It's Time To Act

It's Farm Bill time again. Congress will soon decide policies that will shape the nation's food and agriculture system over the next five to ten years--for better or for worse. This is a make-or-break time for those who care about organic and sustainable agriculture.

"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. But we cannot have both."
--Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, 1941

To date, most Farm Bill policies have been good news for corporate agribusiness and bad news for family farmers and sustainable agriculture. Federal policy has contributed greatly to many aspects of the crisis in agriculture: massive loss of family farms; rapid spread of genetically engineered foods; widespread pollution; and increased food contamination. While proven alternatives are available, their development is hamstrung by policies that subsidize unsustainable methods and create barriers to more sustainable approaches. For example, less than 1% of the federal agriculture research budget is targeted to sustainable agriculture.

A powerful grassroots effort is needed to turn this tide and create federal farm policies that are good for farmers, workers, consumers, and the environment. Through the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, hundreds of diverse groups have organized to do just that.

The House Agriculture Committee has just completed its version of the Farm Bill at a furious pace. The Committee passed H.R. 2646 on July 27, after just a day and a half of debate on a bill that is meant to last 10 years and will have far-reaching impacts on every aspect of the food system--hardly democracy in action! (The bill may have reached the House floor by the time you receive this issue. Fortunately, Farm Bill prospects in the Senate look much better.)

"The Agricultural Act of 2001" includes very little to support organic and sustainable agriculture and a great deal to perpetuate "agribusiness as usual" and the chronic farm crisis. It would actually worsen the gross inequities in existing farm programs, which help drive family farmers off the land while providing huge subsidies to the largest mega-farms and agribusiness conglomerates that profit tremendously from artificially low crop prices.

The bill falls far short of the fair and comprehensive Farm Bill that the National Campaign has been working for. Among other problems, H.R. 2646:

  • Does not provide adequate incentives for good stewardship of active farmland.
  • Does not target farm program benefits to family-sized farms or foster planting flexibility.
  • Does not prevent further agribusiness concentration, help restore competition, or ensure fair dealings for contract growers.
  • Does not address the needs of beginning, limited-resource, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
  • Does not provide family farms and agricultural communities with adequate resources to pursue innovative ideas that are good for their communities, consumers, and the environment.

(The text of H.R. 2646 is available at http://agriculture.house.gov/farmbill.htm)

The National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture is developing and advocating for practical Farm Bill initiatives that promote a sustainable, family farm-based food system. We are working for fundamental policy shifts to foster stewardship of the tremendous natural and human resources that are currently being squandered, and to provide broad social, economic, and environmental benefits, rather than enriching a few at the expense of many. We are working to change not only what is in the Farm Bill, but how it is shaped. By involving a much broader range of stakeholders in the policy process, we are creating both better farm policies and a more democratic society.

The goals of National Campaign initiatives include:

  • Remove biases in existing farm programs against organic and sustainable farming systems and family-scale farming.
  • Promote good stewardship of active farmland by rewarding farmers for providing real environmental benefits to society, such as improved water quality, wildlife habitat, and soil conservation.
  • Restore competition to and stem concentration in the food and agriculture system and mandate fair dealing in contracts with growers.
  • Support collaborative efforts to boost family farm viability through farm-based entrepreneurship, value-adding enterprises, and alternative marketing channels.
  • Ensure equal access to programs by all farmers and ranchers, and dramatically strengthen outreach and technical assistance programs targeting the under-served and socially disadvantaged.
  • Promote agricultural enterprises as a cornerstone of rural development.

Grassroots support is key to show our elected officials--in rural, urban, and suburban areas--that sustainable agriculture and family farming matter to their constituents. Although we can't compete with huge corporate campaign contributions, we can and must show huge grassroots support that translates into votes.

You have a stake in food and farm policy, and we can help make your voice heard. Now is the time to press for Farm Bill policies that support a just and sustainable food system!

What You Can Do:

  1. Contact your congressperson and tell him/her what you think about H.R. 2646. Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Representative; after the operator connects you, ask to speak with the legislative aide who handles agriculture. (If you're not sure who your representative is, the switchboard operator can tell you.)
    If you get voice mail, leave a short message saying that we need a more comprehensive farm bill that will promote good stewardship of active farmland; target benefits to family farmers; foster fair prices and markets; and provide resources to support entrepreneurship in agricultural communities.
  2. Learn about and support the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture. We are working cooperatively with hundreds of diverse organizations to advance proposals on: stewardship incentives, resources for agricultural community revitalization and enterprise, competition and concentration, family farm income, beginning farmers and ranchers, and agricultural and rural entrepreneurship. See our web site for details (address below).
  3. Become active in the National Campaign! Sign up for our alert list; respond to alerts and encourage others to respond; contact us about other ways to get involved: 845/744-8448; e-mail [email protected]; or go to the web site: http://www.sustainableagriculture.net.
See other articles from this issue: #096 September - October - 2001