HOMEGROWN Life: We Have a Farm Bill. Finally.
The Senate passed a farm bill on Tuesday that President Obama is expected to sign at the end of the week. Sure, it’s a couple of years late. And it doesn’t make sweeping changes to the way farm programs work. It doesn’t prioritize and fund innovation through local food system development and conservation to the degree that many of us would prefer. It doesn’t do much to tackle some of the biggest issues faced by our society today, problems like obesity and climate change. It’s just not that great of a legislative accomplishment.
The cynic in me wants to say, “Well, what do you expect? It’s Washington, after all. We’re lucky they even got something passed.”
And there’s a lot of reality to that way of thinking. The farm bill could be much worse. They could have cut the nutrition funding for low-income and struggling families by $40 billion, like the House of Representatives voted to do a few months back. They could have dismantled country-of-origin labeling implementation for food products. They could have cut conservation programs even more. They could have eliminated meaningful programs that fund entrepreneurship, growth of cooperatives, and rural community infrastructure.
I know that politics is the art of the possible. I know that change and reform are both rare and difficult to achieve.
But still, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to know that this is the best we can do for the crucial piece of policy and funding that will govern farm and nutrition programs for the next five years. It’s frustrating to understand that so many “leaders” feel like low-income families shouldn’t get a helping hand when they’re struggling to put food on their tables.
I do want to say that there is active and thriving grassroots movement out there that’s trying to improve things with respect to federal farm and food policy. We’ve even got some national and Beltway cred. There’s Farm Aid, the National Family Farm Coalition, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Rural Coalition. These organizations and others do the hard work of laying out a very different vision for federal farm programs.
In the political climate we’re in right now, I’d urge you all to say thank you to these groups for making sure the farm bill did have as many good things in it as it does.
I’d also urge you to stay informed and active. These issues are not going away. Maybe we can get to work and broaden our movement, gearing up for another farm bill a few years down the road. If we’re going to get something meaningful, we’ve got a lot of work to do in the meantime.
Bryce Oates is a farmer, father, writer, and conservationist in West Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multigenerational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: to wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.