Hello Novel Eats readers! I’m Alex from I Eat Asphalt. My blog is lots of random thoughts, new recipes and information about what’s happening in health policy. I’m excited to share some thoughts about agriculture in the US. I moved to DC in August 2010 to start my Masters of Public Health and currently work in nutrition policy. It’s been an eye opening experience and has taught me so many things.
The Farm Bill is the major piece of legislation that determines what we eat. Yes, the government has some say in what is available in our food system. The Farm Bill controls what crops farmers can grow, their value, and nutrition programs (like food stamps). I won’t go into too much detail about the current bill, but feel free to check out one of my older posts.
The reason that the Farm Bill is particularly important is because of several titles that involve fruits and vegetables. Currently, these items are considered “specialty crops,” but I’d like to think they are actually food. The Farm Bill sets commodity payments, which are a type of direct income for farmers that grow crops such as corn and soybeans. The Farm Bill also includes legislation that controls how commodity farmers use their land. These farmers are penalized for using their land for fruits and vegetable production, making commodity crops more lucrative. If you’ve heard any of the debates about High Fructose Corn Syrup or all of the soy that is used in processed foods, this is partially why. Corn and soy are produced in very large quantities, making them very cheap to add into processed foods.
So in my opinion, the US has found itself in a bit of a predicament. We pay farmers to grow calories that are often “added” and punish some for growing real food. There is no perfect solution for this problem. If farmers grew more fruits and vegetables would there be enough demand? Additionally, becoming an organic producer is a long and expensive process.
I think it’s particularly important to understand some of the policies that control our food supply. Many people often say that if fruits and vegetables were less expensive, more people would buy them. This might be true, but then we have to think about the farmers that produce them. Would farmers make enough money to survive? Many produce farmers say that they do not want a traditional commodity program, but crop insurance (another type of government payment when disaster hits a farm). Crop insurance would provide a safety net for farmers and might encourage some farmers to use more land for fruits and vegetables. However, it’s hard to say how this would affect their price at the grocery store. I can say that organic produce is often more expensive because of the added labor costs and because of the small demand.
With an election right around the corner, it’s important to think about the agriculture issues in your state. Most of the produce grown in the US comes from California, but many states have small farms supported by farmers markets and local businesses. Supporting these small farms is important for conservation issues, for ensuring a local food supply and for supporting the local economy. The next Farm Bill is planned for passage in 2012, but discussions are already occurring in DC. You can support your local farmer by contacting your Congressman/woman and expressing the need to ensure our supply of real food. You can look up your Representative here and your Senator here.
There are also a number of great committees working on these issues. I’d encourage you to join their mailing lists and to partake in their political action alerts.
- Community Food Security Coalition
- Healthy Food Action
- Slow Food USA
- Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Thanks for reading!
Image Credit: Nicholas_T via Flickr