Local Food Producers Pleased Their Farm Bill Programs Made The Cut

December 14, 2018
 
A long table set for dinner outdoors on a farm

An outdoor table at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery in Champaign, Illinois.

Lisa Bralts/Illinois Public Media

Programs aimed at helping smaller food producers and first-time farmers and ranchers will receive permanent, baseline funding under the 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress earlier this week.

That’s good news for local growers said Traci Barkley, director of Sola Gratia, a 12-acre produce farm in southeast Urbana.

“This helps in marketing programs at farmers markets, and in making sure that we have matching funds to meet the needs of folks on food stamps through the SNAP program,” Barkley said.

Barkley says about 25 percent of all their sales at the Champaign farmers’ market on Tuesdays come from SNAP users, and at least 10 percent of everything harvested on the farm goes to people who are food insecure in the community. 

“That’s not only helping us to directly influence healthy eating and healthy behavior, but it’s also an important economic piece for our farm,” Barkley said.

One of the programs made permanent in this year’s farm bill is the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP). The goal of the program is to support regional food systems by providing grants for things like farmers markets, food cooperatives and roadside produce stands, along with marketing dollars for promoting those initiatives.

Another program Sola Gratia has benefited from that is now permanent in the latest bill, Barkley said, is the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which provides training and support for young and first-time growers and producers. The farm’s manager was a recipient of the grant.

But Barkley said getting these and other programs into the bill wouldn’t have been possible without efforts of local food advocates. “We called our representatives, we had letter writing campaigns,” Barkley said.

She and other local food producers, including the nonprofit Illinois Stewardship Alliance, met with Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) to advocate for what they wanted to see in the legislation, and say they feel their concerns were addressed.

“We applaud Illinois members of Congress on the Farm Bill conference committee that listened and defended ‘tiny but mighty’ programs,” Illinois Stewardship Alliance Executive Director Liz Moran Stelk said in a statement.

While sustainable agriculture groups are praising many aspects of the farm bill, they have expressed concern over potential cuts to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which financially incentivizes farmers to adopt conservation practices.

“We applaud Conferees for advocating for conservation and working lands programs, but are disappointed over the bill’s inaction to prepare for a regenerative future,” Illinois Stewardship Alliance said in a statement. Funding for the CSP program will begin to decrease in 2024.

The $867 billion farm bill was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday in a 386-47 vote, and approved by the Senate on Tuesday in a 87-to-13 vote.

Story source: WILL