Healthy Food vs. the Farm Bill

Written through a collaboration between Karen Ard, Doug Burke and Sally Stovall Most folks in Oak Park / River Forest area understand the central importance of healthy, nutritious food which is sustainably raised, to the well-being of our bodies and the planet.  Our current food system in the US is dominated by corporate agriculture (see Food and Water Watch’s “Farm Bill 101” for details on the few but powerful major players in agribusiness).  Big agribusiness uses processes that are not safe for the animals, the soils or human beings.  These processes include use of genetically modified seeds, chemical pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, and confined spaces for animals.  The food thus produced (even before the major food companies further process it) is damaging both to our health and the environment.

To achieve a diet of local, healthy food, we must currently grow or raise our own food or buy our food directly from local farmers who are committed to using sustainable or organic methods.  This is a daunting task but the more we do it, the more we contribute to creating a mosaic of resources that will ultimately allow us to approach our goal of a truly local and healthy food system.

We have a lot of positive things contributing to growing a healthy, local food system for our area, including growing numbers of home and community gardens; the Oak Park Farmers’ Market and numerous CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) that deliver locally; -- a local organization that works regionally to support the production, marketing and distribution of locally grown, responsibly produced food; and now, on the horizon, we have the Sugar Beet co-op that will provide a year-round market for local healthy food, as well as education and skill training.

We must take back the farm bill!

But where the rubber meets the road, it turns out that US government policy, reflected in the nearly trillion-dollar Farm Bill, actually works against all of our efforts and ends up contributing to the problem.  If we want to change how Americans eat, and support development of local, sustainable food systems that will make our bodies and the planet healthier, we must to take back the Farm Bill and make it work for us instead of against us. Originally, the Farm Bill was designed to support small farmers.  But it was long ago captured by the corporate forces of big agriculture.  Big agribusiness organizations make up 20% of the farms but receive 90% of the subsidies; meanwhile small growers who produce real food crops like fruits and vegetables get little or no subsidies.  These small farms (80% of farms) get 10% of the subsidies.  The result is huge subsidized fields of corn and soybeans (nearly all genetically modified), which are used to feed animals or as ingredients of our many processed foods.

Every five years, Congress reviews the guidelines of the existing Farm Bill, and comes up with new  ways to allocate the nearly-trillion dollar sum typically apportioned for American agriculture programs.  The current Farm Bill provisions are set to expire on September 30, 2012.  The US House of Representatives Agriculture Committee recently passed a revised version of the Farm Bill, which is moving us in the wrong direction.  See the press release from Food and Water Watch, titled “Farm Bill Fails Farmers and Consumers” regarding the issues in this version of the farm bill.

In order to make government policies and investments support the priority of local, healthy food systems, we need to take back the Farm Bill and make it work for us instead of against us.  We truly believe that this is what the majority of Americans want, so please join with the many organizations and individuals that care about our future generations, and let’s start “wildfires of common sense!”  (EcoMind, Francis Moore Lappe, 2011)  Please join Will Allen, Anna Lappé and Francis Moore Lappé,  Michael Pollan, our own, Jim Slama, and many more chefs and food and nutrition experts,  and local citizens, in calling on congress to stand with us to enact a food and farm bill that protects family farmers, and fairly serves the interests of all Americans.  Click here to add your voice!

Related article from the Environmental Working Group:  EWG Farm Bill Platform