Foods Resource Bank (FRB) in 2010. Newcomer agreed to give leadership to a 22-acre growing project in Wayne County after traveling to Africa in 2011.

Most FRB growing projects involve communities bringing together a range of gifts to raise money, often by raising agricultural crops, livestock or vegetable gardens. This money can then be directed to MCC agriculture projects around the world.

Newcomer helped the Wayne County growing project grow corn in its first season and beans in its second. Other involved farmers also donated proceeds from their own crops, and local businesses gave land and inputs to help the project reach $45,000 in donations.

Foods Resource Bank is a Christian response to world hunger. It connects U.S.-based growing projects with overseas programs that promote long-term food security. “I appreciate the unique opportunity to connect,” says Newcomer. “Farmers around the world experience the same types of risks, only at greater levels; they understand farming life.”

Newcomer has visited FRB programs and has hosted farmers from other countries on his farm. He has seen firsthand the role education and training can have on sustainability. “I was impressed with the results of the dollars we send to train farmers. Intellectual capital cannot be taken from them. It leads to healthier families and a better outlook. It is our way of sharing what God has provided.”

Find out more about how you can support the work of MCC through a Foods Resource Bank project at foodsresourcebank.org.

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