The Farm Bill will be up for renewal in 2018, so people are beginning to organize informational and interest-based discussions now. I’m grateful for the opportunities presented by the National Young Farmers Coalition and San Diego Food Systems Alliance (SDFSA) to learn about this behemoth of a bill, and to appreciate how it impacts many essential aspects of our lives.
Most recently, SDSFA sponsored me to attend a Farm Bill Forum that they hosted. They began with a history and overview of the Bill by Lorette Picciano and Annie Lorie of the Rural Coalition. The Rural Coalition was founded in 1978 to link low-income and people of color community based groups to bring their combined experience to effect national policies affecting rural people and communities. I’m glad they brought their decades of farming policy experience, with an eye towards racial justice, to explain how the Farm Bill works and has been made to work for more and more people.
Lorette Picciano introducing the Farm Bill
Picciano started off by explaining that the current Farm Bill is an updated version of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1949. (The first Farm Bill was in 1933, but the Ag Adjustment Act now our touchstone.) The Bill must be renewed every 5 years or so, otherwise we will default to the original act which merely stipulates that there’s federal support for the school lunch program.
Just the school lunch program. What does that leave out? Almost everything under the sun! The Bill is divided into Titles that cover: commodities; conservation; trade; nutrition; credit; United States rural development; research; forestry; energy; horticulture; crop insurance; and miscellaneous. Within these titles are
- Nutrition programs: Food Stamp/SNAP, WIC
- Resource conservation
- Crop insurance
- Rural Development: electricity, cooperatives, socially disadvantaged groups
- Farmers markets
- Food hubs
- Beginning farmer and rancher programs
- Organic cost share
- And more!
The day mostly consisted of speakers explaining programs supported by the Farm Bill and their impacts on Californians and San Diegans. My sense is that the best we can hope for is to preserve these programs because the current administration’s tactics have thus far been about cutting, not creating. I worried about some people’s comments that indicated a willingness to cut out programs that they didn’t think immediately affected them. “That doesn’t impact California, though,” and such statements made concerned about whether the reduction of resources will lead people to harden in self-centeredness that fuels tribalism, xenophobia, and violence.
What we can do is understand the Farm Bill’s influence and support the ways it’s been effective, and to let our representatives know that we want these programs to continue. Participation, not cynical disengagement, is necessary.