It is no surprise that there has been a huge increase in demand for locally grown, sustainable food over the past couple of years – the benefits are far-reaching for both the health of the individuals and the local community. As Kari Hamerschlag shares, a couple of the biggest trends we have seen are:
- In 2011, 7,175 farmers markets were open for business, more than double the number in 2002.
- An estimated 6000 Community Supported Agriculture programs are delivering food directly from the farm to consumers.
- More than 2,000 farm-to-school programs are up and running, a five-fold increase since 2004.
- More than 300 universities are involved with the Real Food Challenge and sourcing sustainable food locally.
- More than 360 hospitals have committed to sourcing more nutritious, locally grown food through the Healthy Food in Health Care pledge.
- The number of restaurants purchasing locally-grown food has skyrocketed; For the fourth year in a row, locally sourced food is the top restaurant food trend in 2012.
- More grocery stores are carrying food produced locally or from farms within the state – and labeling it for customers!
But this “Go Local” movement is still young, needing to generate much more awareness and support to grow some roots and expand its reach. So to help, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine along with 72 co-sponsors (63 representatives in the House and 9 in the Senate) have introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 1773, H.R. 3286), a comprehensive bill intended for inclusion in the 2012 Farm Bill.
…helps farmers and ranchers by addressing production, aggregation, processing, marketing, and distribution needs to access growing local and regional food markets. The bill also assists consumers by improving access to healthy food. The measure provides secure farm bill funding for critically important programs that support family farms, expand new farming opportunities, create rural jobs, and invest in the local food and agriculture economy.
Essentially, the bill has $100 million price tag and would provide much-needed improvements to our current system by:
- Increasing support for local aggregation, processing and distribution so that farmers can more easily sell healthy food, including locally raised and processed meat, directly to schools, hospitals, stores and restaurants.
- Enabling schools to use more of their federal food funding to buy fresh, local foods. Public schools could opt to use up to 15 percent of their school lunch commodity dollars for buying foods from local farmers and ranchers, instead of through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nationalized commodity food program.
- Improving the diets of food stamp recipients and low-income seniors by making it easier for them to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, community supported agriculture programs, and other direct food marketing services, putting more money in the pockets of local farmers and generating additional economic activity in nearby business districts.
- Diversifying and increasing the production of healthy and sustainable food by increasing funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant program and increasing access to credit, crop insurance, and other support for organic producers, diversified operations, smaller-scale and beginning farmers.
-Summary via Environmental Working Group
The bottom line is that the Pingree-Brown bill allows communities more access to healthy food and provides local farmers with the tools to make it all possible. While it looks like it will be an uphill battle, it is definitely one that is worth fighting.