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By Laura Stec

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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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Farm Bill Café Begins!

Uploaded: May 4, 2018

Q: What is the biggest piece of environmental and public health legislation before Congress this year?

A: The Farm Bill, released last month to the public.

In response, Food Partiers! kick off our Farm Bill Café and book group today.

We’re reading Dan Imhoff’s Food Fight, - The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill, reviewing the book and discussing the new 641-page bill as it travels the long road through Congress. Please join us. It’s time to learn more about this massive bill.

The first Farm Bill was written during the Great Depression and has since renewed every 5 – 7 years. The current bill was past in 2014 and expires September 30, 2018. The newly proposed draft by the House Majority released a Republican-only version of the farm bill that did not include Minority (Democratic) language. Historically, both parties of the Agriculture Committee have worked together to agree on the farm bill draft before it is released to Committee members.

Modern Farm Bills traditionally fund three main areas:

1. Food stamp and nutrition programs, such as the Schools Lunch Program (72 percent of gross outlays)

2. Income and price supports / subsidies for commodity crops (about 22 percent)

3. Conservation incentives (about 6 percent)

It’s been a goal of mine to learn more about the Farm Bill, and the book is actually an enjoyable, easy read. Get a copy online for $5, read along with us, and offer your thoughts for discussion and change. We’ll be talking about it for the next few months. At the end of the read, the goal is to meet with our representatives and lobby for a better bill. Or if you prefer, just toast with some good wine, and cheer your motivation to learn about one of the most important bills in Congress that few of us know anything about.

Realizing that some of you probably did not do the first reading assignment of chapters 1-3… here’s the cliff notes:

Chapter 1: We Reap What We Sow

1. Farm Bill crop subsidies make junk food some of the cheapest calories in an America supermarket.

2. Foods most recommended by USDA dietary guideline are largely ignored by Farm Bill policies. Fruits and vegetables are considered "specialty crops."

3. The amount of government intervention in large scale agricultural makes talk of “free markets” rhetorical. Conventional farmers stay afloat by farming the system, rather than growing what might best serve the land, or the community.

4. Farm Bill “direct payments” / subsidies send our tax dollars to large landowners based on historical harvest records of a property, regardless of whether the land is still being farmed or the owner has suffered income or yield loss.

5. The school lunch program was designed to help dispose of surplus agricultural commodities created by subsidies, especially cheap feedlot beef and dairy, not to help strengthen children’s health.

6. Farm worker migration is one result when government subsidizes an overproduction of crops such as corn, and dumps it on another country. Since NAFTA in 1994, an estimated 1.3 – 2.3 million Mexican farmers have been forced to leave their lands and move elsewhere for work, because they can't compete with the artificially low prices created by the Farm Bill. (But we can’t stop whining about how China screws the U.S. with steel).

Chapter 2: Why the Farm Bill Matters

1. U.S. eaters think our food is cheap, but as a result of the Farm Bill, we pay for it at least four times: 1) at the checkout 2) in taxes to subsidize commodity crops, 3) in environmental cleanup from improper agriculture 4) in medical costs resulting from poor diets.

Researcher Charles Benbrook says if food is assessed by the cost per calorie produced, rather than as a percentage of disposable income, more than 20 countries enjoy cheaper food systems than the U. S.

2. The Farm Bill matters because it makes some mega-farms rich as it drives family farms out of business. It makes unhealthy ingredients cheap and abundant, and legalizes and supports polluting and destructive monoculture farming practices. It artificially sets prices benefiting business, not eaters.

Chapter 3: What is the Farm Bill?

Commodity payments go primarily to the following crops:

- from The Fight For Food, Congressman Earl Blumenaueur

How the Farm Bill spends a Tax Dollar (2002 - 2012)

Nutrition, Farm, Conservation Spending

5.7% Conservation ($37.2 billion)
.17% Energy ($1.1 billion)
6.8% Crop Insurance ($43.9 billion)
13.9% Commodities ($89.9 billion)
72.89% Nutrition (food stamps, schools lunch program, other meal programs) ($470.2 billion)

Taking Nutrition Out

21.30% Conservation ($37.2 billion)
.62% Energy ($1.1 billion)
25.1% Crop Insurance ($43.9 billion)
1.5% Exports ($2.7 billion)
51.4%Commodities ($89.9 billion)

- page 26, Food Fight

Learn more and get involved:

1. Read Food Fight - The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill

2. Read The Fight For Food (small pamphlet about The Farm Bill written by congressman Earl Blumenaueur

3. Read the proposed, new Farm Bill

5. Read Maine Congressman’s Chellie Pingree’s review of the bill. “The Senate has pledged to work on a bipartisan bill that will be seemingly less controversial than what has come out of the House.”

6. Identify congress people who support the current House bill and ask them why.

7. List who in Congress get the most $$$upport from Big Ag / the commodity and agriculture industry.

8. Sign up for National Sustainable Agriculture email list with weekly Farm Bill updates

9. Sign up to receive this blog weekly and participate in our book café and potluck discussion.

NEXT READING ASSIGNMENT: Chapters 4 - 6. We'll discuss in a few weeks.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Need Change, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on May 7, 2018 at 7:07 am

I did the reading and agree it was more enjoyable than I thought. But the bill is confusing- how can anyone truly understand what's in a 700 page bill. I find the legislation frustrating. Not sure where to begin to understand it. I'll keep reading.

Posted by Early Blooming Hour, a resident of another community,
on May 7, 2018 at 10:58 am

Part of the shock comes from not knowing the definitions Congress came up with. Commodity payments go to the crops that have been designated "commodity crops", and those that don't are "Specialty crops."

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley,
on May 8, 2018 at 8:53 am

Yeah for Need Change and I agree with you and Early Blooming Hour. Imhoff has a glossary of terms and it will be beneficial to add a few each Farm Bill Cafe. Will do.

Posted by National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a resident of another community,
on May 10, 2018 at 8:29 am

The draft 2018 Farm Bill just passed in the House Agriculture Committee makes sweeping, radical cuts in funding for local and regional food efforts

However, the Senate has begun drafting its version of the bill �" and we need Senators to take a better path forward by including a key package of improvements called the Local FARMS Act (S. 1947) which will:

Help farmers reach new markets through outreach, cost-share, and technical assistance programs.

Increase access to fresh, healthy, local food among low-income groups and communities in need.

Develop new and strengthen existing infrastructure that connects producers to consumers.

Please call your senators, ask to speak with the agriculture appropriations aide, and share a message like below or leave a message:


Diane Feinstein: (202) 224-3841

Kamela Harris: (202) 224-3553

Hello, my name is [____]. I'm calling with a message for my Senator's agriculture staffer. I understand that the House Agriculture Committee just voted on a draft farm bill, which makes major cuts to local and regional food systems programs. I'm asking you to help fix this when the Senate drafts its own 2018 Farm Bill by co-sponsoring The Local FARMS Act (S.1947). I support local farmers, I want good food in my community accessible to everyone, and including this bill in the 2018 Farm Bill will help get us there. Thank you for your time!

Thank you for speaking out!

See Local Farms Act here:Web Link

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on May 13, 2018 at 12:13 pm

I read your column with great interest... So much to absorb, so complex... Forwarded it to several friends. Difficult to become informed, stay informed, and keep learning in order to exercise activism to try to keep the world on a healthy track.

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