On Thursday, July 13, members of the Senate held a hearing to listen to insights from leaders in organic and specialty markets so that their critiques could be included in the Senate’s upcoming draft of the Agricultural Act (commonly called the Farm Bill).
The Senate and House of Representatives hold many hearings while developing the Farm Bill, but the motions discussed in the most recent Senate hearing to expand local and organic markets is of particular interest to the public, as the programs discussed will directly impact our schools and communities.
One such program is the USDA Farm to School Grant Program. Haile Johnston, co-founder of The Common Market (a nonprofit regional food distributor connecting communities with sustainable family farms), testified that the program does much more than foster experiential food education; it lifts regional economies by expanding farm acreage, creating jobs, and securing a demand for the farm’s products. He believes that $15 billion of mandatory funding per year should be awarded to this program, as funding has not kept up with demand. Since 2013, over 1,600 schools have applied for a grant to create a farm, but only 221 have been given.
Johnston also provided evidence of the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) in supporting regional economies, and stated that the program is critical for “catalyzing market opportunities for farmers and food enterprises.” Johnston made an example of a grant The Common Market received in 2014, when it became able to help 22 sustainable Pennsylvania farmers improve their post-harvest handling practices and increase their produce sales over 300 percent. The grant also helped the farmers secure new sales contracts with wholesale buyers and other food distributors, locking in a reliable future market. The success of those farmers brought success to the community, and farmers could hire more local workers and provide more fresh, nutritious food to the region.
The hearing also provided an opportunity for our Senators to receive advice from organic growers to resolve various issues surrounding organic production. Currently, American demands for organic produce have hit historic levels, and have steadily fueled an annual double-digit growth in sales, transforming the industry into a $50 billion sector. The U.S. needs to rely more on domestic production and less on imports to satisfy the changes Americans are making to their diets, especially as a recent Washington post article revealed that American consumers may be paying extra for fraudulent organic imports. The article revealed that 50 percent of organic corn and over 70 percent of organic soybeans imported in 2016 were deceitfully labeled as organic, and it is likely that corrupt labeling extends beyond imported corn and soy.
To uphold the 82 percent trust rate the USDA organic label holds in U.S. households, organic grain producer Kenneth A. Dallmier testified to the importance of increasing domestic organic production as well as using technology such as chemical testing and tracking to crack down on counterfeit imports.
As the Farm Bill is up for debate, it is important that citizens are actively involved in the legislative process to ensure that programs they support are reflected in the 2018 Bill. Check the schedule of hearings for the Senate or House of Representatives to follow the Farm Bill as it progresses, and contact your legislators to make your voice heard! Or, click here to learn more about the basics of the Farm Bill.