Farmers market

Making fresh local food more accessible to consumers and lucrative farmers is the goal of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, introduced to Congress this week by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine).

Government funding under the federal farm bill has long supported the growth of big-ag, leaving small growers and producers to fend for themselves.  But Pingree and Brown’s bill includes policy reforms that could boost revenue for farmers and ranchers who qualify.

The bill would increase support for local food production, including the aggregation, processing and distribution of foods, ingredients and finished products in a manner that would make it easier for producers to sell to local stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and other institutions. Schools in particular would be able to use more of their federal funding to purchase locally produced foods. Also provided would be a pilot program in ten school districts where funds would go towards purchasing from local farmers and ranchers instead of the USDA’s national commodity program where most schools currently receive the bulk of their food.

The bill would help improve the food offerings for food stamp recipients and low-income seniors, with access to farmers markets and CSA programs, which would also benefit local growers and economy. Additionally, the bill would stimulate and support interest in growing organic by improving access to credit, crop insurance and other tools that can be cost-prohibitive to small-scale or start-up farmers.

“Demand for local food is growing in every corner of the country,” said Scott Faber, vice-president for government affairs at Environmental Working Group in a statement. “Senator Brown and Congresswoman Pingree should be applauded for their efforts to provide the local, healthy food that restaurants, schools, hospitals and consumers are clamoring for. It’s time to fix our broken food and farm system.” The EWG says the farm bill has provided just $113 million a year to local and regional farming projects since 2008 while spending $12 billion on subsidies a year to industrial scale farm operations.

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