Farmers vs. Food Security: Everybody Loses in the Farm Bill

Kay Doby's lettuce by Alix Blair for RAFI, 2011

Yesterday afternoon, U.S. Reps voted 234 to 195 not to pass the House Farm Bill. According to a Washington Post blog, most Democrats voted against the bill because they disagreed with SNAP cuts, while the Republicans who voted against the bill wanted cuts across the board to be more severe. President Obama threatened to veto the final version of the Farm Bill if it contained the $20.5 billion cuts to SNAP benefits. To see how your rep voted – click here.

The failure to pass the House version of the Farm Bill has been claimed as a victory by some advocates for SNAP benefits. The importance of providing food aid to American families has been on the forefront of negotiations. While in D.C. last week speaking with legislators, I found it inspiring to hear about the 26 members of Congress who took the SNAP Food Challenge, limiting themselves to a food budget of $4.50 per day to experience firsthand the difficulty that 47 million Americans face in securing sufficient and healthy food.

The concerns you raised to Congress about the damage SNAP cuts would cause in your community have been heard. Thanks to everyone who wrote letters, made phone calls and sent emails to your Representatives.

However, the failed House Farm Bill is hardly a reason to celebrate. While critics condemn the bill for its deep cuts to SNAP and wasteful spending in crop insurance and commodity program payments, the Farm Bill also has important provisions that support family farmers, organic agriculture, and local food programs. These are the very initiatives that are creating systemic solutions to our food crisis. Defeat of the farm bill leaves these programs stranded without funding.

Tragically, vulnerable populations have been pitted against each other in the Farm Bill process: farmers and hungry people. Who is more important: the farmers that feed us or people who need to eat? It’s an impossible question to answer, and as long as this is what’s being asked, the Farm Bill will stall.

False dichotomies such as this don’t take into account the possibility of symbiotic relationships between interest groups. What if SNAP benefits were recognized for the savings it provides in federal and state health care costs, for providing a boon to local economies, and for the ways it is already supporting U.S. Agriculture? What if commodity and crop insurance programs encouraged sustainable production as well as protecting farmers’ livelihood? Congress has failed to recognize the generative interdependence between programs that support poor and working class folks and programs that level the playing field for family farmers, and so everybody loses.

The Come to the Table Project was born out of a need to bring farmers and hungry people together to find and promote mutually beneficial solutions. And we have! From programs like Market Match at the Carrboro Farmers Market, where EBT shoppers receive extra tokens when they use their SNAP benefits, to Farmer Foodshare’s Donation Stations, to farmers like Jay Dixon in Greene County, who purchased an EBT machine so that his neighbors could afford his pastured meats and healthy produce, to the many churches and community groups throughout the state that are working together to repair the relationship between local agriculture and food insecure families.

If it’s possible for us to find mutually beneficial solutions on a community scale, what will it take for these lessons to “trickle up” so that our state and nation can do the same?

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