PUBLISHED ON October 5, 2017
Legislation introduced to help farmers meet growing demand for local food
WASHINGTON — Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) have introduced HR 3941, the Local Food And Regional Market Supply Act (Local FARMS Act). The Local FARMS Act builds on the success of local and regional food economies by helping farmers tap into growing markets and helping consumers access healthy food. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
Among other provisions, the legislation would consolidate and streamline a number of federal local food programs; help farmers implement food safety practices; create a new food-as-medicine pilot program to support fruit and vegetable prescriptions for low-income individuals; expand the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program to include veterans; and provide schools more resources to purchase food locally. Bill details and statements of support are available at pingree.house.gov/localfarmsact.
“More and more consumers want to know where their food comes from, who grew it, and how it was produced. This growing demand has been a game changer in Maine and around the country, increasing sales of local food and providing a bright spot for U.S. agriculture,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture. “It’s been exciting to see the impact this growth has had on local economies, but imagine what the effect would be if our country invested in it the way we should or if more Americans could access it. I’m proud to introduce the bipartisan Local FARMS Act so our farmers can take full advantage of the opportunities in the local food movement and so more consumers can reap its benefits as well.”
“The Local FARMS Act is another creative way in which federal policy can expand the agricultural family, helping reconnect the local farm to the local community and the urban to the rural, with the added benefit of reinvigorating localized economies,” said Representative Jeff Fortenberry, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “I’m proud to help initiate this effort in the United States Congress as a part of the upcoming Farm Bill discussion and see it as highly impactful to farmers and families, and the growing awareness as to how nutritious food is integral to better health outcomes.”
“This bill is the real deal—it’ll do wonders for our rural farm economies while providing more opportunities to feed America—it’s a win for everyone,” said Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, a member of the House Committee on Agriculture. “Talk to any farmer and they’ll tell you how hard it is to get their food directly to customers—this will smooth some of those roadblocks, reduce the headaches for farmers, and make it easier for folks to get their hands on clean, locally grown food.”
Farmers selling local food through direct marketing channels have seen an incredible growth in economic opportunities. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over 160,000 U.S. farmers sold $8.7 billions of local food to directly to consumers, retailers, institutions and local distributors in 2015—$3 billion directly to consumers, $2.4 billion to retailers, and $3.4 billion to institutions and businesses that market locally branded products. Of those producers, 81 percent sold all their food within 100 miles of the farm.
In rural communities, boosting local and regional food markets can have a significant impact on local economies and help keep rural families on the farm. Direct marketing channels also serve as an important entry point for new farmers who are breaking into the industry for the first time.
Investing in local food markets would offer consumers more choices while helping farms diversify their incomes to become more sustainable.
National organizations supporting the bill include the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Farmers Union, American Farmland Trust, National Young Farmers Coalition, Food Corps, Wholesome Wave, Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at Columbia University, Self-Help Credit Union and Affiliates.
Statements of support from national organizations are available here and Maine-based organizations here.
HR 3941, the Local FARMS Act would:
- Consolidate key programs into the Agricultural Market Development Program, which would be a one-stop shop for farmers and other supply chain participants to expand local food market opportunities;
- Address veterans’ hunger by expanding eligibility for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program to all veterans;
- Provide resources to farmers for food safety certification and equipment upgrade expenses;
- Promote local food procurement and education in schools;
- Ensure USDA grants and loans can be used to support local livestock, dairy and poultry processing infrastructure;
- Help domestic organic farmers meet the growing demand for organic food by continuing the organic cost-share program; and
- Connect food and medicine through a pilot program that would provide produce prescriptions to low-income individuals.
Before the 2014 Farm Bill, Congresswoman Pingree and Senator Brown introduced the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act (LFFJA). Over half of the provisions in LFFJA were signed into the law under the legislation. It is critical that the next farm bill continues to invest in programs that will help farmers and communities tap into the growing demand for locally produced American food.
A longtime organic farmer herself, Congresswoman Pingree has been an advocate in Congress for reforming federal policy to better support the diverse range of American agriculture—including sustainable, organic, and locally focused farming. Pingree currently sits on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.
—The Office of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree